Guardians of the Environment

Guardians of the Environment

How to cope with the future?

Fix our deep disconnection with the natural world and create Future Guardians of the environment.

Even in Central London where I live there are still wild spaces – spaces that have been forgotten by developers and left to flourish – the edges of parks, housing estates and railway lands present delicate eco structures, that we as practitioners want to encourage learners to recognise, develop a relationship with and learn to become stewards of, to help conserve and protect them. We need connection.

Humans have been slowly disconnecting from the land for centuries. With the discovery of farming, communities were disconnected from millennia of shared Hunter/Gatherer knowledge of the natural world and their deep connection as part of the environment began to change. Human existence was moving to settlements and homes and working the land for gain. Then in the industrial revolution the need for industrial labour forced the rural populations to live and work in urban and industrial centres -becoming further disconnected from the land which in their former pastoral life worked with the seasons and nature. During the 18th & 19th centuries western philosophers introduced concepts such as dualism of mind and body – speaking of how the mind and body were separate and could live separately – and a similar zeitgeist separated us from the land, disconnecting whole communities from existing in the flow of nature and the seasons, losing ancient knowledge and connection to the land.

Psychologists have now realised that dualism of mind and body is not so, through investigating the facts that our bodies hold our emotional stories that manifest in physical illness and disease – Our relationship with the land is no different – there is no dualism between humans and the Natural world – we are ‘Of it’ not ‘In it’ and our deep disconnection from its flows and interdependences are making us sick and in turn ruining the environment.

Connecting children young people and adults with the natural world

Too often in my Forest school and outdoor wilderness sessions I notice a deep disconnection with the natural environment which manifests in destructive actions such as smashing trees, demolishing deadwood, making debris dens that destroy the delicate micro-organisms in the forest floor, stepping on wildlife, bending, swinging and breaking saplings, as if the woods are of no importance except for the self-gratification of a momentary desire –the woods are a playground –  but where does this destructive attitude to nature come from?

A whole generation of young people are not able to name common animals, trees, and insects, have no idea of their wonderous intricate and complex lives and delicate interdependencies and therefore have no attachment to them except as a resource to fulfil some personal goal.

Once you name something you start to develop a relationship with it (think of the farmer that names their cows and then finds they are unable to eat beef!)

As practitioners guiding nature engagement, we need to find the wonder in our environment, by using careful and methodical observation of common leaves, trees, roots systems, flowers, berries, fungi and shrubs so as we can guide our participants towards forming a relationship with them.

Naming things is important – but simply identifying things using an I.D chart is boring and doesn’t form a relationship, we need more and a tangible approach to connecting with the natural world .

It is at this point irrelevant to know the scientific name of things, although this is useful if you are deeply connected to biology and embarking on a scientific classification path – but we need our future guardians to just get to know their local flora and fauna in order to build connection and therefore excite their desire to conserve and protect it.

Naming could be as simple as using names which tell you something about why it is important to you – a Hawthorne tree could be a ‘Wishing Tree’ or a silver birch tree a ‘Fire Tree’ – recognising its uses for various bushcraft and meditative practices.

You could use terminology such as ‘prickly plant’ or a ‘Stingy plant’ – what matters is that you get to know it, explore it and learn to appreciate it. Touch, smell and taste are all natural ways that we explore. The joy of, eating and showing others ‘bun and cheese’ -Hawthorne berries between Hawthorne leaves- discovering rosehips and taking a few to make rosehip syrup – knowing that elderflower cordial is full of beneficial vitamins – harvesting blackberries whilst knowing that birds also rely on them as a food source and the plant relies on the bird to spread its seeds through casting its seeds far and wide – learning about nettles ability to be spun into cloth – discovering that stickyweed can be used to make cleaver coffee, wild garlic for pesto, sucking the nectar out of clover and honeysuckle like an insect – are all experiences to share.

Metaphysical trees and plants

As well as their physical properties such as medicinal / poisonous we need to start thinking and using flora and fauna in a metaphysical way, getting to know the plants and trees we use in our sessions on a spiritual level, using nature metaphors to learn more about ourselves and telling folk stories and using myths to connect to the space. What would that leaf sound like – if it could talk what would it say? We can ask if trees talk – you’ll get quizzical looks, but we as practitioners know that they communicate through complex root systems and mycorrhizal networks of Mycelium beneath the soil – out of sight out of mind – but if you can represent this fantastic fact tangibly – your audience will be hooked!

To help participants connect to the environment we can learn about how ancient cultures used trees to make sense of themselves and the world around them. We even have a word for Tree Worship – Dendrolatry. Yggdrasil the giant Ash tree in Norse Myth, the Tree of Life in Judaism and celtic traditions, The tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, The world tree and the cosmic tree in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the Egyptians had the Fig sycamore, the African continent mythologised the Baobab tree in fact every culture in every continent have mythologised the tree – they were our life force and we were part of them and them part of us.

Tree Oghams and tree symbology– The celts used an Ogham alphabet, with simple line symbols burnt into wood and carved into rock to represent letters and sounds and also to identify and divine trees. Discovering your birth tree and identifying with its shape, uses and spiritual properties is rewarding and worthwhile helping you to understand your connectedness to the natural world.

Using natural metaphor in sessions will further connect individuals to trees and plants. Identifying the different species of tree, shrub, native and non-native plants of our surroundings is exciting and enables us to closely understand our effects on our environment and share the beauty of this delicate symbiosis with others. Using our knowledge of the plants around us can help us show participants how they can manage / talk about their feelings using natural metaphors.

Help participants to find their ‘Leaf twins’ – a leaf which has exactly the same markings on its leaf as their hand does on their palm. Create Group Mandalas by foraging for natural items that represent how you are feeling.

Finding personal identification through metaphor and exploring our environment using vision, taste, touch and smell with others can create connections to nature, ourselves, each other and our environment that will last a lifetime for our participants, which is critical for our survival.

Through our workshops we aim to create a connection to individual species within our environment to encourage future generations to become guardians of those species and live more softly on the land.

Once we get rid of the idea of Dualism – separation of us and the natural environment – the world and ourselves may start to heal.