Getting back to' nature - 'The holy flame of discontent
These words are about my experience of growing up with ‘nature’ in the UK and moving to Australia – it’s also a long-winded way of saying “will, a not-for-profit organisation we have started”
I grew up in England – a country with only remnants of wilderness, patchworks of woodland - a country where all mega fauna bigger than a badger is long-hunted to extinction and where, if you were dropped from a helicopter anywhere, chose a direction and kept walking, eventually you’d find a pub. I grew up in Charnwood, a stone’s throw from where David Attenborough did, right on the edge of the ‘National Forest’ – which in reality isin front of a field by the M1 where they’re about to build both new houses and to dispose of human waste into the sky, against all on air pollution. It really . One sign does not a forest make.
So moving to Australia was very, very different.
Don’t get me wrong and think I have a rose-tinted view - Australia is a genuine contender in world rankings for one of the [doi:10.1038/nature24295].
Despite all that, since moving here a few years ago I’ve experienced a deep and profound development of my appreciation for nature which, frankly, it was just too cold to develop in the UK. I just don’t like the cold – I have tried camping in England – and the question from friends (and frankly, myself) was always ‘why’. In Australia – camping under the milky way with the smell of eucalyptus coming from the red gum wood is a very different experience.
While walking past the Victorian Parliament in Melbourne once I was handed a flyer – as life-changing moments go, this is up there – don’t doubt the power of a flyer! It was about how people from Melbourne wanted to set up a National Park on the edge of the city – to protect 300 year-old trees from being. As it turned out – the person who handed me it had written an which provided evidence that the tallest trees to have ever existed grew outside Melbourne 200 years ago – until humans logged them. Watch from David Attenborough’s ‘Secret Life of Plants’ about Melbourne Mountain Ash forests if you know nothing and would like to be inspired [skip to 30 minutes in]. David Attenborough, incidentally, .
So when I found out about this, I had some spare time on my hands and got in touch with people to find out if there was a way I could help with the education side of things, that being my area of professional experience – to see if we could involve people in doing science to find out more. After a recent trip to meet a friend and primate researcher in Borneo I had decided this was an area I wanted to get into – so start on your own doorstep I figured. Get your own house in order.
At the same time I am working in public health, doing a PhD about involving people in genomics research and realising more and more that words and actions are very interlinked – and we say we want to involve people in ‘science’ and ‘research’ – we say we want ‘citizen science’ but nowhere do I see many examples of people actually giving away the control of this – sharing all knowledge. Choosing which words we use is something very important to me.
So I organised an event around a campfire – where we partner with local experts who taught people how to spot critically-endangered animals with thermal imaging cameras. When such species are found, a radius of 200 meters or so is saved from being logged. The events got more popular than I predicted, a little faster than I thought (you can read more about the development of this project inI wrote).
A year or so later, I find myself Director of a not-for-profit organisation called– running projects like ‘Campfires and Science’ where we are working with partner organisations – (including the Royal Society of Victoria, the Victorian Government and local schools) training local people to do science, to get involved in things like understanding local biodiversity by using new tools like environmental DNA.
We are running a crowd-funding campaign – it is to raise money so we can run more of these free events – and keep them safe and high-quality.
Around the fire at ‘Campfires and Science’ we try to nurture the ‘– teaching people how to question everything by using words, for that’s all I really know how to do. Fire has always been important to humanity – ‘focus’ is the Latin for hearth, ‘hearth’ being from where we have the word ‘heart’ (and ‘oikos’ is the Greek for home and hearth, from where we have the prefix ‘eco’ - ecology). It is my aim to explore all these worlds of words and cultures and understand how we can unite them into collective action. For the ancient Wurundjeri community of Victoria;
‘there is no separation between ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ The natural world is a cultural world; therefore, the Wurundjeri people have a special interest in preserving not just their cultural objects, but also natural landscapes of cultural importance’ [taken]
So although I come from a chilly island far away - I hope to make our campfires a home to all who wish to nurture the flame of discontent. Whether it's research, education, knowledge sharing or developing new technology – it is to be a home for those who know things can be better – who want to know more – a place for science, for all. A place to not be restricted by the language of the past but collectively question it, when there is not currently the vocabulary to articulate our dreams of the future.
A belief that things can be better requires a fostering and nurturing of discontent – not as the for-profit media often does by selling us stories that make us feel negative emotions – but by channelling this negative emotion into action, a collective action – agreed by everyone, equally and transparently. We all just have to actually do something.
There’s something you can do - we need your support: