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From Sao Paolo to...Dronfield!

Friday 11th August 2017

Our half Brazilian, half English trainee Steph Woodhead tell us about her experiences at the Trust.

I am an Architect and Urban planner graduate from Brazil willing to start a career that unites everything I have learned at university with conservation which is why ive joined Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on their volunteer trainee programme for one year from July 2017.

A lot of people get surprised when I tell them I'm an Architect; apparently there isn’t an obvious link between architecture and conservation! I believe it’s all about quality of life; an architect/planner’s main aim is to bring shelter and quality of life for humans. We can change a house interior to aim for a more comfortable, beautiful and functional environment that will improve the life for a family. We could build a house for the same purposes, or an office, a hospital, a street or even a whole neighbourhood. It’s all about selecting a scale you are going to affect.It’s been done for many centuries. Even when there wasn't a word for the profession, shelter has always been a need for survival and humans have been evolving since, creating technologies and new methods to make it better and better.

However If we keep going like we are, we will end up building our own extinction. There is an urgent need to rebalance; sustainability is the “new” word for it and has global attention nowadays. More than shelter, we need food, air and water - all of the elements provided by natural resources so when we stop to think, quality of life is completely linked to our natural environment. The functionality and comfort to humans is completely dependent on a healthy and balanced natural environment. We have many examples of unsustainability all over the world:

FOOD: The decline of bees caused mainly by the use of pesticides (human technology) in China forces farmers to pollinate trees by hand.
WATER: Agriculture and livestock destroys the natural habitat of many species, exhausts the soil and can contaminate river streams with pesticides, spreading it to other areas. The Brazilian savanna feeds three of the major water basins in my home country of Brazil and it is getting rapidly deforested for charcoal, soy agriculture and cattle stock; it is a big threat to many species and water resources.
AIR: The Amazon forest known widely as the ‘world’s big lung’ has already lost more than 750.000km2 !!! of its habitat for livestock and wood resources.

Those are just a few of the many examples of how damaged the natural environmental balance is when striving to affect human comfort and quality of life. Plants and animals are not just cute, they are essential for human life. I believe that a balanced environment where humans and wildlife can benefit each other is the key to quality of life.

As a half Brazilian/half English resident I have been “ping ponging” between Brazil and England my whole life, and it’s impossible not to compare both. The access to private land, stated by the Right to Roam Act, is something I envy in the UK. How people are allowed to hike around the countryside, and hop onto stiles to legally jump a fence and carry on walking gives people a direct link to wildlife. It has happened to me on my regular trips to the UK – I got the walking bug and I am sure it has had a big influence on how I got into a career in architecture and now as a volunteer trainee for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, the most populated city in Brazil, and whenever we could we would come to the English countryside for vacations to visit the family. It was always a fun adventure to hike around, learn about the plants and animals of the surrounding areas. I was fortunate to grow up with both experiences – city and countryside life in different countries. When I started to think for myself as a grown up in a big city I always chose the most pleasant way of getting into places by foot; that led me into building and heavily built up urban areas. But still, every time I had the opportunity I would go to a National Park and when I was inside it, surrounded by wildlife and nature I would have the best feelings I can get together with the fear of losing it. I always found it frustrating going back to city life and realising that city and countryside life are two different universes. I love the cultural city life and love the outdoors and wildlife; why are they so apart from each other? Why do we have to choose between both?

Creating, connecting and restoring habitats in and between cities is a brilliant way of ensuring wildlife has a wide area to spread and survive, and I stand up for the idea that giving people sustainable access to those areas is an effective conservation method by making people realize its beauty and value.
I understand this is a complex subject with many issues, and being trained by the Living Landscapes team at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is an amazing opportunity to help a cause that I support. Learning from inside a conservation organization will give me valuable knowledge and hands on experience of the whole process.
I hope that my time with the Wildlife Trust movement will help me answer the following questions:

  • How human impact can be both beneficial or harmful?
  • How to manage the land to keep/create/restore a natural habitat so improving biodiversity and bring back endangered species?
  • How to engage and educate people for the cause?
  • Where the resources come from to do all this vital work ?
  • How does architecture and urban planning affect wildlife and how can we direct it to a positive impact?
  • Which organizations are involved and who do we need to get involved?
  • Can legislation support these issues? Is our current legislation enough?
  • How can abundant wildlife help bring economic development and benefits to a community?
  • How do you give people access to protected areas without generating harmful impact?

Those are the many questions that I am fortunate to be finding the answers to day by day with my volunteer training experience. However it is clear that some of the answers to these questions is still work in progress!
Wildlife needs care, conservation and restoration to survive into the future and people need a healthy environment so they can benefit from it today and in the future. The two are closely connected.