Landscapes, power and healing

By Jayne Manley, CEO

As we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day last week, I was reminded that my mum, who was of the war generation, was reduced to tears seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. For many this landscape meant they were coming home from the worst experience imaginable, returning to somewhere familiar, finding comfort in the sight and experience of a place.

If I was to choose just one landscape from my memory it would be the thrill of seeing mountains: travelling from the West Midlands into Wales, there is an exhilarating moment when the landscape changes suddenly. A softer scene is left behind and the rugged hills and mountains, cathedral-like, huge, majestic and powerful, appear as if out of nowhere.

I’m reflecting today as the Prime Minister has given us the go ahead to spend more time outdoors and travel to places in order to exercise. Whilst green landscapes have been out of bounds we have clamoured for access to them. Research tells us that by substituting a physical experience with memories and images, we can get a health boost from landscapes even when we are distant from them.

Landscapes are about scale and diversity, to receive the full benefit of the experience we are overwhelmed by them and their beauty: bigger than we are, they give us a different perspective and we become a part of something much grander. A product of geology and soils, co-created by nature and humans over decades of living with and in them; they are about culture, where their stories and ours are intertwined.

Somehow, when we understand more about landscapes, our ancestors that lived and worked them and the diversity of nature-rich habitats they support, they become more important to us. Then something special happens – we have an urgent need to care for and protect them. Being part of a huge green landscape we know and love, seeing its image or listening to a story, poetry or music, transports us to it and gives us calmness and clear thinking space.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

Do you have a special landscape where you feel physically and mentally renewed and emotionally calm? Evidence suggests that such places are structurally diverse and hold memories for you or your family.

The tree topped landscape of the Wittenhams and the Earth Trust Wittenham Clumps elicit the same strong feelings and emotions. They hold strong cultural associations – generations of children tell of the steep Clump Hills they climbed, where their families walked and played through woodlands and colourful wildflower meadows. Thousands of school parties have fought imaginary enemies on the ramparts of the Iron Age Hill Fort (created more than 2,000 years ago) and looked down over the seasonally changing countryside with the meandering river Thames, the flood plain and farmland. During the war years, Paul Nash was so moved by their majesty he returned time and again to capture their wonder, and many artists and musicians continue to capture their image and draw on them for inspiration.

So, as we go about creating a map of this iconic landscape, that welcomes and introduces people to its power, what should it look like? How can it show its long cultural history, beauty and connectedness in mind, body and soul? An introduction to such a special place will need to bring to life people’s past and present relationship, show how people have co-created it and are therefore are a part of it and its future – a tall order indeed!