Young leaders restoring nature in Wales – The Ecologist


Penpont’s Co-management Council of young people, land workers and elders in the woods.
Restoring nature offers us an opportunity to open up access to the countryside and re-make the connection between people and place.
Something very special is happening at Penpont, a 2,000 acre upland estate located in Wales’s Brecon Beacons. Something we think young people like us and decision makers need to be aware of.
Our project is not glamorous in the traditional sense of most rewilding and nature recovery projects. We haven’t reintroduced bison or other iconic or controversial species (yet!). The land isn’t owned by someone famous. 
Our efforts haven’t been followed by any big newspapers, attracting the usual, unhelpful debate that presents food production and ecological restoration as opposites.
Intergenerational
What sets Penpont apart and makes it important, is that ours is the largest intergenerational ecological restoration project of its kind in the UK.
A project where we as young people have taken up an equal seat at the table with the landowners, farmers, foresters, artists, teachers and ecologists who call Penpont home. 
Together we are showing that we can restore nature through dialogue, collaboration and knowledge sharing across the generations. That by healing nature, we can also start healing the centuries old wounds of unequal access to our countryside.
Youth leadership 
School climate strikes, young leaders like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate, and others have helped get across the idea that young people need to be heard on issues of climate breakdown. 
But beyond protesting, the ways for us to get involved in making positive change are either limited or they lack publicity, which means other young people aren’t aware of how to get involved.
The climate crisis isn’t our generation’s fault, but we want to take some of the responsibility for our planet. As Greta Thunberg said “you are never too small to make a difference”. 
Tokenism
Nature recovery and rewilding projects are a great way for young people to play their part and deeply connect with the places where they live.
Yet most projects offer us very limited opportunities. We are either ‘consulted’ in a tokenistic way, or only get involved with one-off actions, like tree planting.
We can do better than this. 
Young people often have different knowledge and skills than adults. The same is true the other way around. The more we engage in conversations and build projects with a variety of age groups the better these projects will be. 
Mapping
Diversity is our strength. The Penpont Project is led by a co-management council that includes farmers, landowners, ecologists, foresters and a group of 20 young people from diverse backgrounds who have formed the Youth Leadership Group (YLG). 
As members of the YLG, we are working and making decisions alongside adults of all ages as part of an intergenerational approach that values everyone’s knowledge and contributions.
Restoring nature offers us an opportunity to open up access to the countryside and re-make the connection between people and place.
We have been on a journey together to understand Penpont using eco-cultural mapping tools developed by indigenous communities who use them to make their invisible knowledge and land use visible. 
We have spent time mapping Penpont’s past and the natural and cultural diversity that existed here, the state of the land today and the livelihoods it supports, and what we want Penpont to be like in the near and far future. 
Tooling
The mapping process has been a great way to get things started in a sustainable fashion. It has allowed us to be involved in hours and hours of intergenerational conversations, helping us to learn new things about the land and each other. 
This is why these maps are known as ‘talking tools’.
It can be easy to dismiss voices that we don’t necessarily agree with even before we hear their point of view. We see this all the time in discussions about nature recovery and rewilding, where farmers are often seen as the enemy. 
We have found it so interesting to get to know some of the farmers on the Penpont Estate. Having heard them talk we are able to see their point of view and appreciate how much they bring to the table.
Without this mapping effort and these discussions, we would not have been able to collaborate in creating a shared vision for a wilder future at Penpont that we are all now striving to achieve together in the action phase of the project. 
Nature’s recovery…
The land at Penpont is already starting to change for the better in-line with our shared vision.
We have planted more than 3,000 trees, restored hedgerows, started rewilding experiments that will allow nature to turn fields back into meadows, sited new ponds, wetlands, willow beds and are shifting to regenerative agricultural practices.
We are monitoring the land together and designing an education programme that will open the land up to many more young people like us who come from a diversity of backgrounds.  
Because we took the time to discuss and plan together, we are now able to move quickly, and it isn’t only the land that is changing
…is our recovery
There is so much evidence that shows that the more time we spend in nature, the more inspired we will be to protect it.
Penpont is precious living proof of this in a country where we only have free access to about 8% of the land. We know that by restoring nature together we can restore ourselves. We have experienced it firsthand.
I (Emily) am a naturally introverted person. I prefer to listen to people and sometimes find it hard to put my ideas across with a group of people that I don’t know.
Penpont has helped my confidence so much, as I have been interacting with people who I have never met before. I have learnt so much more about our natural environment from them. 
The Penpont Project has allowed me (Esther) to talk to a wide variety of people and to really listen deeply. Even if you don’t agree with what some people have to say, I have learnt that you should hear them out because they will have reasons for their suggestions. The more perspectives we hear, the better our projects will undoubtedly be. 
The future, now
Restoring nature offers us an opportunity to open up access to the countryside and re-make the connection between people and place that will mean we care for the Earth better in the future. 
This will only happen if these projects are collaborative and intergenerational. Otherwise there is a risk that they will repeat the injustices of the past while trying to build a brighter future.
Young people can help lead the way like we have at Penpont, where we are creating and living that brighter future now. We have the energy, the passion and the tools. We just need the opportunities. 
These Authors
Esther is a young activist working in the environment and education. She’s passionate about championing young voices, reinventing the education system to reduce inequality and helping to protect the environment against the climate and biodiversity crises.
Emily is a year ten student who is interested in conservation and writing. She enjoys meeting with the other young people in the Penpont project and learning more each time. She has three cats, a dog and is learning to play the harp. She is also learning to ring church bells.
Find out more about the Penpont Project.
Connect with Action for Conservation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to follow our progress. 
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