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Worn Landscapes with Evergreen Lessons

I have often reflected that the European landscape has such a long history of being used primarily for agriculture, and that that must have meant that today’s custodians with their ever-growing appreciation for lost biodiversity, might treat every remaining biodiversity and landscape asset as being worth a lot more than we do in Australia (where we still have much to lose – despite the worst extinction rate for our unique mammals ON THIS PLANET).

When I visited Europe for the first time on a break from my PhD in the early 2000’s, I was struck by a particular feature of the agricultural landscape in France. There is not a spare square metre. Every metre is used for production…

So I am channeling Seinfeld now – “I can’t spare a square”…

To illustrate this point – in Australia [my reference point], next to a rural train line, there typically is a buffer of 10-20 metres from the railway tenure to the edge of the public ‘road reserve’, on the other side of that fence, there might be a 5 m buffer to the 8 m wide public road, 5 m on the other side of the road, and then the edge of the ‘road reserve’ at which you can again find another stock-proof fence. But wait there is more…

On the other side of that fence, there is usually a couple of metres to the farm trail, and then a farm track (4-5 m), and then a couple of metres to the edge of the production area (e.g. canola or wheat crops). Thankfully this luxuriousness of physical space in Australia has enabled some biodiversity assets to slip under the radar of our ruthlessly efficient land clearing teams.

In France, what I observed at the time, was the agricultural production footprint butted right up against the train line footings, with a setback space similar to that afforded to commuters embarking on a TGV and waiting at the station behind the yellow line.

Noting the fundamental agrarian-priorities of the French culture – there was a notable absence of jurisdictional, tenure and transport redundancies – testament to generations of professional land custodians negotiating every land use agreement and tenure border change.

The farmers cared for every metre, because every metre counts, for food production in that case…

But the lesson is a salient one – Every 1 Metre of the Landscape Counts.

Living in the agrarian landscape around Armidale at that time, I felt we had lessons to learn in Australia about how important every metre of the landscape is, and from my perspective, how we can maximise the value for biodiversity conservation from every metre (especially square metres).

Fast-forward 15 years (or thereabouts), and I now have real-world experience in landscape restoration, community engagement, communications, biodiversity re-introductions, fundraising, advocacy and not-for-profit organisation management.

We have much to learn still, in Australia, and I am a very grateful recipient of a Churchill Trust travel fellowship to travel to the United Kingdom to explore their responses to landscape decline, the ‘rewilding’ and community engagement initiatives, and the facilities and business models that underpin it all – products of a longer history of landscape decline than that which has been endured in Australia.  I am also grateful for the support of the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust in Australia, who have agreed to let me off the leash to explore new wonders for a couple of months.  Thanks-again too, to those prepared to be a referee for me – Minister Greg Hunt, Dr Tony Peacock, Ms Alison Russell-French and Mr Peter Davey.  Thanks also to people that have helped me make connections in the UK for the trip, especially Professor Adrian Manning, Martin Spray CBE, Derek Langslow and Philip Ashmole.

So – with great appreciation – “we are going to London baby”…

Churchill Fellowship Travel Itinerary

With equal measures of nature-boy excitement, fan-boy hero trepidation,  family-dad logistics anxiety and immensely-humble-gratitude, I am pleased to share my forthcoming Churchill Fellowship itinerary:

Stunning locations, places, people and programs that have welcomed me:

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park includes a stunning and innovative visitor centre built on a former landfill site, with superb views over Mucking Flats SSSI and the Thames Estuary (SPA). Footpaths and cycle ways in 120 acres of nature park, which will expand to 845 acres. Great birdwatching – and ship watching.

Essex Wildlife Trust is the county’s leading conservation charity. It has more than 35,800 members, manages and protects over 8,400 acres of land on 87 nature reserves, 2 nature parks and runs 11 visitor centres. The aim of Essex Wildlife Trust is to Protect Wildlife for the Future and for the people of Essex.

Essex Wildlife Trust



The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity that saves wetlands, which are essential for life itself.

The London Wetlands Centre was deLondon Wetlands Centreveloped through the closure and rehabilitation of former Sewage Treatment Ponds, and funded by adjacent land development. It is now an urban oasis for wildlife and people, just 10 minutes from Hammersmith, where people can stroll among the lakes, ponds and gardens. The café is apparently perfect for relaxing, and kids love the play areas.



The Eden Project, an educational charity, connects people with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future.

Their visitor destination in Cornwall, UK, is nestled in a huge crater, a former industrial quarry. Here, massive Biomes The Eden Project.jpghousing the largest rainforest in captivity, stunning plants, exhibitions and stories serve as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens, summer concerts and exciting year-round family events. Money raised through visitation supports their transformational projects and learning programmes.


Also by the Eden Trust are The Lost Gardens of Heligan

“We were fired by a magnificent obsession to bring these once glorious gardens back to life in every sense and to tell, for the first time, not tales of lords and ladies but of those “ordinary” people who had made these gardens great, before departing for the Great War.”

In 2013, the Imperial War Museum recognised Heligan’s Thunderbox Room as a ‘Living Memorial’ to ‘The Gardeners of Heligan’.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan have established a large working team with its Heligan Projectown vision. The award-winning garden restoration is already internationally acclaimed; but the lease now extends into well over 200 acres, leaving the project far from complete. Heligan intends to remain a living and working example of the best of past practice, offering public access into the heart of active restoration.



The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge was set up by  Sir Peter Scott and opened on 10 November 1946, as a centre for research and conservation. In a move unusual at the time, he opened the site to the public so that everyone could enjoy access to nature.

The more-recently opened £6.2m visitor centre has a shop, waterside restaurant, cineSlimbridge wetlands cenrema, art gallery and tropical house, and exhibitions are held in the “Hanson Discovery Centre”. There are sixteen hides that visitors can use for bird watching, as well as several comfortable observatories. Educational visits are available for schools and there is a programme of guided walks, events, talks and workshops.



George Monbiot is an internationnally acclaimed author of ‘Feral’ – an amazing journey that brings together ghosting baselines, ecological landscape interpretation, social barriers and then most importantly a VISION for repairing ecological connections in the landscape through ‘rewilding’ and our own need to repair the connection between ourselves and our natural environments.Monbiot

Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives.

Feral is a work of hope and of revelation; a wild and bewitching adventure that argues for a mass restoration of the natural world – and a powerful call for us to reclaim our own place in it.

Can’t wait to meet George and chat all-things rewilding, restoration, tenure, leadership and communications…


Charles Rothschild, Northamptonshire landowner, banker, expert entomologist and pioneer of nature conservation, set up the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR) in 1912, the forerunner of The Wildlife Trusts partnership. And the first nature reserve was at Woodwalton Fen, near Huntingdon, bought by Rothschild in 1910 and now at the heart of our Great Fen Living Landscape.

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire will help to make this happen by working with others, to create Living Landscapes by restoring, recreating and reconnecting places rich in wildlife.

This former Chalk Pit site they manage is now being used innovatively as a focal point for community engagement in wildlife restoration >>>>> bedfordshire


Robert Macfarlane began his PhD at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 2000, and in 2001 was elected a Fellow of the College. In 2012 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is a founding Trustee of the charity Action For Conservamacfarlane.pngtion.

Landmarks, a book that celebrates and defends the language of landscape, was published in the UK March 2015. A version of its first chapter, published in the Guardian as ‘The Word-Hoard’, went viral, and the book became a Sunday Times number one bestseller. It was chosen fifteen times worldwide as a Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for The Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Landmarks is described on the cover as ‘a field guide to the literature of nature, and a vast glossary collecting thousands of the remarkable terms used in dozens of the languages and dialects of Britain and Ireland to describe and denote aspects of terrain, weather, and nature’.

Looking forward to meeting Rob and chewing the fat over opportunities to implement landscape-language projects in Oz!


The Ribble Rivers Trust was formed back in 1997 in an attempt to restore the Ribble and the surrounding flora and wildlife to its former glory.Their work extends over a catchment of 900 square miles, the majority of which is concentrated on the smaller tributaries and feeder streams as these are the “arteries” of a river and are much more vulnerable to pollution and physical damage.

Once business is squared-away we will be off for a spot of electrofishing – surely I can’t miss a trout with electrons on my side…



Borders Forest Trust was established in 1996 to help restore native woodland to Southern Scotland and to encourage an interest in woodland culture with those in the local community.

Since then they have set about reviving the Wild Heart of Southern Scotland through demonstrating excellence in ecological restoration on their own properties, and through partnerships encouraging the development of woodland culture, enabling people to access woodlands, developing habitats and supporting environmentally sustainable economic activity.

Looking forward to Philip Ashmole, founder of the Trust, showing me around…



The John Muir Trust is a charity that was founded in 1983, their mission is to conserve and protect wild places with their indigenous animals, plants and soils for the benefit of present and future generations. They own and care for some of the finest wild places in Scotland including the summit of Ben Nevis and part of the Cuillin on Skye.



Over the last 50 years, the Scottish Wildlife Trust has established itself as a leader in nature conservation in Scotland.

The Trust champions the cause of wildlife through policy and campaigning work, demonstrates best practice through practical conservation and innovative partnerships, and inspires people to take positive action through its education and engagement activities. It also manages a network of 120 wildlife reserves across Scotland and is a member of the UK-wide Wildlife Trusts movement.

As part of the study-preparation for the visit, I have the office hooked-on this streaming wildlife camera of an Osprey pair sitting on three eggs – hopefully there will be a chick to check-out when we get there!. The soundscape alone is worth having it run in the background (it helps we are on the NBN in the office).


In 1986 Alan Watson Featherstone formed Trees for Life, with the aim of restoring the Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the Scottish Highlands. The charity works in partnership with the Forestry Commission, the National Trust for Scotland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) at a number of sites to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

By April 2014, the charity has planted over one million native trees. In August 2008, Featherstone oversaw the purchase of the 4,000 hectare Dundreggan Estate for £1.65 million in Glenmoriston. The charity has received numerous awards. He has helped to inspire similar ecological restoration projects in the Scottish Borders, Dartmoor in England and the Yendegaia National Park Project in Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

Will be honoured to meet Alan and the team…





Can’t wait to share the experiences…



3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hope you will be able to add Bamff to these wonderful projects.

    June 1, 2017
    • So do I – a bunch of lessons to be learnt regarding reintroductions, beavers, conservation, the role of government, and getting on with it…

      June 1, 2017

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