This series of conversations aims to highlight the efforts of various people who all share a commitment to the planet that they put into action, each in their own way and with a focus on a particular issue. There are more of us than we know!
I met Ashleigh Brown at my local food assembly, which she co-hosts. We quickly discovered we shared an active engagement for the planet.
You seem to be engaged on many levels. Tell us a bit about your background, how you arrived where you are now, the issues you care about.
I have been very lucky in my life that I have had the chance to visit so many places and properly fall in love with the natural world. My background is mainly in education, having been a teacher and then a teacher trainer and researcher, before moving into environmental work. I set up a local ecological food company with a close friend, committed myself to creating almost zero landfill waste, and now I am involved in running a cooperative that builds ecosystem restoration camps on degraded land.
Land regeneration seems to be your main focus right now; very recently you and 22 others planted 7000 trees on a piece of degraded farmland to create a new woodland, and you biked there to avoid any carbon emissions — how inspiring! Tell us more about your experience of land regeneration.
One of the best ways of sequestering carbon is through restoring degraded ecosystems by building living soils. Once I discovered this I set myself on a path to learn as much about this as possible. That is when I came across the work on John D.Liu and his films. I watched them all practically back to back and then decided this was the path that I wanted to go down in life. This is when I discovered the Ecosystem Restoration Cooperative in its initial stages, and so I joined the team. There are now nearly 900 people signed up, and we are preparing to build the first camp in southern Spain in the spring.
The reason that it matters so much is because land around the world is being degraded to the point where it is becoming barren and infertile. This is causing poverty and starvation, as well as fuelling migration to cities which can lead to conflict.
What the camps seek to do is to restore degraded ecosystems on a global scale by setting up temporary camps on the land and teaching people how to restore it.
Did you run into anything especially difficult, and how did you solve it?
Setting up and running an organisation that runs purely on volunteers that are spread all over the world is always going to be difficult. Also, we are attempting to operate in an entirely leaderless environment using multiple internet platforms. However, we have some very committed and experienced people in the team and we are working through these challenges and getting a lot done.
Where can someone find out more, and even sign up?
We now have a website which explains all about the project, including how it works and how people can get involved – www.ecosystemrestorationcamps.org
Do you have a hard-earned piece of advice for someone seriously considering it?
Come to the first camp! It will be a perfect place for anyone interested in land restoration to learn how to do it. Anyone is welcome. Also – subscribing to the sustainable design masterclass series of webinars is an excellent online learning resource that you can tuck in to whilst the first camp is being built. Also, getting involved in the tree planting days that are run by the Woodland Trust is another great way of getting your hands dirty.
Where do you live, and how is it there for the eco-minded, in terms of resources and in terms of people’s reactions?
I am from Hertfordshire and I am unfortunately in the minority in my home town. I do not have a car, and pointedly make an example by cycling around when everyone else is driving. Sometimes it can be pretty demoralising. However my family are making a real effort to be more eco-friendly so that is positive!
Is there a resource you particularly recommend, or an organization you particularly encourage us to support?
As mentioned above, the sustainable design masterclass is an excellent resource for learning all about regenerative design. In terms of organisations other than the Ecosystem Restoration Cooperative, I would recommend checking out Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe as organisations that are doing great work at returning degraded land back to nature. Permaculture design is a great tool for learning how to create food and ecosystems simultaneously, and permaculture design courses are easy to find.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Without functioning ecosystems we will struggle to survive. This is, quite possibly, the greatest work of our time.
Follow Ashleigh on Twitter.