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Activism as a work in progress: Why compassion and consistency are vital for self-improvement

Activism and disruption doesn't need to go hand in hand. We spoke with Ashleigh Brown on how she's turning her back on what's wrong in the world and focusing on what's right.

I’ve always considered myself an activist, but sometimes I’m not that vocal or active about it. I’m inspired by people who structure their lives to serve the planet, who align their lifestyles to their values. People so committed to the planet’s future that it’s reflected within all of their choices. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to think more about the journey of things, buying clothes made from longer-lasting fabrics, shopped less or secondhand, travelled more cautiously, never flying if it’s just for the weekend, and started to consider the quality and origin of my food. Of course, I’m not without fault, I like to think of activism as a work-in-progress, something to aspire towards, that’s not absolute. But of course, I despair at the state of the planet and want to hear more stories of positive proactive activism solutions.

Ecosystem Restoration Communities (ERC) – a charity creating community around land restoration – is one such beacon of light and its education co-ordinator, Ashleigh Brown, echoes my non-judgemental approach to activism. The organisation is less emergency-focused and more sustainably-led, particularly focused on how land is cared for to optimise what it produces.

Ashleigh has always identified as an activist, although she initially took a more disruptive approach, which drained her. Eventually, “I stopped focusing on what was wrong and started focusing on what was right.”

Ashleigh’s activism has influenced her life choices – she relocated to Devon, because of its healthy ecosystem and slower pace of life, “now I regularly climb cliffs and go sea-jumping. It’s very freeing.” She has also drastically reduced travelling by plane, is more conscious of her purchases and buys independently, while also spending much more time outdoors and in nature. “I also try not to buy food from supermarkets because of the negative impact of industrial agriculture on food production,” she says. “About 80% of my food comes from veg box schemes and directly from local producers, which is much better for my health and tastes so good. But it can be a real blessing and a curse knowing so much and constantly trying to do the right thing.”

“I love my job,” she adds. “Every day, I give people the knowledge, contacts and inspiration to make a positive impact on the planet. I’m always talking to people around the world who work with restoring the land and that’s very good for my mental health.”

ERC is an international and educational NGO, made up of 60 centres and programmes that teach ecosystem restoration practitioners and consultants (and anybody else who’s interested) how to reverse the effects of climate change and restore ecosystems through local agricultural practices. Many people can feel overwhelmed or lack the funds and time to prioritise activism in their lives. But the structure provided at ERC democratises the knowledge to do so, while cultivating community and working to repair degraded land. 

“Ecosystems that function well do certain things,” says Ashleigh. “They regulate climates, oxygen and food production. And given how regularly we use natural resources like timber, we need to work more actively to restore them. At ERC, we look at the role that humans play within ecosystems to teach practices that sustain us and the rest of life in a healthy regenerative way.” 

ERC has inspired a number of affiliate projects and localised initiatives that restore ecosystems, attracting universities and other educational institutions to partner with them. They are currently in talks to create a standardised ecosystem restoration degree and convert campuses into active sites that would be maintained by students.  

“We’re working towards growing ecological understanding and awareness among as many people as possible,” says Ashleigh.

Naturally, the urgency of the climate crisis looms closer and sharing information has never been more important. Ashleigh is aware of this dichotomy: “Humanity is in a moment of rapid evolution but I believe our mind-sets are really changing for the better. We need to remember how powerful we are as individuals. Your impact is undeniable and needed for our future to be survivable and beautiful – particularly as society gets more fragile and people become more desperate.” 

To me, activism can be a tiring feat to constantly commit to. But talking with Ashleigh, I’m reminded of the necessity for continuity and the importance of persistence. Every day is a new day and every choice is something that stacks up long term. My next mission in my own activism trajectory? To cut down on my single-use plastics, especially given the amount of food and product packaging that can’t be recycled from home. This means prioritising shopping from refill stores and local grocers… it’s not impossible.