Rossendale Free Press
I’d prefer my son to learn gardening and cooking at school than spelling and maths
BROADCASTER BEN FOGLE TALKS TO ELLA WALKER ABOUT THE POWER OF TREES AND WHAT CHILDREN REALLY NEED TO BE TAUGHT
“YOU have to be pretty cold hearted to not be moved by trees,” says Ben Fogle.
The broadcaster and adventurer – who shot to fame after appearing in Castaway 2000 – is on a mission to increase UK tree coverage from a paltry 13%, way behind the rest of Europe.
If we want to fight climate change and support biodiversity “we have to up our game when it comes to reforestation,” argues the father-oftwo.
“We need to do better, and we can do better. We’ve got the space. We’ve got the willpower. We’ve got the manpower and we just need to act.”
Trees are symbolic on many different levels, says Ben, 48. “They’re integral to life on this planet, but also just on a personal level, a mental welfare level, trees are so powerful. I’ve long been a proponent for forest bathing, forest schools, the idea that you can learn better outside.”
During lockdown Ben and his family spent a lot of time in the woods near their home in Oxfordshire.
“We were able to watch over the course of that year as the trees changed. I had the same place where I lay on the forest floor and I could watch the changing leaves,” he recalls. “If there was one positive from lockdown for me, it was being able to see those tiny, very slow changes happening before my eyes.
“I had never had a chance to watch the same tree go through all its seasons. And there’s something incredibly therapeutic about that; I felt better about myself, and I think if more people could engage with forest environments, we’d be in a better place.”
And Ben believes education is key to reconnecting us with nature.
“My son Ludo, who’s 12, became a passionate gardener and taught himself. During the first lockdown just getting hold of seeds was impossible, so he literally went through our dinners picking seeds out of any vegetables and fruits we were eating, which was quite amusing.
“He started propagating them, experimenting, seeing what would grow, making his own little greenhouses out of old panes of glass. What I loved was his enthusiasm and his creativity,” says Ben proudly.
“I would prefer my son to learn gardening and cooking than I would he learned spelling and maths (at school).
“It’s not popular, this sentiment,” he adds archly, noting the brilliance of autocorrect and calculators on smartphones.
“The skill of planting a tree, how to choose the correct native tree, shade, light, all of those things, I’d prefer he learned how to plant and then how to cook their produce.
“And if schools started thinking out of the box, they could take themselves out of the classroom, back into wild areas, gardens, parks and just try to reconnect children with something they are largely disconnected from.”
And as to why tree planting is so important, Ben says: “There is something very powerful about humans that live for 90 years or so, putting in trees that could be around for hundreds and hundreds of years. There aren’t many things you can do where you can largely rest assured it will be around for many future generations. “It’s a very selfless act. I find it amazing. We’ve got some beautiful old trees where we live and I love just sitting in them, on them, under them, around them with my children, and imagining what those trees have been through, what they saw.”
Arguably reforestation isn’t the answer to all our climate woes... “My form of environmentalism is to champion people rather than making people feel guilty, highlighting shortcomings or contradictions or hypocrisy, because we all have those,” says Ben, who is working with HP – a paper company – on this reforestation campaign. Climate change can feel overwhelming, he acknowledges and we need to talk about it effectively – especially with children
“The equivalent for me
as a child was atomic and nuclear weapons. I remember the book When The Wind Blows (by Raymond Briggs), about nuclear meltdown and countries firing atomic missiles at one another.
“I remember sleepless nights waiting for the nuke to hit London and wipe everything out, and for people to grow third noses and turn green.
“I can say that with a smile on my face now, but it was terrifying. I had so many nightmares because of the way it was presented,” he says.
“The last few years, the modus operandi has been to hit hard and to terrify people. I like a more measured, rational debate and I think terrifying children to the point of tears is not the way to go about it.”
But he is hopeful we can turn things around. “I have hope because I’m a realist. It’s not going to be perfect.
“We have to resign ourselves to the fact six or seven billion people living on this planet will have an impact. But we can’t just go from one extreme to the other,” Ben says, arguing that if we all switched to electric cars overnight, that would cause its own problems.
“That’s not an excuse to just allow it to continue. But if temperatures are going up and the 1.5°C change is unstoppable can we harness that extra heat? That’s my approach.
“That’s not to say we shouldn’t be trying to halt or reduce it. We need to work with the changes that are happening and come up with solutions.”
Ben is working with HP and Arbor Day Foundation to spread the message about the immediate need for protection and restoration of forests and woodlands in the UK. As part of its Forest Positive programme, HP has helped plant 1 million trees globally in 2020, with a further goal of 1 million more trees planted by the end of 2021. For more info and to watch Ben’s story, visit hp.com/ sustainableimpact