The recently launched Change Makers programme is giving Scottish youth the opportunity to shape a more optimistic, nature-connected future.
Young people are the future of rewilding, which means engaging them and harnessing their energy, ideas, skills and passion is incredibly important. Change Makers is a recently launched youth empowerment programme run by Scottish rewilding charity Trees for Life. It will give young people living in and around the Affric Highlands rewilding landscape the opportunity to shape the future by providing them with the skills and opportunities to develop their own nature-based businesses and livelihoods. This will ensure local rewilding efforts not only deliver for nature, but people too.
This coming winter, Change Makers will bring together an initial group of around twelve motivated young people from communities in Cannich, Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit. In discussions with a rewilding coordinator, they will have the opportunity to identify projects they want to take forward, with a focus on knowledge and capacity building. These could involve the development of practical, nature-friendly land management skills, or new ideas for nature-based jobs. It has already been demonstrated that putting nature at the heart of green economic recovery would benefit the UK’s rural and coastal communities.
“We’re really excited to be working with schools and community organisations, nurturing the deep connections that local young people have with this awe-inspiring landscape,” says Alan McDonnell, Programme Development Manager at Trees for Life. “We hope they will become nature champions within their communities, inspired by the physical and mental wellbeing benefits that rewilding can deliver.”
Realising a greener, better future
The Affric Highlands rewilding landscape was launched by Rewilding Europe and its partner Trees for Life in 2021. The ninth landscape in Rewilding Europe’s portfolio has a rewilding vision comprising three main components: nature, people and livelihoods. While the aim is to restore woodland, peatland, and riverside habitats across more than 200,000 hectares, people will be prioritised as much as nature. Youth outreach and engagement are critical to this.
“Our vision for Affric Highlands stretches 30 years; the precise pathway for realising this vision is still being mapped out,” says Affric Highlands team leader Stephanie Kiel. “This is why Change Makers is so important. It asks young people what their vision for the future is, and what they need to do to make that future a reality.”
“We’re creating a lot of things that don’t exist yet,” she continues. “It’s vital that we support young people in securing ownership of this journey, to become agents of the changes they want to see, while strengthening their connection with nature, culture and local history.”
The need for change
Young people often feel the need for change more urgently, especially in Scotland’s shrinking rural communities. Here, affordable housing is often in short supply, job opportunities may be limited, and with each young person drawn away to the cities, the appeal of staying put is further eroded. Yet plenty of young people would like to stay if they could, to remain close to their families, and to stay in touch with the land.
At a time when climate anxiety is growing and their economic prospects are uncertain, growing numbers of young people – both in Scotland and across the world – want and need a more optimistic, nature-connected future.
“The links between climate change and land use are widely accepted now,” says Alan McDonnell. “For increasing numbers of young people, this means sustainability isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. For others, nature offers solace and continuity, while nature’s unparalleled powers of recovery offer something even more valuable – hope. This is one of the attractions and strengths of rewilding, which offers the promise of a resurgent, game-changing nature.”
Working with researchers Nick Barnes and Mollie Saunders, the Change Makers programme has already delivered a successful nature photography workshop. Having been given cameras and training, students from Invergarry Primary School and Kilchuimen Academy were asked to take pictures that were meaningful to them, promoting some deeply felt connection with nature. Their “Portraits of Recovery” photos were exhibited at Eden Court in Inverness, accompanied by a “Tree of Hope” where visitors were encouraged to record their own thoughts about the programme.
The Change Makers programme is also developing a Green Leadership Award as an ecological strand to the existing Youth Leadership scheme run by High Life Highland, with a specific focus on rewilding, connection with nature, and wellbeing. By working collaboratively with local young people, the aim is to offer pioneering “change makers” the chance to plan and organise more rewilding-themed events, such as the “Portraits of Recovery” exhibition. These young leaders will hopefully use the skills developed within the Green Leadership Award scheme to recruit, equip, and inspire more young people, creating what is hoped will become an evolving and continuous programme that will run while the 30-year Affric Highlands vision is realised.
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