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Nature privilege - exploring the journey from knowing to acting

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

There's a lot of discussion at the moment, and rightly so, about 'white privilege'. I was in the fortunate position of growing up in a white, middle class family and that gave me a head-start in life, for example easing my route into university and then a graduate training programme. But I also had another early life advantage in being surrounded, as a child, by an appreciation of the natural world. So, I now benefit not only from my white privilege, but also from what we might think of as 'nature privilege'.

I spent the first thirteen years of my life in a modest-sized house with a modest-sized garden, on the edge of Dorking in Surrey. My dad loved his garden - we had a fruit and veg plot; a damson tree, the fruit from which my mum used to make jam; and beds of vibrant-coloured flowers. The garden backed onto 'The Nower' a wooded and bracken-covered hill where my sister and I used to play. My parents fed the garden birds, we often went for walks or picnics at the weekend, and one of my most memorable childhood experiences was coming face-to-face with an adder on the way back from the compost heap. My sense of connection to the natural world was ingrained in me from a young age, and is what has most sustained me during the period of Coronavirus 'lockdown'.

I imagine that most supporters of the Transition movement and of our projects could relate similar experiences, and those experiences have influenced who we are today. When we look at Leytonstone we see the abundance of wildlife that surrounds us even in this 'urban' area - Wanstead Flats; Bushwood; Epping Forest. We notice the street trees; enjoy hearing the birds singing; perhaps watch with anticipation for the arrival of the migrating birds each spring.

But what if you grew up without the opportunity and encouragement to explore the natural world? The love for nature needs to be nurtured, and so many children (and adults) have never had that. The repercussions are hugely important as I believe our only hope of reversing the climate and ecological crises we find ourselves in, is to help more people understand - really understand, in their hearts not just in their heads - what we stand to lose.

I myself know - in the deepest sense of knowing - that climate change and biodiversity loss are not abstract future problems: after more than forty years immersed in the natural cycles of the year it's clear to me that things have changed. I see the spring flowers blooming, and each year think to myself 'that seems early'. I fondly remember birds that used to visit our garden when I was a child - coal tits, greenfinches - and realise that I can't remember the last time I saw one. But for anyone who doesn't have that background, who doesn't feel that deep connection to the non-human world, how can they be convinced that these changes are real and that they matter?

A large part of the answer, I believe, must come from sharing our love of nature with others. Talk to anyone who shows an interest - friends, family and, when you get the opportunity, strangers too. Let them see your enthusiasm and share your knowledge and understanding: you never know what might ignite a spark and inspire.

There's a concept in permaculture, the dichotomy between an abundance and a scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset feels 'there is not enough to go around; I must protect what I have otherwise someone will come and take it and I won't have what I need'. The abundance mindset takes the approach 'there is enough; if we share then we can all benefit'.

I love the solitude of the countryside and wild places, and it's sometimes tempting to feel I need to keep my favourite spots secret so that I don't have to share them. But if we want to carry more people with us on the 'Transition' journey then we need those natural spaces and experiences to belong to everyone.

For the world, and society, to change (as they must) we need people to change, and I believe that will happen not through knowing but through caring. We need more people to understand (in their hearts as well as in their heads) how intertwined our human wellbeing is with the health of the natural world. Education is good, but what will really make the difference is when enough people come to share that sense of connection to the wider and wilder world around us. If we can share our love and enthusiasm with them, perhaps real change will follow.

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