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Can a sense of belonging save the world?
A couple of weeks ago I was down in London to see my eldest daughter perform in a piece of experimental theatre. It was the end of the heatwave, the point just before the heavy rains, and the city was completely parched.
In the parks the tall plane trees were shedding their leaves, it looked like October rather than August. Sitting outside a cafe with a cup of coffee, I watched the leaves whirl down to cover the dust where the grass used to be, thin squirrels pawing through them.
I am sure that the big trees will be fine, their roots reaching down - the drought becoming a memory, a thinner ring at their core.
But elsewhere smaller trees were leafless, fruitless, withered, often dead - some had dropped branches in an attempt to survive.
Planters of shrivelled box balls lined the pavements outside restaurants and office buildings. The contracted care was falling far short and they were being left to suffer and die.
But then, every now and again, we would pass a planter or a patch of earth still green, still blooming - verdant against the hard, hot pavements.
One evening, walking from Kings Cross to Euston, we met a man who was watering the plants outside his block of flats with grey water in a large fizzy drink bottle. Two more bottles were in a tote bag by his feet.
The planter he was watering was thriving - bright flowers and trailing green - saved by someone who was happy to spend a little bit of time caring for them.
And alongside the actual flowers he was saving the insects and the birds that depend on them too.
I had been appalled by the state of the parks and this man, with his bottles of grey water, cheered me up.
For I saw that if tiny parts of the city could be kept green through the actions of a few people - then we do have hope for the rest, we just need to let people care.
It isn’t about spending money or increasing watering contracts, for those concepts obviously fall down in a crisis. It is about personal connection.
It is about feeling comfortable with stepping in. It is about belonging, being invested, feeling at home.
This isn’t of course just about the plants in Central London, it is about the natural world wherever we live. While the shrivelled plants in London were very obvious, there are other risks to the natural world around us that are less so.
We only notice them when we pay attention.
When people feel connected to the natural world where they live, they see it as an extension of themselves, they pay more attention, they see its needs. If people feel empowered to act, if they have the knowledge, the personal investment, the impetus . . . . well that is when we see change and care.
Repairing and replenishing our personal connection to the natural world is at the centre of this, it is where we start - using our heads, hearts and hands together to learn, feel and act
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