Resurgence 2022 - Participant's View
Below are wonderful pieces created by attendees of Resurgence 2022. Their brief was to document their experience in whatever way they prefer. We thank them for the invaluable insight they provided on the day and the Resurgence attendee experience. Additional thanks for their willingness to let us publish their documentation.
Around where I grew up, there’s a farm called “Hatton Country World.” It’s a unique attraction, kind of like a farming Disneyland, and I used to go there quite often as a kid. You’d watch goats take on an obstacle course, chase chickens, milk cows and bet money on the ‘sheep grand national’.
Hatton Country World celebrated the great farming legacy of the west midlands. It treasured the image of the perfect UK countryside – the tempered grass, the occasional lone oak, endless bracken and convoying livestock tailed by a shepherd. It treasured something of a lie the UK has told itself over generations, that nature should be smoothed out, tamed and subservient.
That was the only frame of reference I had for a farming attraction before my visit to Knepp, a 3,500-acre estate made famous as the subject of the book ‘Wilding’ and about as different in function, form and practice to Hatton Country World as veganism is to butchery. I was going there with my partner for a youth summit called Resurgence - a collaboration of three groups, Youngwilders, Heal and Knepp themselves.
We’d parked up in a field of colossal solar panels, arriving on the estate’s edge before starting for the Resurgence banner curtaining a small barn’s entrance. A volunteer signed us in, encouraging us to wear a nametag and choose an animal sticker. I went for a cow, grabbed a complimentary cookie and took a seat with my partner, we faced a pallet stage and waited for the speakers to give their introductions.
The groups putting on the event shared the common goal of a wilder outdoors, achieved through the restoration of (largely) farmed environments to an alternative destiny, one without excessive human intervention. Knepp was the priding example of this goal in practice, and that’s why we were all there, to see as they put it, proof of “Nature in Recovery.”
The Youngwilders speaker was up first. Their director, Jack, was a tall, curly-haired guy with a relaxed posture, laptop in one hand and the kind of vocabulary you’d find on a California beach. He donned a semi-mucked up fleece, giggled and listened with his whole body, his earnest talk about the day, the manifesto we’d draft, and the prospects of the future captivated the whole room with ease.
It was the Youngwilders’ first big event, and as the day went on, you realised they’d packed a barn with friendly, scruffy, sun-kissed people equipped with flannel, well-worn hiking boots and more degrees, experience and practical environmental knowledge than the vast majority of rooms discussing climate policy. Jack explained the tickets for the day had sold out so quickly some people had likened it to getting Glastonbury tickets.
We then heard a talk from Hannah at Heal, covering the all-too-real barriers to full-time environmental work, key generational differences and their volunteering strategy. Hannah, wired up with a microphone headset, gave off an air of authentic professionalism, a necessity for Heal’s work handling the big money backing land acquisition.
Next, Knepp’s first representative took the stage: Penny, green jumper, wide-eyes, ecologist and head of safaris. We got a well-rehearsed talk, Knepp’s origins, the locally extinct animals they’ve reintroduced, the intricate ecosystems restored, the volunteers they have, and the volunteers they need. It was a speech she’d given a lot - for good reason.
Then it was Libby, introduced as Knepp’s "big thinker.” Libby came from a humanitarian background and talked in big, conceptually resonant analogies of hope and anger. She explained a project called Weald to Waves, set to create a wildlife corridor through the rewilded land of Knepp and into the further Sussex landscape. It was bold and excited everyone in the room with a huge round of applause.
There was now a distinct sense of camaraderie, a stampeding excitement produced not just by the complimentary coffee and cookies. Penny took the stage to reveal that the stickers we’d chosen denoted our safari groups. I noticed my partner had picked a cow just like me, and I started calling out for other cows before she quietly corrected me that we were English Longhorns, not just “cows.”
The longhorns found each other in an exposed patch outside the barn, similarly, others found their fellow beavers, turtle doves, white storks and purple emperor butterflies (all species reintroduced at Knepp). Each group had a ranger to tether themselves to, locatable by their long wooden staffs which later moonlighted as machetes, rallying flags and pointers.
Our guide was ranger Tom, an eccentric man with an old-timey voice and a habit for scientific postulation. He was very entertaining, and a standout moment for Tom would be when he was bashing his way through a patch of dense overgrowth with the staff, muttering “just like a deer’s antlers, just like antlers.”
As we started off on foot along the tire marks of the safari, ranger Tom introduced us to Dawn, a long-term volunteer who waved from the back of the group, and announced he’d lead us on a uniquely lengthy route for the Beaver den, as it was one longhorn’s wish to meet one.
Within minutes, out on its own in the scrub, we instead met our own insignia, a curious longhorn calf. Orange and white, its fur was rough but brilliant, and a swarm of flies danced around its head. Dawn explained that each Old English Longhorn had a natural white stripe on its back that you could recognise from a drone shot above.
The group trudged across muddy land and subtle trails, and as we hooked around a large body of water called Hammer Pond, Tom explained how this area had made enough of a recovery for Storks to nest, leading to the first stork chick hatched in the UK wild in 600 years. He pointed out a flock of these giant birds flying high on thermal winds above the water.
We were then in deer country; the question being which we’d see, the widespread Fallow deer or the rarer Red Deer. Our group, through a clearing in the budding woodland, encountered a male fallow deer, off-white horns crowning like a rosette, a triad of spotted females skipping in its wake. The sight prompted an intensively scientific debate about climate change and seasonal mating at the front of the group.
At the back, a trailing longhorn explained how she often felt intimidated by scientific jargon, just as she idly peeled a reed and threaded a bracelet, another silent party picked an assortment of berries for his companion as we trekked along the path and at many instances, other quiet individuals squatted down and took shots with their digital cameras.
A guttural roar from a Red Deer bellowed out as we left the clearing, and ranger Tom sadly announced the beaver den wasn’t reachable. We had an afternoon panel discussion we needed to get back for and so needed to divert. It was not a loss though, and on this new route back we spotted a huge, looming stork nest and two polite and docile Tamworth pigs.
If there had been the tremors of excitement before, the barn we returned to, now packed with much muddier boots, had its very own place on the Richter scale. People were rocking along the benches, the coffee and cookies ignored, all eyes on the panel being mic’d up on the stage.
Chantelle, member of the London Wildlife Trust and presenter of the CBeebies show Teeny Tiny Creatures, Marlon, a volunteer working within climate-friendly food solutions, Kate, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and Paula, spokesperson for the Disabled Ramblers, a group of now over 160 members. They all gave their introductions and the room’s rumbles fell dutifully quiet.
The first question rolled in from Libby, “What are some of the barriers for young people getting into the industry?” The question sliced the stage in half, Marlon and Chantelle, both young people involved in better diversifying environmentalist movements, knew the barriers first-hand, quickly identifying representation as a huge issue.
Paula and Kate were from different backgrounds. Paula spoke from her own experiences of lacking self-belief, and the toll younger disabled people face with discrimination. Kate recognised her panellists’ issues and took a part of the problem to be education, referencing the necessity of environmentalism becoming part of the national curriculum.
The talk only heated up from there, and before long there were burning questions about the right to roam, reparations, re-distribution of wealth, regenerative farming, legislation and the difficulties of an essential practice that can be distilled down to “flirting with farmers.” It was an exceedingly interesting debate, and a vital one. One anecdote from Chantelle stood out.
Chantelle recounted being out with a group of inner-city residents on a birdwatching walk in a reserve. As they walked around, with their raincoats on and binoculars pointed towards the sky, people kept stopping them and asking “What are you lot doing? What are you guys up to?” It was obvious what they were doing, or at least, it would’ve been if they were white.
As the panel turned down the last thing left on the agenda was to tackle what Jack described as the “giga-scroll”, a dazzling sheet of paper standing at least 10 ft proud by the far wall of the barn. It was for us to draft our manifesto. We separated back into teams and received one area of focus each, the longhorns set to work on the big word: Climate.
Guided by Anya, a warm, calming member of the Youngwilders, we began drafting our demands. And it was in this cohesively polite discussion of radical policy that the day’s triumphs came to a head. Everyone had a say, everyone gave way to other opinions, and in just half an hour, a team of more-or-less strangers pulled together an actual document.
As we hoisted it to the scroll, our demands for accountability, nature-based solutions and a richer tapestry of biodiversity, I realised that Anya had reminded me of Jack, of the longhorns, and ranger Tom, of my partner and everyone here of everyone else. It was a unity of those who felt a great simplicity in their admiration of something greatly complex.
It’s an attitude that often comes across as naïve, and a barn full of oat milk-drinking 20-somethings talking about their favourite bird may seem cause for a bitter stereotype. But really it was a collective of people who chose to face a reality of devastation, death, regression and outrageous greed. It was a room of people who saw all that and still sought the inspiration and resolve to not only face it but to fight it.
It is an idealistic pursuit, no doubt, but it is anything but naïve.
When wild wind blows
its smell fills you to your soul
with the richness of earth.
The weight and character
of all the abundant life
sits heavy in your chest.
When wild wind blows
the sense feast: dung stench,
stag’s roar, the musk of the rut.
Birdsong symphony kisses the ears
and thermal gliders dance
on azure and billowing cirrus.
When wild wind blows
lichen fingers flutter, laggs lap and mutter,
and acorns punch damp soil.
Gathering is an act of hope.
Late in harvest month
the youth gathered
with each other and the wild
And the wind carried change
like seeds to morning soil.
The manifesto hangs from the rafters of Knepp’s barn, a long white scroll unspooled and lifted off the ground by a pulley system. It contains the furious writings of one hundred young people who have scratched out their demands for a just and green future. Along the lengths of the scroll are dreamy illustrations of ragwort, foxglove, reedy grasses. It’s a document of our hive mind and a document of hope.
This manifesto is the culmination of the first Youth Rewilding Summit, Resurgence, organised by Young Wilders, Heal Rewilding and Knepp Estate. The summit gathers a cast of environmental youth - young people working in Forest Schools, hair recycling, sustainable architecture, environmental tech, regenerative farming, you name it.
The day opens with Young Wilder Jack Durant standing in the barn reading notes he’s gathered from environmental experts of previous generations. The ‘mystery experts’ note the shifts in the movement. They say that the world of knowledge has increased; that there are now many stories of conservation successes for us to point to. They also comment on the changed makeup of the movement. While in the past, environmentalists tended to operate alone, there’s now an energised community. They note that young voices are taken very seriously in today’s movement, perhaps due to generational guilt. Finally, they caution against the mainstream character of today’s environmentalism which carries with it the threat of greenwashing. These lines come as batons of encouragement.
And then, young people are centre stage. Hannah Needham from Heal Rewilding calls for young people to be connected to those who have influence. She asks us: ‘How do you enable and inspire change? What is the future you want to achieve and how do you get there?’
The summit recognises that despite the surge of the environmental youth movement, there’s a gap around youth presence in landscapes, rewilding and conservation. It recognises that limited land access occurs at the intersections of race, class, disability, and youth.
In the afternoon, an inspiring panel discussion considers under-represented groups in the outdoors and environmental sector, and the right to roam. Panellists Marlon Opigo, Chantalle Lindsay, Kate Ashbrook and Paula Brunt argue that access issues stem from structures of land ownership, paths rendered impassable by design, and outdoor spaces unreachable by public transport. Alongside this they point to stories of hope. We hear about the opportunities offered by Farm Apprenticeship schemes, Black Girls Hike, Disabled Ramblers and campaigns for open access.
Despite this focus on access, the room itself is predominantly white and middle-class. Though the organisers have kept the ticket costs low and offered free tickets and travel to those who can’t afford it, the homogeneity of the room is a reminder of how much needs to change.
Between the talks, we are taken into Knepp’s Wildland by guides. We weave through a maze of brambles, sallow, blackthorn, hawthorn, fleaburn, willow - the vegetation so grown up that you rarely see long vistas. A couple of puff balls like deflated footballs slouch in the grass. Our guide prods them. In the oak above, a matted stork’s nest weighs heavy in the upper branches. A huge and uncanny mushroom protrudes from the earth and we peer over it, whip out our phones, photograph it and call others back to it.
The summit’s culminating manifesto speaks to the day’s discussions. The document is divided into six areas: people and culture, environment, access [...]
Education; spaces for farmers and environmentalists to collaborate; global accountability for 1.5 degree; localism; and a plea for exposure to nature for all. These come to the fore across the manifesto. There are also suggestions for a people’s assembly on rewilding, legal selfhood for nature, and ideas for youth apprenticeships in the environmental and agri-environmental sector. It will be interesting to see what happens to the manifesto from here. It is an ambitious call to action that relies heavily on legislative change. It’s a space to watch.