Tynedale Transformed: “What can we do in our communities about climate change?”

I was invited to present a talk in the Tynedale Transformed Second Sunday – Love Your Planet day programme today. I’ll post links to the recording later, but here’s a transcript of my 10 minute talk:

So the question today is:

“What can we do in our communities about climate change?”

We know two things for sure:

1. The climate is already changing rapidly and we are only beginning to feel the impacts


2. We need to slow the rate of change down so we reduce the loss of the wealth of biodiversity we rely on 

Dr Alan Whitehead MP has already described the ways that national policy initiatives are tackling those, and many organisations, like the AONB and National Park and NCC are already working with landowners and industry on these. But the question I was asked today is about communities – what WE can do, together, rather than on our own.

So to answer those two points:

1. We need to make our communities more resilient to these changes so that we can adapt and thrive.


2. We need to quickly improve the choices we’re making and the actions we’re taking which are making biodiversity loss worse.

This collective approach is explored by Alastair McIntosh – he was Professor of human ecology at the University of the Highlands and Islands – in his book ‘Riders on the Storm – the climate crisis and the survival of being’ – that was published last year. Much of the book is detailing science describing the perilous state that our species has got ourselves into, but in the latter chapters he talks about what communities can do together to make things better.

He quotes a businessman from the Isle of Lewis who says that four things are needed to turn a community around:

  • Political will at a local and national level
  • Technical support to cover any initial gaps in a community
  • Financial support to get things going in the early days
  • Community desire

This thought is extended by  another islander who says:

“First you need the glue to bring the community together, then you need the WD40 to reduce friction”

and the lubrication they mean is the culture, the art, the creativity and the joy – the fun in sharing and making together. Activity that reconnects us with our communities and our place.

Macintosh concludes with five suggestions, for disillusioned teenagers, but they are just as important for the rest of us. They are:

  1. Learn the ways of nature and of climate science 
  2. Learn how to fix things, grow things, cook things, tell stories, and how to give and have fun.
  3. Have conversations across the garden fence with real people in real places and in real time
  4. Build communities, and choose to work in ways that show the kind of world we want to be
  5. Become a rainmaker – this means to balance both contemplation and action. To put love at the heart of the actions we choose.

Of course this isn’t rocket science, but we don’t need it to be. If you’re feeling adrift, or unequal to the challenge, there are people in our communities already doing astonishing and positive things. Find them, contemplate what they’re doing, and then join them, if you agree. 

In these pandemic times, we are safest when we stay home and only travel locally, but we also need human connection. If we do meet up, we need to be in well ventilated spaces, outdoors in fresh air is best. We also need the ability to do some-thing, to have some agency to make changes to improve the things that matter to us.

So I’d like to tell you of three projects I’m involved in, as a volunteer:

Nature’s Living Room CIC:  this is the new incarnation of Deni Riach’s forest play sessions for kids and adults in Target Woods near Acomb. It’s about supporting people to feel at home in nature, and to learn skills and share experiences – telling stories, cooking food, making. We’ll be starting a crowdfunder soon to build a compost toilet in the woods and to fund sessions for groups of people in need, as we emerge from lockdown. Please look out for it and support us when it comes round, we’re on facebook.

The Fruiting Tree CIC: On the first Ordnance Survey map of Hexham, dated 1860, the entire area north and east of the marketplace, stretching down to the river, that is now covered by the Wentworth and Tescos was market gardens. Hexham was a productive and fruitful place. All of those plants – over 400 different types of gooseberry were grown here – represent a huge stock of genetic biodiversity which we mustn’t lose any more of if we want to have the best chance of resilient food supplies in the future. The Fruiting Tree CIC is working to help people grow fruit trees, with cuttings from veteran local trees grafted onto sturdy rootstocks. In Allendale our parish council is needing to plant new street trees, as the current ones decay. How much better will it be to have climbable trees that children can play in and give people free fruit and nuts – something that is common in villages in Europe – than ornamental limes or cherries which only produce inedible fruit. We need to seize every opportunity to increase abundance in the public spaces in our communities.

The final project is Wild Allen Dales – this is a partnership between not for profit organisations in the village in which we’ve looked at what is special and distinctive about our place – and what needs are unfulfilled. Large organisations are working with landowners to trap carbon by conserving the upland peat stores, and fund large scale tree planting schemes, so what else needs doing? Well, we feel it is work at the human scale that is needed. After the covid epidemic, we know that people will need to increase their income, but here, people often have multiple small income streams that are seasonal or part-time and self-employed. We also know that people will want to reconnect with each other, in covid-safe ways, and that they have changed their behaviour to enjoy more of what is in their own neighbourhood, so we’re planning seasonal outdoor natural action events, tying in with our traditional fire festivals and agricultural shows. We’re looking at collecting seed from veteran trees, to grow on to meet some of the future demand for saplings with local genetic stock – rather than imports from as far afield as, oooh Yorkshire. And we’re planning woodland access improvements so people can watch our native red squirrels.

In all three of these projects, I’m working with a community of people – and they all started with conversations – in the school yard, round a campfire or in the park. We’d all spent time learning about the world, wildlife, forests, history, our village, and developed our skills, getting our hands mucky together chopping trees, feeding squirrels, planting seeds, making bird feeders with our kids. 

We looked for needs and matched them to others, then worked out how we could close loops, reducing waste, to make things more abundant.

So what can we do about climate change in our communities, especially now while the weather is so bleak and we’re in lockdown?

  1. Find out information from reliable sources (McIntosh recommends MichaelEMann)
  2. Find out what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and get impassioned about
  3. Find people to build a community with
  4. Find out what’s needed where you live
  5. Find out ways to make the ideas, people and needs work together

Then do it. Do something. What is the next step in front of you? Do that.

Today is Valentine’s day, and one of the earliest references is by Chaucer in ‘The Parliament of Birds

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day

When every bird comes there to choose his match

(Of every kind that men may think of!),

And that so huge a noise they began to make

That earth and air and tree and every lake

Was so full, that not easily was there space

For me to stand—so full was all the place.”

From the very start this time of year has been about coming together, in all our diversity, and singing loud, to fill up the spaces with our songs for abundance and generosity.

Do something, do it together, and do it with love.

Thank you