Off on holiday… the places (3)

The final place that I want to introduce you to that we visited on our holiday was The Eden Project. Again, it was somewhere that I had wanted to visit for ages, being a combination of educational project and gardens, plus all the pictures make it look spectacular. It was created in a huge, disused china clay pit and was the idea as the same man, Tim Smit, who was there at the beginning of the restoration of Heligan. They claim to have ‘the largest rainforest in captivity’ within their geodesic domes and the whole project seems to be based on superlatives. If you want to know about the history of the project, there’s lots to see and read on their web site; do check it out.

We loved seeing the Mediterranean and rainforest plants – a few of which, like the Coco de Mer, we had seen in their native habitats – but in fact the outdoor plantings were a joy too. It was great to see gentle education in the form of information boards and interactive displays as well as the groups of school children engaged in a whole range of activities. The project is about much more than plants – it highlights all sorts of aspects of caring for the environment from conserving habitats to reducing consumption… all in all a project after my own heart.

It’s such a big and diverse site that even spending two days there, as we did, was not really enough. Like Heligan, we will certainly be back. And, like Heligan, pictures will probably give you a much better flavour of the place than hundreds of words…

First some outdoor shots:

And then, in the biomes:

Like Heligan, I highly recommend a visit… or two… or three…

A frivolous pastime?

Today, for one reason and another (I’ll spare you the details), I have been wondering whether all the time and energy that so many of us put into the creative crafts is well spent. In particular, I have been thinking about the place of countryside crafts in environmental education.

I do understand that, by many, crafts are considered the preserve of ladies of a certain age with plenty of money and time on their hands. To a certain extent this is true… just as everyone who goes fishing is a working class man and all football fans are young blokes who drink lager. Perhaps I am just being defensive about an activity that I love, but I genuinely do see craft (countryside or otherwise) as a valuable way to spend my time.

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

Demonstrating the qualities of the wool of different sheep breeds on a felt making course

At Denmark Farm we run a whole range of courses at a whole range of levels: from felting for beginners to Phase 1 Survey for professional ecologists; from basketry to bat identification; from food growing to field survey techniques. We train all sorts of people to do all sorts of things, but I would be hard pressed to rank our educational activities in order of importance. A stool-making course does not train someone in woodland management, but by having consumers who demand locally produced wood for furniture-making, we are developing a ‘market’ that might lead to the preservation, or indeed planting, of more woods. Our felting courses emphasise the value of using British wools and understanding the qualities of the wool of different breeds of sheep. Since different species and breeds of livestock deliver different conservation outcomes because of, for example, grazing preference, bite site and hoofprint size, the availability of a variety of animals is key in delivering a range of biodiversity objectives.

In addition, simply engaging individuals with activities that link them to the value of the countryside and associated natural resources is important. Sadly, many of us are distanced from the natural world and never realise the connections between it and, for example, our food production. Recently, the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees has been in the news. Such insecticides, their manufacturers claim, are good for agricultural production. However, we now know of their devastating impact on pollinating insects and the knock-on effect of this on crops has severe implications for the production of food plants that rely on insect pollinators. By drawing people into the countryside in which all these interactions take place, we can introduce them to the issues and engender an interest and understanding. It is hard to feel invested in a system if you are completely disconnected from it.

Creating something useful

Creating something useful

Furthermore, by offering training in crafts, we build resilient communities in which individuals have the ability to deliver some of their own needs – whether that is producing charcoal, making clothes, encouraging pollinators by building a bee house or, even, earning a living. Encouraging creativity is valuable in itself. Once you know you can make a basket, what else might you be encouraged to try? Creating is a powerful activity and one thing can certainly lead to another. If we are always spoon-fed – with our food coming in a plastic package and our clothes on a hanger – we may never explore our potential to take control of the goods and products we rely on.

My experience of craft classes is that they are remarkably co-operative. Participants help each other, find shared experiences, make friendships and take new ideas forward. Sometimes the outcome is as simple as increased confidence and support, sometimes it’s the formation of a new community or a group project. It may even be something more dynamic – the phenomenon of craftivism is growing and can make powerful political statements as well delivering all sorts of practical benefits.

And finally, I cannot help but feel that the world is a better place with beautifully made things in it: items made with care and love, to be treasured and not simply discarded on a whim.

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