View all news

Cultivating Interdependence between Land and People

a younger woman and middle aged woman inspecting different plants in their hands

1 January 2023

How can people living in Britain today be supported to relearn interdependence with land? What is the role of humans as keystone species in landscapes? What does ‘indigeneity’ mean to different communities with different histories of relationship with land? And how do we ‘relearn’ practices of dwelling in and with land?

Seedcorn 2022/2023

This project starts from a recognition that human separability from land and other species can be seen as one of the primary causes of our climate, ecological, mental and physical health crisis. The researchers will build upon the idea that the myth of human isolation and independence from land and other beings is a lynchpin of extractivist and exploitative behaviours. While scientists and governments focus attention on political and technological solutions to climate change, some argue that it is only by changing the story that humans tell of their place in the world and the land that a new regenerative culture can be grown. They argue, in essence, that creating liveable worlds is a question of relationality, beliefs and cosmology as much as engineering and politics – a relationality that enables us to come ‘down to earth’.

In the light of these observations a new wave of educational practices is emerging that aims to reweave human relationships with land and more than human beings. Leadership in this area draws on Indigenous educational practices in north America, Australia and New Zealand. What we know less about at present, however, is what a practice of exploring Indigeneity and relationship with land might look like in Britain – a country responsible for deracinating and killing Indigenous populations around the world and whose own population has long been forcibly separated from land. Given that the UK government has just launched a new climate education strategy that places relationship with ‘nature’ at the heart of its priorities, this can be seen as an urgent priority from policy perspectives.

What will the project involve?

This project will bring together biologists, systems thinkers and educators with land activists, farmers and conservationists to explore the question ‘how can people living in Britain today be supported to relearn interdependence with land?’. This question invites exploration from multiple disciplinary perspectives. From a biological frame, we might ask ‘what is the role of humans as keystone species in landscapes’; from a cultural and historical perspective, we might ask ‘what ‘indigeneity’ means to different communities with different histories of relationship with land’; from an educational perspective, it is not yet clear ‘how to ‘relearn’ practices of dwelling in and with land’. These, and others, are the issues the researchers will explore in this interdisciplinary and co-produced project, which will be based on the 160-acre land restoration project Woven Earth.

Woven Earth is located in the Derbyshire Dales, on top of a hill, surrounded by woodland, where an innovative and experimental approach to restoration is being pioneered that aims to restore the landscape and the communities within it as one entity. Through engaging the local community in imaging future landscapes and their place within them through community assemblies and informal conversation around their monthly campfires, the centre is becoming a restoration hub for the Midlands, a place where people come to experience and learn restoration in all its forms whilst actively participating in the landscape as an ecological human.

The project will take the form of a partnership between Woven Earth, local practitioners and the University of Bristol which will comprise two strands of activity:

First, over 10 months the researchers will bring together a group of land activists, educators, ecologists, farmers, conservationists, artists and therapists to experiment with practices and theories of ‘relearning interdependence’ with land in a way that restores landscapes and the people connected with them. They will explore four questions:

  • How does our collective and individual histories influence our view of the world and the farm?
  • If there were no constraints, what could we be?
  • How is this grounded in reality?
  • How do we capture, communicate and evolve ‘Relearning Indigeneity’

These workshops will involve a range of specialists to engage with the core group at different stages over the 10 months. These will include:

  • Education researchers and specialists
  • Specialists in rewilding, conservation and ecology
  • Productive systems experts (farming, forestry)
  • Experts in Nature connection, Health and wellbeing
  • Historians, Storytellers and Land Activists

To support this inquiry they will also conduct a literature review of relevant related projects and research and conduct a small-scale observation of the people and practices of the Woven Earth team as a way of situating the project both within the wider research and connecting to ongoing land-based practice.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Keri Facer (Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol) specialises in formal and informal educational practices oriented towards engaging with fundamental future-facing challenges. She is a Trustee of the Black Mountains College, a new college specialising in arts, ecology and systems change in the Welsh national park.
  • Rob Owen (Woven Earth/Holistic Restoration) has a multidisciplinary academic background including Zoology, Psychology and Earth System Science. He has worked in farming and social enterprise exploring how natural systems regulate themselves. Alongside his academic thinking Rob has worked in agriculture and forestry over the past decade. In the past two years these threads have come together in his work with Miriam at Holistic Restoration.
  • Miriam McDonald (Woven Earth/Holistic Restoration) has a background in ecology and conservation and has spent over 10 years working in alternative agriculture. She is author of  ‘Emergent: Rewilding Nature, Regenerating food and healing the world, from which the process of Holistic Restoration was born and which led her to co-found Holistic Restoration LLP with Rob Owen.
  • Rowan Hyde ( Facilitator and Community Researcher) runs Dandelion Facilitation, a facilitation and therapy practice based online and in the East Midlands.  They are a Processwork facilitator and trainee Psychotherapist. They are dedicated to values of empowerment, inclusion and compassion in their practice, and have a deep interest in social justice, equality, healing and nature connection. Dandelions are symbols of resilience, and they aspire to enable resilience within their work, to bring individuals and groups into their own wisdom, wholeness and capacity to thrive.
  • Sarah Hinds (Facilitator and Community Researcher) is a BACP accredited counsellor/psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and workshop facilitator who runs The Garden, an outdoor therapy centre in Derbyshire She has worked in university settings for over 25 years and currently works as a skills tutor on a humanistic psychotherapy degree. She is a musician and has a degree in fine art. Her work combines her love for the environment, going slowly and listening to the land with different threads of counselling, movement, music, writing, art and spirituality.
  • Katherine Wall (Research Assistant, Resist + Renew) is a Bristol PhD student working on land and race and an expert process facilitator. They have run workshops on facilitation, campaign organising, community organising, anti-oppression, burnout/regenerative activism, group dynamics and group culture work. Hey have worked with groups such as Black and Green Project, Reclaim the Power, Climate Strikers, Extinction Rebellion, Bristol Community Land Trust, People and Planet, Friends of the Earth and New Economy Organisers Network
  • Ross Goodman-Brown (Research assistant) is a student/educator based in Bristol whose research/interests sit at the intersection of imperialism, abolition and geography.

What is to come?

The project hopes to achieve:

  • A live record of the project as it develops. They will document their work in two ways: first, through a process of creative reflection. This will include the use of song as well as zine making to capture the process as it unfolds.
  • A draft journal paper. The development of this design will, they hope, have implications for educational design for a range of other organisations that are working on the question of relearning interdependence – for example, the Ecoversities network and the Black Mountains college. It will also have implications for the development of educational programmes in fields such as biology and sustainability in mainstream universities like Bristol.

As the project progresses, the researchers will review the opportunity to bid for further funding.

Edit this page