Our project partners are at the core of everything we do, with each team being made up of dedicated and inspirational people. Restoration is a complex process and in order to be successful, it needs support from every level. Everyone from NGOs, the private sector, and governments to communities and individuals has an important role to play.
We are in the midst of an environmental crisis, so the next ten years are crucial to avert climate change and the irreversible loss of habitats and species. As a supporting partner of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Endangered Landscapes Programme recognises that it is important for young people to be at the core of change to restore our landscapes and seascapes for generations to come. Over the coming months we will be running a series of articles focused on #GenerationRestoration and the youth that are driving change on the ground.
This week, we talked to 26-year-old Ellie Dimambro-Denson, Monitoring Officer for Cairngorms Connect who works collecting data in the field to track the ecological restoration journey of the project.
What does your job involve?
There’s a number of different interventions and indicators we’re monitoring as a part of the project’s restoration journey, so I spend most days in the summertime out in the field, monitoring moths, birds, vegetation and beetles as well as rare plants such as twinflower and montane willows. As the Cairngorms cover some very remote areas, this can involve a lot of nights camping out in the forests, hills and mountains to complete surveys (although also lots of very early starts and days amongst clouds of midges!).
How did you become interested in restoration?
I spent a lot of time outdoors as a small child, hill walking and cycling with my family and always felt very much at home in the natural world, but my interest in ecological restoration became much more tangible when I started university. Studying biology and the learning the extent of degradation across ecosystems while simultaneously seeing the loss of those small islands of green spaces I’d grown up amongst, turned over to an endless sea of local development, I wanted to do something towards protecting and, with hope, restoring these landscapes.
This led me to volunteering with conservation organisations such as the RSPB, living on nature reserves for months at a time. Spending such an intensity of time living and working in these remarkable places, bearing witness to landscapes as they fluctuated across seasons, and the wonder from unexpected encounters with wildlife helped form a deep-set connection to the natural world and ultimately to work for Cairngorms Connect.
What inspires you and how do you stay optimistic about the future of biodiversity and the climate?
I love spotting shifts of the small components beginning to respond within the landscape – the tiny trees (especially broadleaves!) as they start to set seed amongst the heather as the forest expands and rises up towards their altitudinal limits and the small windows in the future these create. Imagine what these trees might see in their lifetimes as they grow and mature, often far beyond our own (even as younger people). What species might call this tree home or sit in it’s shade in years to come?
There’s a lot of cause for discouragement when we look at the state of the natural world – the evidence of climate change as the impact of a warming climate takes hold and endless reports of species declines. But there is a lot of hope too if you can focus in the right places and we need hope to help us find energy to drive positive change. Spending time seeing the slow march of restoration within the landscapes of the Cairngorms helps keep that hope tangible.
How is your project or organisation working and engaging with young people?
Within Cairngorms Connect, we do a number of sessions with Junior Rangers and school groups. There’s a fair number of younger employees and volunteers within Cairngorms Connect and our partner organisations and a couple of the younger members of the team are also a part of the Cairngorms Youth Action Team and we help facilitate conversations between the project and other young people in the national park.
Do you think young people feel connected to the natural world?
Although young people are generally increasingly aware of the plight of the planet and the twin climate and nature emergencies, a lot of folk feel disconnected and increasingly powerless in responding towards them. I think it’s easy for young people to grow up disconnected from the natural world if they’re never had an experience to help invite them in to and feel a part of it. It can be difficult to know where to start. But we are all a part of the natural world and belong here. I’ve found the best way in to feeling connection to the natural world begins with paying attention. Really paying attention. You don’t need to know the names of the birds you’re looking at, or the fancy technical names of a plant structure to find wonder in the natural world. Simply spending time outdoors, looking at different levels, allowing yourself to be curious, and seeing where that leads you.
Is getting the younger generation involved important for conservation and restoration?
Absolutely! Ecological restoration is a long-term process – it takes generations for trees to grow and mature and landscapes to restore. The vision for Cairngorms Connect spans 200 years and for the work to continue, we need to be able to pass the baton on to others in the years to come. But we can only do that if conservation, restoration and the funding that enables them remain a priority in future generations. And to ensure that, we need younger generations to be involved, whether simply through awareness and voting or participating on a local level to help enable conservation and restoration projects, or more directly through the work they ultimately go on to be a part of.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, running between 2021 and 2030, is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals.
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