The story

Take a look at the Return of Inspiration lessons learned from roughly 7 years of on-the-ground experience in the 4 returns network of landscape partners. This story is made up of two parts:

  1. 5 Basic ingredients for Return of Inspiration in landscape restoration (this story)
  2. Recipe for Return of Inspiration in landscape restoration

Recently, Commonland launched an online learning program (rewatch here) to hear from our landscape partners in Spain, the NetherlandsAustralia and South Africa. We went on a so called Mountain Trail with AlVelAl, Wij.land, RegenWA, Wide Open Agriculture, Living Lands and Grounded and some of our new partners. Together, we harvested to find out what our 4 returns network has learnt about the Return of Inspiration over the last 7 years.

5 Basic ingredients of inspiration

  1. Place-based work

Understand your work is connected to the nature, culture and history of a place. A landscape’s long ecological and cultural history has shaped the people that live in it and vice versa. Landscapes are formed by millions of years of geological processes and thousands of years of human civilization. Placing ourselves into the geological, ecological and cultural history of a landscape puts us as part of the process. Cultural traditions, self-esteem and pride are part of the landscape restoration and inspire cultural or restoration projects which, in turn, inspire members of the project.

Some great examples of this are the AlVelAl 8000 project and Re-Generation festival in the south east of Spain, the ‘Danjoo Koorliny / Walking Together Towards 2029’ journey in Western Australia or the art-cycle route in the peat meadow landscape in the Netherlands.

The same way that a cultural history can spark inspiration or action, it can also carry a historical load that impacts the psycho-social context of the stakeholders to this day. This is something to be aware of:

“In landscapes with more complex socio-economic histories (such as Apartheid in the South African context) the ability to imagine better futures are suppressed by harsh realities. (…) Thinking in ecological and generational time is sometimes required to understand the effect that interventions may have, and persisting despite no direct evidence that something is making a difference.”

Pienaar du Plessis, Living Lands

  1. Head- and heart space

Consciously create the time and headspace for people to be able to reimagine and dream up a new future. If you are in survival mode, there is limited psychological bandwidth to go into productive dialogue or work together with other people, let alone dream into the future.

“In degraded landscapes, sustainable options to make a living are limited, thus the problem is not simply a lack of imagination, but a material reality that limits the choices and options of those living on a degraded landscape.”

Pienaar du Plessis, Living Lands

“You can’t really change people by just giving them information, you have to really engage with people’s hearts to really inspire them and to make those changes happen. What we ask of people in the landscapes are difficult – you cannot guarantee that it is going to work out wonderfully. That is why inspiration is so important.”

Ancois de Villiers, PhD candidate Living Lands, South Africa

  1. Oxygen mask principle

Invest in your own team first before inspiring others. Working with inspiration in landscape restoration does not only mean inspiring your stakeholders, but, most importantly, also inspiring your own team. You cannot expect an uninspired team to inspire others. This can be done by actively celebrating steps along your landscape journey and connecting an inspiring moment to the next action.

“Is what inspires me the same as what inspires a farmer? Inspiration is deeply personal. The most inspiring thing for a Spanish farmer is to have a tilled, clean (no herbs) farm. I cannot give all my energy to one farm, let alone have the energy to change the community of farmers.”

Fernando Bautista, AlVelAl, Spain

  1. Can I trust you?

Be transparent and trustworthy, for example, by putting your time, energy and money where your mouth is. We also see that inspiration gets space when there is a lack of judgement. Trust is the carbon in the soil to grow the mycelium. How do you grow that? That’s the million-dollar question:

“it is important to be transparent and very open. [In Spain] we normally do an annual assembly where people can ask everything to the board and the time. This is important for inspiration so that people you work with are present and part of the association”

Elvira Marín Irigaray, coordinator AlVelAl, Spain

  1. Courageous conversations

Reality of landscape restoration can be rough, so make sure you can facilitate those honest conversations. For farmers, for example, living and working on the land is their whole life, their family life and it is often generational. It is also about trust, inspiration and the future vision of how the landscape could look. You need a lot of trust to go on this journey together, not knowing exactly what it will look like, what the income will be, whether you can pay of your mortgage. Rest assured, conflicts can – and will – arise that might require professional mediation and ultimately it requires trust, transparency, honesty and inclusion of all stakeholders.

2156 members are now active on 4returns.earth, connecting, sharing their field experiences, and creating new opportunities and initiatives together.

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4 replies on "5 Basic ingredients for Return of Inspiration in landscape restoration"

  1. Very helpful principles, thank you. I especially resonate with Fernando’s comments in no 3, as this is where we are at in portugal also. Currently working to build a foundation.

    1. Nice to hear that you appreciated reading this, Debra. There are so many little and big things that we need to continue sharing as we progress. Good luck with your initiative!

  2. Thank you for this inspiring piece, Willemijn. I’m living at a course and festival center called Ängsbacka (www.angsbacka.com) and Plan to co-create an eco village to ground us even more on the land. It’s rich, and we are creating a food forest (we already have an abundance of apples, pears, plums, blueberries and lingonberries all around). My dream is to integrate fully with the natural abundance of the place, making it even truer to its tagline of “Welcome Home to Yourself.” I will share this piece with my team ♥️🙏🏻 LeAnn

    1. LeAnn thanks so much for sharing, its so inspiring to meet people from all over the world that are doing amazing things such as you. Looks like you are doing important work in a holistic way. Inspiration and a sense of purpose is key to making the first steps into a new future where we connect to place and each other again and can start to restore ourselves, our soils and our society.

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