Hi, I’m Elena and I’ve just joined the Wild Card team, and I’m proud to now call myself a Wild Cardigan! I’m a writer and an artist, and currently retraining as an ecologist after years spent working in international events.
It’s a harsh world, the events world, that creates a lot of pollution and adds a heap of carbon to the atmosphere with all the flights and shipping of equipment, not to mention building events on land better left to nature. Unable to ignore the fact that the world my career was built on was an environmental disaster, as well as being complicit in sports-washing and green-washing, I decided that I needed to step back and forge a new path.
I’m lucky that I’ve come to Wild Card at such an exciting time, with ongoing discussions with the Crown Estate, and a well-supported campaign to get the Duchy of Cornwall to agree to rewild their land in Dartmoor, allowing our native temperate rainforests to spread their gnarled roots and twisted, lichen-covered branches up hillsides and along river valleys.
Nature has always been a grounding place for me, as it has for many of us. When the stress of the job got too much, going and planting my feet on the grass or splashing my face with wild river water allowed me to come back to earth. Walking to work in Switzerland across wildflower meadows early in the morning, and having close encounters with foxes, deer, mice and owls lifted my heart even as I headed to the office, and washed away the long day as I walked home again.
The science behind the effect that nature has on our nervous systems is well documented, with studies done looking into the benefits of forest bathing*, walking barefoot**, being by water*** and the calming and healing effects of the colours blue and green****. Being in nature and around animals has even been shown to help those suffering from severe mental health issues, such as being in the presence of bees to help veterans with PTSD*****.
But our connection to nature should be more than just breathing in the chemicals of the trees or feeling bare feet on the ground. We have lost our enchantment of the natural world. Sharon Blackie, author of The Enchanted Life, says that, “our growing modern malaise – anxiety, depression, disease and dis-ease, a multiplicity of dysfunctions – springs in good part from our alienation from the natural order of the world and from our natural selves.”
Once, every bird call, every flower, every tree would have held meaning for us as we went about our daily lives. Story, myth, legend and history was woven into the world around us, the big stone we pass on our way to work that the devil dropped, the river we cross where river sprites live. A rejuvenation of our folklore can help us connect more deeply to nature.
Dee Dee Chainey, folklorist and author says, “Folklore is often used to restore a sense of tribal identity based on quite a selective view of the past. Often this can be positive – tying people to the land around them, providing a sense of environmental responsibility and producing a social cohesion that leads to supporting others in the community”. There has been a big resurgence in recent years in folklore and folk custom, as a response to our growing disconnection from the places we live and the wonder of the natural world.
It can be hard in our modern world to switch off from our phones, the tech that pulls our focus. And with ever increasingly busy lives (despite the promise of industrialisation to give us more free time), finding time to go outside and simply be can seem impossible. There’s an old zen proverb that says, “you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” We can say the same about spending time in nature. When I’m at my most frazzled, most busy, that is when I need the calming sound of the ocean or the sun and wind on my skin.
We can all reconnect to our local area and the nature there through spending time identifying our wildlife, our animals, plants, trees and flowers. We can read signs and tracks, and forage wild food. Even something as simple as gathering a few herbs and adding them to some home-cooked bread can ground us and connect us to the natural world around us. We can learn our local folklore and see what it tells us about the area, what animals and plants feature in them? Perhaps there are places named for the type of tree that used to make up a woodland in the area, or hints that owls once filled the night sky.
As I feel the call of the wild, I am trying to shift course and put all my skills and experience into leaving the world, in some small way, better than when I arrived. And considering the depletion of nature since the eighties, it would take some doing even just to leave it as good as when I arrived!
A part of my journey is taking part in the flagship rewilding training at Embercombe, with heavyweights of the field such as Derek Gow (the man that reintroduced beaver to the UK), Alan Watson Featherstone (founder of Trees for Life), Alastair Driver (Director of Rewilding Britain) and Cain Blythe (CEO of Ecosulis). With tutors like this, I am a sponge waiting to soak up the skills and knowledge I need to go out into the monoculture fields, empty skies and polluted rivers of the UK and start undoing some of the harm we’ve all contributed to.
So what could the future look like, if we returned our peatlands, temperate rainforest, fens and chalk river valleys to their natural state? What would it look like if we all had access to them? What would it look like if everything around us in the natural world had meaning for us, conjured stories and myths and histories? A future where Sherwood was a forest again, where we could hear the song of the nightingales, the call of the curlews, where we could see the dams of beavers and the footprints of lynxes?
We can have a future filled with the wonder and enchantment of nature, with better mental and physical health, a feeling of guardianship over the land and waters that we can all access, a sense of belonging and community, a new Merry Old England.