People and Landscapes

Thank you to Dr. Sarah E. Edwards for her incredible talk “People and Landscapes”. Sarah is an ethnobotanist currently working at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum and as an associate lecturer at Oxford University Institute of Human Sciences, but when she was undertaking her doctorate she spent three years living and working with Aboriginal communities in Australia. Here she gained an insight into a completely different culture and way of looking at the world. This was a fascinating and very personal insight into that experience and it was shocking to learn about the huge cultural loss and genocide inflicted on that population. Sarah also talked about her experiences of being adopted by an Aboriginal family and the impact of her experiences, both from a scientific and a metaphysical perspective.

Although a different world in many ways, there were many parallels with what is happening here and lessons that we can apply.


The Aboriginal, or “First Nation” people of Australia have a completely different approach to land ownership to the Western model. For these cultures, land is not something that you own – rather the land owns you. People have a duty of care towards the land and the flora and fauna on it. This approach is something we could certainly learn from as we seek to protect and enhance our local habitats around Watlington in the face of the climate and ecological emergency.


The experiences of being in tune with Nature occurred repeatedly throughout the talk – whatever landscape you are in, the Australian outback or the Chiltern Hills – taking the time to stop and appreciate that Nature, to literally breathe it in, is very powerful in enabling you to reconnect with the natural world.


Sarah talked about diet and eating food that grew naturally and locally – although the “rotten cheesefruit” didn’t sound too appealing! – a good knowledge of plants would have been a case of life and death. Whilst not currently a problem (the HGV crisis not withstanding) there is a bounty of edible plants locally here in the Chilterns, with this time of year providing blackberries, damsons, sweet chestnuts, mushrooms, sloes, crab apples and more.


Of course you do need to know what you are doing when picking local plants, especially mushrooms, and this important knowledge passed on through generations is something that is being lost – both in Aboriginal communities and here in the UK, with recent research showing that students here struggle to name just five wild flowers.

This loss of plant knowledge represents the loss of wider cultural knowledge with the names of plants telling us much about what they were used for in the past, and also it makes conservation efforts much harder – you can’t protect what you don’t know.

The full talk cannot be made public on our website due to intellectual property issues and respect for images of people from the Aboriginal community who have passed, but if you would like to see the full presentation please contact watlingtonclimateaction@gmail.com for a private link.

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