The Tree Conference at the Merlin Theatre in Frome on Sunday was an inspirational, sell-out event which showcased effective strategies for citizen-led reforestation and for halting deforestation worldwide.
Attended by a 240-strong audience, the event placed a core focus on supporting the younger generation to be resilient caretakers of the Earth. In a Skype interview with the conference’s founder Suzi Martineau, millennial trailblazer Ayana Young, founder of the 1 Million Redwoods Project in California, spoke of the devastating effects of global warming she’d recently witnessed first-hand in Alaska, pointing out that practically nothing is being done to stop the destruction of our planet. She shared a powerful message for the next generation:
“I want to tell the next generation to breathe. This is not going to end in their lifetime. We need to be committed to the long haul and watch out for burnout, and for things that can try to derail us or distract us, whether that’s social media, or human condition drama. None of that really matters when we actually look at what we’re losing.
“We need to focus our attention, our energy and our love on the Earth, to what actually sustains life, and not get so wrapped up in this condition–distraction. So how can we be these strong, resilient warriors, and I absolutely we believe we can. It just takes a lot of commitment, focus and getting outside our own ego and realising that perhaps our own lives aren’t for just us, but that we were brought to this Earth to be in service to something so much greater. And how beautiful, expansive and fulfilling that is when we can get outside of just ourselves and dedicate ourselves to being a conduit for life.”
Writer Mary Reynolds Thompson gave a talk, calling for ‘deep imagination’ to be brought back into our school systems. “If we want to change the world, we have to change the story,” she said. “‘We are separate from the Earth’ is our dominant human story, we teach this to our children. Our imaginations are entwined with the Earth, it needs to take centre stage in our schools again.”
The Conference also gave the stage to four secondary school students to highlight what we need to do from their perspective. Wendy Davis, founder of Andover Trees United, which runs education, tree planting and care programmes, accompanied Hannah Bradbury and Erin Hacker (GCSE year) and Megan Nikolic and Nicola Marshall (Year 8). Trained as ‘Plant-for-the-Planet Climate Justice Ambassadors’, the girls’ responsibilities include training their peers, reaching out to community leaders and local politicians.
The girls called for children and adults to work together, combining the strong imaginal capacity of children to re-envision the future with the aptitude of adults to turn ideas into action. “If we don’t do something then my kids might not get to know some of the animals in the wild and in the rainforests,” said Erin. “I learn about crude oil in school but not about its effect on the environment – changing the education system would be a wonderful place to start,” said Hannah. “Listen to us, we have lots to say, stop talking, start planting!” urged Megan.
Headline speakers at the event included Isabella Tree, author of Wilding, who gave a talk highlighting that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and sharing her exemplary work for generating ecosystems for the future. “The message is clear, it’s down to us!” she goaded. Scientist Dr Martin Bidartondo wowed the audience presenting his pioneering research into how soil fungi health has been significantly affected across the UK by excess nitrogens (from fertilisers and air pollution), with a considerable knock-on effect for tree health.
Flatpack Democracy author Peter Macfadyen gave an overview of leading-edge tree projects around the world; local Somerset authorJulian Hight shared his work reviving Selwood Forest; Andy Egan and Teresa Gitonga of International Tree Foundation gave a lively dialogue sharing guidelines for communities to support landscape regeneration projects, modelled on their work in Kenya. Forest defenders from the Sarayaku tribe of Ecuador introduced their Living Forest Declaration in a short video, and Suzi Martineau followed up, explaining how criminalising ecocide by law would help to halt deforestation and the associated killings of tribespeople throughout South America, so prevalent at this time.
In the Conference’s final panel discussion, Suzi Martineau suggested that a quiet and powerful ‘revolution of care’ was underway: “It’s happening all over the country, especially among the millennial generation. People see what’s going on and their radical response is to change their lives to focus on planting and working with the land in towns, cities and across the countryside.”
For more information about The Tree Conference and its partners visit: www.thetreeconference.com