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Spreading Adventure and Wilderness to a Wider Audience

This weekend, two small things of note.

The first, a bunch of friends came to stay for the weekend. Various John Muir Trust leaflets happened to be scattered on my coffee table (a dedicated Trust member, me!). My friends picked them up, their eye caught by the photography, by Sandwood Bay, by Knoydart.

These friends, Guardian-reading urbanites you might label them, were curious. They had never heard of John Muir, had never heard of the John Muir Trust, or its John Muir Award. I was surprised.

The second, an email I received from a stranger who had just watched Wilderness, the short film I made with the help of the John Muir Trust. The film had made her cry (in a good way, I hope), and she recited to me two phrases of John Muir’s that struck a chord within her. “A lifetime is so little a time that we die before we get ready to live” and, usefully, some direction about how to respond to this wake-up call: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” I was not surprised by this because I hear it time and again as the response to that film.

What relevance does my weekend have to you, the reader, or to the wider outdoors community? That my friends did not know anything at all about John Muir perhaps shows that the charity – and the conservation movement at large – still has a long way to travel before they become known and embraced by the majority of the population whose lives have limited connection to the great outdoors. I think of the RSPB and WWF as examples of this. It has percolated into most of society’s beliefs (if not their actions or donations) that we should be saving tigers. How can we better cajole people to care about wild places and landscapes closer to home?

My own little niche of outdoor living seems like one avenue to help achieve this. I see wild places as playgrounds for adventure. Mountains and moorlands – and urban greenspaces or local woods, even – are where exercise, exploration and endeavour can mix seamlessly with refreshing the mind, escaping the tyranny of emails, and thinking a little bigger and bolder about life and the world. For without participation in adventures and outdoor activities will we take the step towards caring and conserving?

Based on my sample size of just six city dwellers, extrapolating my hypothesis to the entire nation is undoubtedly dodgy science. But I would venture that most people these days would feel frazzled and unfulfilled in the face of being reminded that “a lifetime is so little a time that we die before we get ready to live”. It certainly worries my friends (and me) when we occasionally pause long enough to reflect on it.

My friends’ attention was drawn by photographs of the John Muir Trust’s iconic wild places. I imagined how much they would savour actually spending time in those locations – active, immersed, connected. How great it would be if I/you/we could reach out to these sallow-faced cubicle dwellers (sorry, guys!) to follow John Muir’s maxim of making sure a few of the paths they take in life are dirt, in amongst all those paths that are rushing madly around to pass exams,  pay mortgages, raise kids, and get promoted.

It’s important that we remind ourselves not just to preach to the converted, but to live adventurously, to seek new audiences. For the more people we can convince to care, the more potential we create for lasting action and change.

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  1. James Smith Posted

    I agree with your quick assessment that everyone seems obsessively focused on tigers / pandas / elephants, to the exclusion of countless other endangered species (on another note I think organisations like the WWF have created a stick with which to beat their own backs with tigers / pandas / elephants)

    I think that at least in the UK and northern Europe, people looks abroad rather than at home for wildlife and nature, as our island – whilst not sterile – is completely defaunated. None of the large native land mammals, and especially the predators such as lynx, wolf and sometimes bear remain (or bigger if you go back 10,000 years! Mammoth, Woolly Rhino etc). I think rewilding offers a great opportunity to reconnect people with wildlife and nature (and improve the natural habitat), and to inspire a fascination in nature and our landscape. To a three year old child, a lynx is equal to a tiger in interest – and more so as they grow and can appreciate these animals should share our Islands with us. Being across the channel means we are insulated from this reality, whereas in Switzerland / Italy / Slovakia the repopulation of wild areas with these species occurs as they cross the borders.

    Would be great to see more places (and animals) like this in the UK:
    in addition to some of the safari parks



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