If you can say one thing about the last ten days it’s that much of the world has been united by attention towards the passing away of the late Queen.  Amid the grief and sadness there has been gratitude for and celebration of her life.  We’ve heard it said so many times and yet it still rings true; this was the knowledge and acknowledgement of what a life well lived is meant to look like. 

There’s fatigue undoubtably too, not least that lined in the face of Charles and not only in the miles trekked so studiously, with such care and unnegotiable precision from the Abbey, along the crowds and carnations of the Long Walk.  It’s been a kind of marathon for us all, and not just those queueing for the lying in of state – the saturated coverage in the news, so often strangely soothing, was an attempt at making sense of what had seemed unthinkable – the loss of such a constant servant, an intermediary between the people and the politicians, between us all and something instinctively higher; if nothing else a bastion of what old decency is meant to look like.  Anywhere else in the world it might all look archaic, here some sense of continuity seems settled in our blood.

We know this is the finest show of, if not an old guard, then something with an ancient precedent.  The degree to which its qualities are carried into this dawning era will perhaps be a reflection of how relevant the monarchy is to be seen to us all as we navigate the times ahead.  It is to be seen what lessons, what themes and instruction, can be drawn from a family, not to be envied, and everything they represent – not as some national distraction or soap opera if not always exactly an actual fairy tale but as ultimate servants to us all.  They must sacrifice opinions and overt leverage over issues they undoubtedly hold dear.  They represent us at our best, for the most part, but just as we may appreciate their quiet stewardship, the well-being of the nation rests in every one of us – to use our influence, our voice, to serve that which we value; aware that, at times, the meek may inherit very little and common good often has to be strived for.

The establishment, whatever that is, is only as good as its constituent parts – the public polity is the foundation on which everything must be built.  We can start with ourselves then as we seek to build a better world just as surely as we can hold those elected to account.  But some things, fortunately, are above such striving; service, even our own sovereignty as individuals, form part of the traffic on a two-way street.  It’s probably as good a time as ever to consider social contracts – that the state is there to guarantee the well-being of its citizens; a thing always wise to reflect on.

For now at least we can take comfort, if we wish, in the ancient rituals, the final gleam and glamour of a reign inaugurated in an age of empire as we face a new world we must strive to do right by, whose challenges need no rehearsal, proclamation or lament.  None of us need telling that the world today is utterly changed from seventy years ago and yet something of – or something borne out from – that older world in some respects can serve us.  The generation during and after the last world war sought to build a new society, where we sheltered the weak and vulnerable while the mighty paid their way.  We shouldn’t forget the then controversy of that, of that which had to be fought for or the clear realisation then of those who held the reins that this was our best defence against descent into a repeat of the domestic strife that had fuelled the conflagrations which had so pitted that century up to that point.

Such times as these call for forbearance as well as well as a greater sense of our responsibilities. We know the gifts we have inherited, the way in which, as Newton put it, we stand upon the shoulders of giants.  We can still avoid populism, factionalism while keeping our – and the – peace; joining a great effort to speak as with one voice for the things we should cherish – fraternity, our living earth, seeking to look after the poor while challenging the ones who’d do them down.

We can do so while still seeking unity, consensus, while honouring the power of debate.  But we should not forget we have agency too – that while we now have a new king, we all have it in us to serve our country, our very world, in ways that some of the apparently powerful, whatever their station, may not.  Right now, we have just this – the sombre reflection of what true service can look like; a great dedication to the people and the land, passing up and over, passing on, a gravitas reminding us that very little lasts forever, that we must all do all we can with what time – that fleeting agent, sometimes guarantor – can still potentially grant us.

The Children’s Forest – Planting a Vision

A new initiative seeks to inspire the next generation to take a practical  environmental role and harness the power of the imagination

It seems there’s never been a better time to plant trees. As the realities of the climate crisis become more undeniable by the day, efforts to mitigate its effects only grow ever more urgent. The crisis plays upon all of our minds, not least those of the children who, untrammelled by the myriad distractions and seeming justifications of work and the adult world, see the problem all the clearer. But not all children are old enough, or of a disposition to join school climate strikes let alone begin to grapple with the complexities that should be occupying all our minds. It’s vital they are given active roles to help tackle the crisis. And tree planting fits this bill ideally.

That is the thinking behind a new initiative affiliated with the Forest School Association. ‘The Children’s Forest’ project seeks to give children an opportunity to plant trees and tend them in future, offering a sanctuary for both those planting trees and the children of all species. Positive envisioning is key to the scheme. As part of the initiative, children are given the opportunity to play in and observe existing woods around them, really coming to experience the outdoor world in all its depth and beauty. From there they are encouraged to form an inner picture of woodland in their imaginations, to picture woodland in all its richness that they can then utilise to inform their vision of the future forests they will help create. They then bring it to life with art, poetry, writing and theatre. The actual planting and tending, with an emphasis to also restore and protect existing forests, follows on from these key creative processes; what has already taken shape in the mind’s eye is given added impetus on its path towards physical embodiment.

Growing up as Protectors

The benefits for children in all of this are numerous. The Children’s Forest gives a structured means by which children of all ages can engage with engendering hope and creating a better future in a very tangible way. It roots them in the reality of living woodland and gives them a clear stewardship role, empowering them to grow up with a perspective and identity of caretakers and protectors. It also gives them the mindset of respect for all species, be they animal, plant or those of the trees themselves.

The initiative gives children the opportunity to come together in their role as creators and protectors, not just with their immediate peers but with those of all ages and backgrounds and as part of a global network, working together with a unified vision and goal. In the same way it also gives landowners and Forest School practitioners opportunities to meet and work together as it does for any others wishing to be affiliated with the project; helping young and old alike improve their ‘social capital’. And it gives everyone the chance to learn about and build relationships with those other cultures; those of the trees themselves and the myriad of creatures they support.

A report by English Nature; ‘Nature and psychological well-being’i, helps confirm what we may already feel about spending time outdoors. Indicators of mental well-being such as trust, tolerance, participation and feelings of safety are boosted by less stressful environmental factors. In an article entitled ‘Are cities bad for your mental health?’ for ‘Psychological Medicine’ in 1994, Glyn Lewis and Margaret Booth state that mental disorder is far less prevalent among those in urban areas with access to gardens or green spaces than those withoutii. Just as levels of mental disequilibrium are lower in children and young adults living in rural areas as opposed to urban ones, we can only extrapolate the benefits for all children of spending time in the woods; and not only ‘passively’ appreciating them but playing an active role in their welfare. For example, Dr. Roger Ulrich of Sweden’s University of Technology cites immediate psychological benefits derived from contact with natureiii just as Professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in ‘The Experience of Nature: a psychological perspective’iv and ‘The restorative effects of nature: towards an integrative framework’v helped show that time outdoors helps with ‘attention restoration’.

It takes on an added dimension of course with the state of the climate. A report by The Health Education Authority in 1997 states that positive mental health helps us endure pain and sadnessvi. It also affects our ability to deal with change, transition and life events. Time spent in nature and caring for it help all of us deal with new horizons, just as the psychological benefits of engaging to pragmatically address any issue, rather than simply worrying about it, are well attested by anyone involved in engendering practical change.

Duty to Future Generations

As with other efforts to improve the wider psychological health of our societies, prevention of problems is better than their cure. Time spent in the woods, and actively helping address the environmental crisis, can be seen as a collective ‘immunisation’, helping to propagate positive mindsets. If we are serious about continuing to engage with the climate crisis and going forward as part of a robust and healthy culture, we need such inoculations as much as ever. Picking up the pieces further down the line is at best a false economy and a dereliction of duty to future generations, just as Iroquois culture so famously calls us to consider the impacts on our actions on the ‘seventh generation’ down the line.

Perhaps the initiative’s emphasis of ‘positive envisioning’ holds more potential than might at first appear. As the great writer on traditional culture R.J. Stewart reminds us, we have imagined our way into the ecological crisis, changing the reality of the perfect planet into one shaped by our own mindsvii. Centuries of pollution and denigration took their root first and foremost in a shift in consciousness, from the conception that ourselves and the land are separate entities. Just as they are responsible for our collective plight today, our minds may also be able to help steer us towards a better future, informed by a vision of a restored world, rich in everything it once was and could still be. Perhaps, first and foremost, we have to be willing to simply imagine potential. Realising it remains the true task of our time.


iNature and psychological well-being.’ English Nature Research Reports, 2003.

iiAre cities bad for your mental health?’ Psychological Medicine, 24: 913-915. LEWIS G. & BOOTH, M., 1994

iiiVisual landscapes and psychological well being.’ Landscape Research, 4: 17-23. ULRICH, R.S. 1979.

ivThe Experience of Nature: a psychological perspective.’ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. KAPLAN, R. & KAPLAN, S., 1989.

vThe restorative effects of nature: toward an integrative framework.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16:169-82. KAPLAN, S., 1995.

viMental Health Promotion: a quality framework.’ London. HEALTH EDUCATION AUTHORITY, 1997.

viiEarth Light.’ Mercury Publishing, 1992. R.J. STEWART.

This article was first published in the Autumn 2021 issue of ‘Permaculture’.