Tolga Aktas | Heal Storyteller
Tolga, 27, is a conservation biologist, writer and environmental photojournalist from London. He is an ambassador for The European Nature Trust and ELAFI, and his writing has been published on BBC Wildlife and PBS Nature.
Nature is such a fantastic opportunity that we have here to experience on this planet. It provides us with breathtaking views, it gives us natural places to explore and discover, it provides us with a positive mentality, we are given invaluable environmental services, and most importantly it is home to many species of wildlife and plants.
Nature benefits us all! It is often forgotten that us humans are connected and a part of the ecosystem as well.
Who couldn’t love such a place that gives so much and only asks for a little back in return? The truth is such wonders of the natural world can easily be compromised, but all is not lost as many issues can be easily be reversed. With urbanisation in many areas of the UK continuing to increase, more and more of us are living in cities and becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. With many areas now covered by concrete jungles and building infrastructure, it becomes incredibly clear how important it is for us to enhance and protect the green spaces that wildlife and plants call homes, and the areas of nature that connect us to the natural world
Sometimes just looking into the distance of British lands and observing farm livestock peacefully grazing, or even the empty spaces of land sitting there patiently, can make you wonder how these spaces looked before human intervention. Was it fully wild and bursting with life in every direction? Did we have much more species richness than we have at present, its decline brought about by restricted ecosystems and our human occupancy of the nation? These are the kind of questions we ask ourselves when we take a step back to observe and listen to nature. Does this seem right? Am I happy with how it all looks? Could it be better? And most importantly, how can I help?
When it comes to making a contribution to conservation, rewilding and restoration projects, not many people know how they can help, to be honest. Many people have a lot to deal with already with work lives, education and families to look after and all of this is perfectly logical and realistic. It is often thought that to make a huge difference in conservation, rewilding and restoration work, that you must be already rich and have established careers to do so. It is often scenarios like these that restrict us from wanting to make any positive change to heal our lands, heal nature, and connect with it to heal ourselves. But the truth is in all of this, there is now a new way to help and contribute, and with Heal, everyone is a part of the journey and together we can all benefit as we watch the natural world around us obtain benefit at the same time.
For me personally, I have always been interested with the nature and wildlife that surrounds this planet with us. Most of this fascination has taken me to parts of the world I could only have imagined when I was younger. When you have the opportunity to explore different ecosystems and witness the biodiversity contained within them, you begin to slowly see how everything is connected. You soon notice that protecting and managing wild spaces or perhaps letting nature handle things itself is necessary to see the benefits that the natural world can either show us or give us.
My interest in rewilding first started with The European Nature Trust and their work in Scotland at the Alladale Wilderness Reserve. Their mission was to help restore and rewild the Scottish Highland’s ecosystem, to bring back much of the fauna and flora that once thrived there, of which disappeared over the many hundreds of years. This shortly led me to the rewilding work happening at the Knepp Estate and seeing the slow and gradual successes that occurred there. I started to wonder why every part of the UK wasn’t doing things like Scotland and in West Sussex where the Knepp Estate is. Then I came across Heal Rewilding and their mission and approach really caught my attention.
By fundraising using their unique Heal 3x3 approach, anyone and everyone can contribute by donating £20, which then turns into a 3m x 3m square of land (accompanied with a what3words three-word address) and this piece of land will hopefully contribute one day to a much larger foundation project goal, to see Heal's first fully rewilded project area somewhere in the Southern English lowlands. After reading Heal’s mission statement, I knew I wanted to be a part of such a mission, and what made me happy is that I knew everybody could help contribute towards making this all a reality. The mission at Heal is simple really and relatively easy to digest: raise money, buy land in England and rewild it.
Heal have provided us all with a new way to become involved in rewilding and conservation efforts here in the UK. Gone are the days where there are restrictions and only a select few can make a positive change. Together, we can all heal the land, we can heal nature, and, in the end, we can heal each other and ourselves.
What we do to nature and the wildlife around us, we do to ourselves. Humanity and the natural world are both inextricably linked – protecting it fundamentally protects us!