Posts Tagged ‘Landscape’

Research blog

Here, I will be recording my developing research writings. These are part retrospective and part looking to the future.

After a life time in outdoor learning, I am eager to pass on some of my insights, and just as interested in developing my ideas and thoughts. I have been greatly influenced by colleagues here in the UK and with my involvement in the institute for Outdoor Learning,  and by the many academics and practitioners I have met through the European Outdoor Education Network.

Almost twenty years ago, I was fortunate to gain a Winston Churchill Fellowship and to travel to Australia, exploring connections with nature. I have also travelled on a number of occasions in Canada, my mother’s birthplace, and taken the opportunity to explore informal learning opportunities. Recently, I have had the privilege of exploring ideas when vacationing in South India.



My current interests are concerned with:

  • how does being an ‘outdoor’ person affect the ways in which we adapt to being older and possibly less physically mobile?
  • what role do photography and other aesthetic approaches affect our connections with the outdoors and the non-human?
  • are there any lessons to be learnt for the outdoor learning curriculum?

A term I am frequently coming across is ‘healthy ageing’.

Taking a moment

It is easy to rush around, grabbing photographs and missing the wonder of the changing dance of light on the surrounding slopes and watery surfaces. I am standing in a favourite spot. Most of the time I am alone. A curious young motorcyclist comes and asks for ‘photograph’. His brief presence adds to the mood of the moment.






The early evening breeze rustles and whispers through the palms; birds seem unfazed by my close proximity; dragonflies pause from their flights. This is the photographer’s golden hour not only because of the magic of the changing soft light, but also because of these special moments in nature.

Getting Inspiration

Many will know that I spend a lot of time each year at Cardamom House, in the foot hills of the Western Ghats. This is in Tamil Nadu, a drier state than Kerala. The sunsets can be spectacular; the birds and flowers exotic.


We are visited by many artists and some of my inspirations come from looking at their work.  Some come armed with sketchbooks and notepads, others give us their website addresses. They challenge me to see through new eyes. They challenge me to take risks. They challenge me to work in different media.

My experiments have mixed results. I am learning all the time.

The Western Ghats: The mountains – getting familiar

P1010603 P1010605

At first, my creativity was quelled. Being in the same place for a number of weeks, with the same old views, from the same old positions can stifle the desire to explore. It can also lead to a more intimate awareness of the nuances of light. For the last fifteen or more years I have stared at the skyline of the foothills of the Western Ghats. I have become familiar with the gullies and clefts. I have looked out onto them at all times of day and night, with all manner of skies, and during severe drought and monsoon.


It is only now, that I am beginning to see detail. Using watercolours, the number of interpretations becomes endless. Here are some of my latest renditions.

The Art Trail has ended

Posts Row1At Tuppenny Barn we had about 400 visitors. It is a superb venue. I sold the black and white pictured here. It is always good to sell things as this gives me feedback. Also popular were some of the tree images I took years ago. May be it is time to get out into the woods again.


Emsworth Arts Trail, 3-5 May at Tuppenny Barn

An eclectic exhibition of photographs!Wixford 1

Red orchids

Avebury and the Ridgeway

Ridgeway 2


A blustery weekend in April.

A weekend for making memories.



Ridgeway 4

Pondering the meaning of the landscape.

Who has walked this landscape before?



Ridgeway 3



Clouds scud across a darkening sky

Stones – sentinels to our ancestors.




HB Ridge


A time for reflection

As memories take birth


A Wet Sunday in the New Forest

The weather forecast suggested a brief respite from the storms. It was wrong, but the scenes and colours were sharp. It was worth getting wet.











Autumn in the Lakes

“Let the mountains speak for themselves”, Rusty Baillie.

I have just returned from an energising four days in the Lakes. The EOE Network Conference was stimulating and the scenery invigorating.

Connecting Through Creativity: A Reflective Account

Paper presented at the EOE Conference in Metsakartano, Finland, October, 2011

I imagine I share with everyone here an enthusiasm for being outdoors in nature. The opportunity for an adrenaline rush or the unexpected peak or frontier experience seals my passion. As I reflect on my many experiences in the outdoors, I am aware of their complexities. These experiences are the sum of an interplay of such features as the weather, the light, a sense of attachment to locations and the people around me, the cultural context, emotional responses and much more. Through these experiences I have come to appreciate the inter-related qualities of the outdoors – the strengths, balances, sensitivities and fragilities in a variety of ecosystems – and the power of nature to destroy, rebuild or evolve. The accumulated effects of these factors have driven my desire to be an effective steward of the environment, to have a positive impact on environments – to conserve, to encourage biodiversity and sustainability, and to take action to inform others of the values, qualities and inspiration of the outdoors.

In this paper, I first explore why a connection with the outdoors and nature is of importance. I reflect on research undertaken with women youth workers related to their perceptions of the outdoors, and the constraints on and supports for their participation in outdoor activities. I then consider the outcomes of research with ‘outdoor’ and ‘non-outdoor’ colleagues and relate my analysis to Peter Martin’s (2003) pedagogic framework. Finally I explore ways photography might be an invaluable tool to enable some people to make a connection with the outdoors and nature.

I start from the stance that cconnecting with the outdoors and nature is of significance because:

a)  we are facing environmental challenges such as increased carbon emissions; the likelihood of global warming, which is still a contentious issue; and the permanent loss of some natural resources (Bunyard, 2004; Thomas and Thomas, 2004; Vidal, 2005; Vidal and Brown, 2005);

b)  sections of the British population feel alienated not only from the outdoors and nature, but also from British society, which may have a significant effect on the ways in which they develop their attitudes to, beliefs about and values about the environmental challenges (Black Environment Network, 2004; Countryside Agency, 2005);

c)  children are less likely to play outdoors and explore nature than the previous generation (Gill, 2007; Louv, 2009);

d)  part of the solution may be found in an understanding of issues related to the global environment and to feelings of inclusion and belonging (Moore, 2003; Norberg-Hodge, 2001; Shiva, 2004; Suzuki, 1997);

e)  and, some writers regard education, where people learn to care about the environment, explore the interconnectedness of environmental issues and are ultimately motivated to consider a global view, as critical for the continuation of societies (Leopold, 1949; Nabhan and Trimble, 1994; Thomas and Thomas, 2004; Wolf, 1989).

Peter Becker (2011: 4), in challenging us to consider the importance of woods and wilderness for young people, suggests that their significance may lie in the the fact that they are ‘as no other natural space’. He explains that they ‘have always been more affected by the close fundamental connection between culture and nature’ .

He suggests that:
Leaving what has been cared for, setting out into strange nature, can provide a multitude of opportunities to promote educational processes, but only if meeting the flora and fauna in all kinds of situations in all kinds of weathers that may occur can be perceived as a challenge. (Becker, 2011: 7)

This I agree with. However, as a manager of youth work over twenty years ago, I at times struggled to encourage youth workers and the young people they were working with to take up opportunities for outdoor adventure. Going into the outdoors, the woods and wildernesses, goes beyond the cultural beliefs of what is normal or acceptable behaviour for some groups of people.

To understand the impact of beliefs about the outdoors and outdoor education on the participation of women youth workers in outdoor activities, I undertook qualitative research with women youth workers, in the hope that I might find the key to increasing the participation of youth workers and thus young people. My purpose was to explore how outdoor education was viewed, and what it was that blocked participation (Ayland, 1991). Some of the women saw outdoor education as a purely physical and competitive activity, which was way outside their comfort zone. They were constrained from participating in actvities by their time-consuming roles as carers within their families. They cited a lack of financial support as being a block to taking young people away. They identified a lack of positive role models within the broad spectra of outdoor activities and adventure education, who might introduce them to experiences with a degree of empathy. However, once offered an opportunity to take part in an outdoor residential experience, they were able to recognise its potential for the development of confidence; for an opportunity to re-affirm their identities in their own rights rather than as a wife, as a partner, or as a parent; and as a powerful learning experience. Some of those interviewed continued to gain qualifications so that they could offer similar outdoor and residential experiences to the young people with whom they worked.

Whilst this research offered some insights, it failed to identify how people, who do not recognise the outdoors as being significant in their identities, could develop a connection with nature and the outdoors. I began qualitative research, interviewing play, youth and community development work colleagues who defined themselves as ‘non-outdoor’ and others who identified themselves as ‘outdoor’ (Collins, 2005). In analysing the results it became clear that the majority of people who initially denied having a connection with nature and the outdoors did in fact connect, but my use of terms such as ‘outdoor education’ and ‘adventure’ led them to consider these in more extreme ways, such as solo rock climbs and Himalayan treks. As they talked they identified a variety of ways in which they were engaged in the outdoors, ranging from gardening to taking photographs; from walking along the seafront to sitting with a view and listening to music; and to family picnics. Childhood experiences, whether positive or negative had helped to frame their current perceptions of what the outdoors was and how they were prepared to engage with it. I also analysed group poems writen by participants on outdoor experiences, finding that their connections with nature were related to friendship, achievement, and spiritual feelings associated with a particular happening or location.

Peter Martin (2003) developed a pedagogic framework related to stages in devloping ‘kinship’ with nature, based on his woork with outdoor education students (See Figure One). Martin had a hypothetical category, ‘alienated from nature’. However, I argue that this is not hypothetical. People who have defined themselves as ‘non-outdoor’ may be alienated from nature until they recognise that their connections with it are legitimate. Working with people who do not consider themselves to be outdoor educators has enabled Martin’s framework to be extended. Included are some of the more passive responses to being in nature, such as just sitting and observing nature and then watching the power of nature – perhaps waves crashing onto a beach or storm clouds scudding across the hilltops. Martin identified practical activities associated with caring for the natural environment. Again, my analysis suggests that this caring for the environment does not have to be physically active. People may not identify a ‘oneness’ with nature, but this does not mean that they are unclear about their role in relation to nature.

Martin (2003) developed another framework to amplify the activities that might aid an increasing emotional kinship with nature. Through analysis of the interviews and group poems, I identified that initially there was a social dimension to this developing connection. (See Figure Two) For the people I had interviewed, ‘low key’ activities were identified as entry activities, such as den building and linking stories to certain environments. One interviewee had stressed the impact that Graham’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ had had on her interest. Others talked of the children’s adventure stories by Enid Blyton. Having a special place to go to was of significance for some. Others spoke of habits and rituals such as picking berries every autumn or family walks at the weekend. Also significant was the impact of an open-minded mentor, who could encourage and explain things. This social dimension increasingly overlapped with the emotional dimension as more and more time was spent in nature. The importance of an inspiring landscape was apparent. Others talked of the significance of creative activities such as gardening, wildlife observation and photography. The emotional connection was associated with having the time and tools to reflect on experiences in nature and the outdoors, and recognising the restorative qualities of being in nature. Again, the activity of gardening was mentioned, but it now incorporated concepts of stewardship or bio-diversity. As my experience of interviewing progressed, I became increasingly aware that for some ‘nature’ had stereotypical connotations, and for others the word ‘outdoors’ had negative associations. This awareness I have transferred into my working practice. I know use a variety of words, hoping that the listener will identify positively with at least one word

As a Leading Practitioner of the Institute for Outdoor Learning, I clearly see that my role is connected with promoting the image and potential of outdoor learning. Through my research, I have become more sensitive to and open- minded about the things that might trigger an interest in nature and the outdoors. Creativity can support the development of a connection with nature and the outdoors. Promoting creativity to connect has included supporting play and youth workers to create myths and stories about and in the outdoors. As digital cameras have become cheaper and more effective, it has become clear that the camera can also enable people to go outside and to take time to observe. For landscape photographer, Charlie Waite, photography is ‘a pursuit of some kind. I think it’s probably based on a need to get closer to the divine essence of things’ (Waite in an interview with Oliver, 2008). Photography can enhance the outdoor learning experience, drawing attention to aspects of the outdoors that we might otherwise rush past in our impatience to complete a journey. For people who are reluctant to engage with the outdoors in a physical way, photography can be the medium that enables and develops a connection with the outdoors, offering meetings with ‘the flora and fauna in all kinds of situations, in all kinds of weathers’ (Becker, 2011: 7).

Niall Benvie (2011: 32-33), nature photographer, photo-lobbyist and a director of Rewilding Childhood, believes that photography can support children in discovering nature for themselves, and can subsequently have a positive long term impact on their lives, developing into a lifetime passion for nature and environmental actions. Children’s observations and photographs can also contribute to an in depth knowledge of the local area (2010: 53).

In its simplest form, photography may be described as ‘an expression of our response to the world, in a particular place, at a particular moment’ (Waite, 2009: 7). However, David Ward, who seeks the abstract in landscapes, has a more elusive definition. For him it is ‘chasing …. an unobtainable illusion’ and is linked to a personal inner quest (2004:1 1). These words could also be applied to our intentions when exploring the environment in a more physical way.

Photographic experiences in the outdoors can be enhanced in a number of ways.
At the heart of developing photography beyond the mere capturing of memories are a number of possible actions:

a)  slowing down the process of taking photographs and photographing with intent;

b)  reducing the number of images recorded; encouraging the photographer to look and think, and

c)  developing a greater knowledge of a particular environment, for example, where the sun rises and sets at particular times of the year, the path of light across the landscape, the tracks of animals, the positions of particular flowers, the seasonal changes of tones and hues.

The act of ‘slowing down’ in the taking of photographs can result in us actually seeing more, rather than simply looking at obvious or superficial things. Photography can become a tool for increasing environmental awareness. If out with a group, members can be challenged to record the unusual, to focus in on unusual perspectives Images could be incorporated into a quiz. Group members could be stimulated to start challenging attitudes by taking photographs of:

rubbish versus beauty;
a polluted versus a beautiful site.

In this paper, I have outlined why a connection with nature and the outdoors is of significance. I have reflected on the outcomes of my research journey, which has been closely related to the development of my career in the outdoors. Finally, I have considered the role of creativity, and in particular photography, in enabling some people to make a connection with the outdoors and nature.


Ayland, D. (1991) Upward, Outward, Inward and Outward Bound: Outdoor Education And Women Youth Workers. Guildford: University of Surrey (Unpublished MSc Dissertation).

Becker, P. (2011) Into the Woods: Some Remarks on the Cultural and Biographical Significance of Woods and Wilderness in Youth Work. EOE: Metsäkartano Conference.

Benvie, N. (2010) Juggling Act. in Outdoor Photography. Issue 124. March 2010 (pps 52-53).

Benvie, N. (2011) Nature Photographers: the next generation. in Outdoor Photography. Issue 136. February 2011 (32-33).

Black Environment Network. (BEN a.) People and Environment in Multi-cultural Britain. In Ethnic Environmental ?. Vol. 1.

Bunyard, P. (2004) Crossing the threshold. Ecologist. February 2004. (55-58). Collins, D. (2005) Outdoor Education, the Informal Sector of Education and

Otherness: Making Connections with Nature. High Wycombe: Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College/ Brunel University (Unpublished first draft PhD Thesis).

Countryside Agency (2005) ‘What about us?’ Diversity Review Evidence. Challenging perceptions: under-represented visitor needs. London: Countryside Agency.

Gill, T. (2007) No Fear. Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand Country Almanac and Sketches Here and There. London: Oxford University Press.

Lester S. and Maudsley, M. (2007). Play Naturally: A Review of Children’s Natural Play. London: National Children’s Bureau for Play England.

Louv, R. (2009) Last Child in the Woods. London: Atlantic Books.

Martin, P. (2003) Outdoor Education for Human/Nature Relationships. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education.1(3).(2-9).

Moore, M. (2003) Dude, Where’s my Country? London: Penguin Books.

Nabhan, G.P. (1994) Children in Touch, Creatures in Story. In G.P. Nabhan and S. Trimble (1994) The Geography of Childhood. Why Children need Wild Places. Boston: Beacon Press. (79-107).

Norberg-Hodge, H. (2001). Ladakh – Development as Destruction. In A. Roddick. 2001. Take it Personally, How Globilization affects you and powerful ways to challenge it. London: Thorsons. (112-115).

Oliver, V (2008) Charlie Waite. Landscape Photographer. An interview.

Shiva, V. (2004) Biopiracy.

Suzuki, D. 1997. The Sacred Balance. Vancouver, B.C.: Greystone Books.

Thomas, G. and Thompson, G. (2004) A Child’s Place: Why environment matters to children. London: Green Alliance and Demos.

Vidal, J. (2005) Eco sounding: Go Figure. In Society Guardian. 6 April,2005.(12). Vidal, J. and Brown, P. (2005) Eco sounding: Oriental Express. In Society Guardian. 30 March,2005. (13).

Waite, C. (2009) Foreword. in C. Minnitt and P. Malpas (2009) Finding the Picture: A location photography masterclass. London: Envisage Books (7). Ward, D. (2004) Landscape Within. London: Argentum.

Wolf, A. H. (1989) Teachings of Nature. Skookumchuck, British Colombia: Good Medicine Books.