Arriving at Camp: First Impressions

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October 25, 2017

Arriving at Camp: First Impressions

During my first day at the first Ecosystem Restoration Camp in the Altiplano of Murcia, Spain, I spent a lot of it open-mouthed. I am in awe of the beauty of the place, despite how painfully noticeable the degradation is. I have been helping to make the dream of restoring this landscape for nearly a year, from my computer in London, so finally being here, meeting the people I have known as digital torsos for so long, and seeing the land and its stark beauty has been profound.

Here are some of the things that I noticed about this place and what is being created here.

  1. The Land

I travelled to the camp overland, as I don’t want to add the intense amount of carbon that comes from flying to our already overloaded atmosphere. This approach certainly takes longer, but the beauty of it is that you can see the landscape change as you move, from rainy grey London, to the picturesque houses and forests of France, to the green and lush Catalunya, to the semi-arid heat of the South of Spain. I noticed the half open gape of my expression as I gazed out of the window of the car as we drove towards the camp house. The soil is white, almost like chalk, and the land is so eroded in some places that there are these huge gullies, almost like the grand canyon. The earth has just given way. And the reasons for it were everywhere I looked. People ploughing the land in their tractors, cutting down trees and grazing their animals, removing vital vegetation cover.

Seeing all this made me sad, of course, but also determined to help make this camp a reality and to reverse some of this damage.

2. The Village

I wasn’t prepared for what I found in the village, if that is what you would call it. It used to be a village. Now it is a collection of crumbling down buildings, home to Alfonso, the owner of the land where the camp is based, his neighbour, and some farm workers. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the degraded state of the village and the degraded state of the land surrounding it.

The house, however, is a haven. The kitchen is full of food, with an abundance of fresh delicious vegetables straight from the garden. The walls are white with dark wooden beams holding up the ceiling. It is a beautiful place. Simple and elegant. I am sharing a large room with two other women. It feels special, like solidarity personified, like something out of a fairy tale. In the morning, I woke at sunrise with ease, something I find very difficult in the city, and we sat together and shared what made us angry, sad, scared and happy, as well as what were the best qualities in each other. It was a very uplifting experience that ended with us all feeling more connected to each other. It was beautiful.

3. The results of different approaches

The day continued with a visit to the vegetable gardens that had been planted and cared for by various ERC volunteers since May. It was an interesting experience to view what has been happening to the various plants that have been placed in an amongst each other. The first thing that I noticed is that the vegetable patches that we have planted are bright bursts of green with different plants interspersed with each other. This is a joyous juxtaposition with the semi arid, bone dry, almost white land that surrounds us on all sides.

Part of my initial tour of the area was to a row of poplar trees that had survived the vast removal of trees from the area over generations. What was striking was that the patches where the trees survived, there is still a flowing river that provides vital water to communities downstream. However, just a few metres to the left and right, where the trees had already been removed, the river has completely dried up.

4. The initial impacts of our work

The initial impacts of our work are immediately obvious and hugely inspiring. The vegetable garden is producing an abundance of colourful, healthy food, and is an oases of green juxtaposed with the harsh semi arid hills surrounding it. We took a trip to the area where the camp will be, and took a look at the swales and the ponds that have been created. One thing that we noticed that was that the swales are already collecting rainwater effectively. This shows that they are functioning properly which was great to see. But the most striking thing of all was the fact that the ponds, which have only been in place for about a month, are already brimming with tadpoles. Ricardo, our Field Manager, was astounded. The speed at which biological life returns if you simply help it along is astounding, and it is moments such as this that remind us why we are here.

If this account of my arrival touches you, you can join this growing movement of human evolution. Become a member to help us fund this mission, or join us as a volunteer! All help is greatly needed. 

Let’s restore the earth!


  • Gabrielle Harris says:

    Lovely piece, Ash! Helps one really visualise it from afar, and so moving to hear about the fast regeneration. I’m assuming there is protection from the worst of the sun for the vegetables? Were they planted around some of those survivor trees? Thanks for writing this up! Will you also go the Commonland sites to see what they are doing there?

  • Ashleigh, so great to read your report! Tank you for writing it. Know that many of us are inspired by what all of you are undertaking. We hope to learn from your successes and, yes, the mistakes that will be inevitable, and how you overcome them. But what a journey to begin! I am reminded of this poem by Rumi: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”

  • Wilma Plooij says:

    Thank you for sharing your experieces with us Ashley, great article, it’s like I’m seeing it through your eyes!

  • Jan Hein van der Hoeven says:

    Ha Ash thank you so much for the great post! Its a joy to read and please continue writing about your experiences. I feel so similar sitting behind the computer. Its still so very digital but you made me see the country and feel the sand.

  • j.walls1 says:

    Hi Ash. I am so glad you landed in a beautiful, inspiring place. Keep up the good work, above all enjoy and drink it in!

  • Justin R-Söndergaard says:

    Hi Ashleigh. A great rendition of your experiences and observations. Key to attempts to recover, or return (see Nature´s bounty is based on what you express above, namely that you “couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the degraded state of the village and the degraded state of the land surrounding it.” Inspiration and belief, for me, are those (key abstract) things driving the will to make a bad situation better. Acting as significant drivers for my own belief system based on Nature´s capacity to recover, which has been my experience as a conservationist, and the many times I, with others, have attempted land and landscape restoration and succeeded, makes your experiences even more meaningful. Thank you, Justin.

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