Home / World wide / Pretty damn cool Ellie Goulding on rewilding as a cure for our planet – and our mental health

Pretty damn cool Ellie Goulding on rewilding as a cure for our planet – and our mental health

I just got back from a walk in Hyde park headphones in Max Richter playing after a sweltering 30C day in London. I stopped halfway to take my trainers off and pad my feet on the grass. This is where I often go when I need to breathe and not to think.
Ive been a nature nerd since the days of making mud pies and grass on the side turning up stones to see worms and woodlice and foraging for blackberries with the other kids in the village often to make some sort of inedible fruity soup.
When I think about this special time in my childhood I feel a visceral tug like missing someone. I found out aged five we were moving out of the city into the middle of rural Herefordshire somewhere on the border of Wales and England. I remember hating the idea. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.

My background has been described many times as humble and it was. I often escaped my house for the calm of the green surrounding it. Me and my friend Niall would walk for hours hoping to get lost and with buses rarely appearing we ended up knowing shortcuts through every field and hedgerow. The way that Kerry and Kurtan are often hanging around in a field in the BBC comedy This Country chimes with me. While I dont come from a privileged upbringing knowing the landscape so well gave me a connection that is a type of wealth. From a young age I knew instinctively that my fate on this planet is inextricably entwined with that of nature – with the fate of flora and fauna and fungi.

I felt it in my bones and surely the era of the treehugger or eco warrior has now gone because we are all in this ecological mess together whether we feel a connection to nature or not. We are 100% reliant on these incredible natural systems provided in this biosphere. We know that for clean water you need healthy forests to balance carbon you need healthy seas and peat bogs mangroves and seagrass. Nature isnt just nice scenery. We are nature – and we depend on it.

Hearing the ice crack tuned me soberly into the climate crisis Ellie Goulding at the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland. Photograph Tristan FewingsWWFPA
It felt natural to me to start speaking out about the destruction of nature and more generally about my fears and hopes for this amazing planet asking questions holding people to account trying to open the conversation. I gave the crisis a name out loud – the climate and nature crisis – as many others were doing but in my industry nobody was talking about it. The biggest threat to humanity … and it was business as usual! It was totally bizarre.

I noticed that anything I said that was nature or climaterelated had repercussions for me. Apparently saying out loud that I was frightened for our future was a big deal. Pleading for us to keep forests intact for example was treated as if I had made a huge political statement and I started shedding followers on social media fast. To really engage young people rather than scare them off I had to change the narrative from panic and anger to ambition and optimism. Hopelessness was getting me nowhere. My followers have gone up again recently. Given that I havent released music in a while maybe something is catching on!

In 2017 I became an environment ambassador for the UN meaning I had to go into scary conferences and make speeches to scientists and global leaders. Awful. As someone with a phobia of public speaking and chronic impostor syndrome this was not a fun process. We can reverse biodiversity loss. Photograph Caspar If I hadnt had such a strong connection with nature I dont think I would have been able to do it. My passion also comes from how much it has saved me and been there for me when bad mental health was taking me to a dark place. That alone gave me a sort of legitimacy to speak out and muscle my way into discussions largely between politicians who are deciding our future and our childrens future.

I travelled with the WWF I have since become a WWF ambassador to Greenlands Jakobshavn glacier. Witnessing the sheer size and enormity of the glaciers and hearing the ice crack was a huge sensory overload and tuned me soberly into the climate crisis. Essentially what were doing to the planet is the equivalent of pointing a hairdryer at an ice cube thats sitting in warm water. But such analogies dont seem to wash with people. As a songwriter and performer I trade in emotion and feeling so I get that. Telling stories is everything how we connect intertwine relate empathise.

I was lucky enough to meet the scientists – who only have the science and the data and nothing more no metaphors or wordplay just facts – and I really felt their exasperation. They are on the frontline providing evidence to our politicians who then try to negotiate with it instead of really acting. My tactic now is to show up as often as possible armed with messages from scientists and views and questions crowdsourced from people who follow me on social media. Im always conscious of who isnt in the room as much as who is. For us nature nerds things are finally changing for the better. The official climate process has stopped treating nature and climate as two different problems.

At Cop26 in Glasgow last year I got to speak and met a network of incredible environment ministers from all over the world from Kenya Costa Rica and Ecuador who are reversing the tide of destruction sometimes in very dangerous circumstances. Theyre backing nature in a way we havent seen before. The Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault has been in and out of jail for ecoactivism. A lovely guy! Im not saying this is happening everywhere but we shouldnt write off committed talented policy people who can flip the system from underwriting the destruction of the natural world to protecting it.

However uncomfortable I am thats nothing compared to the risks that are being taken by Indigenous communities who do most of the work and shoulder most of the risk. Whenever I go to a summit or conference I try to catch up with young activists from across the globe. At Stockholm50 I met young climate and environment leaders who had escaped war zones and persecution to get to these meetings. They included people from rainforest regions who had travelled for days – including by canoe – just to be heard. That level of risk and sacrifice is mind bogling.

Ellie Goulding speaking at Stockholm50 where she met young activists from across the globe. Photograph Handout These are my heroes and allies. They are the people I want representing me. It breaks my heart to think young people a demographic that includes my oneyearold son could grow up without the kind of relationship with nature that I was lucky to have. It is for this reason that I am so relieved to see that rewilding is on the radar again. The idea that we can reverse biodiversity loss provide the ecological functions we all rely on and create resilient local economies for us and for our children – just by letting everything take its natural course once in a while – is pretty damn cool. Nature really can heal itself if we let it. At the same time if we really commit to immersing ourselves in it it can work wonders for mental health.

I would say to anybody that from supporting Global Witness WWF Unep and ambitious goals for rewilding Europe by 2030 and protecting 30% at least of the seas theres a youshaped hole in ecological activism. Its not separate from you its part of you. You really do have much more power than you realise and there is no better time to seize it. Be conscious of your daytoday actions in how you can be as friendly to the Earth as possible. Talk to your friends start groups join local environmental communities plan walks in nature get stuck in. But above all stay in active hope. There is still so much we can turn around. We just need to keep fighting and to stick up for this incredible planet that we get to call home.

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