Trash. One, of the many, repugnant byproducts produced by human beings. What’s more revolting you ask? The shear amount of trash that we collect and dispose of daily. We have reached a point where our own planet has begun to succumb to the incredible amount of useless waste that we have produced then thrown away in our forests, oceans, and rivers. We are choking ourselves out of existence; wringing the neck of the planet that our survival depends on. We’ve been told since we were kids to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle; we’ve been warned of global warming and climate change and the toll they could take on our world; yet still not enough people seem to believe the lasting effects could be so drastic. Now, as we begin to see the direct impact of these factors — ice caps melting, wildfires raging, species dying — only now do we start asking ourselves, “what could we have done better?” Yet this question is anything but helpful. It’s the people who ask themselves “what do we do now?” that are making the real changes and saving our planet, along with us. People like those who work and volunteer for Carymoor Environmental Trust, a charity based in the southwest of Somerset, United Kingdom.
The Carymoor Environmental Trust, established in 1996, occupies the site of an old landfill that has been capped (filled and covered) for many years. The charity that operates the Trust has transformed this once ravaged and unusable land into 100 acres of gorgeous and pristine landscape that is now used as a nature reserve which houses a large variety of flora and fauna. As well as restoring land and creating habitats for local species Carymoor acts as an educational centre for local schools and colleges. On my arrival to Carrymoor I found myself stepping through the doors of the visitor center only to be instantly pushed out again by a hoard of tiny celts, all dressed in traditional celtic garb and matching symbolic face paint. They all seemed to be in quite the hurry for they excitedly ran past, laughing and releasing whoops of joy, while I grabbed onto a nearby railing to avoid being swept away with the tide of ancient clansmen and clanswomen. This group came from a local primary school that often took students to Carymoor for field trips and nature based educational field days.
“All the education we do here is very much focused on individuals finding empowerment and taking action,” Rupert Farthing, CEO of the Carymoor Environmental Trust, informed me during a brief description of the organization’s goals and objectives.
“Giving children that active outdoor learning experience and hoping that they will come away with a better idea of our natural world… that’s our aim here.” Groups from local schools come multiple times a week, all varying in ages. Once on site students get to explore a large variety of different projects and examples of natural life.
Around the site you can find all kinds of different habitats illustrating the diversity one can find in our natural world. Carymoor uses employees and volunteers to maintain pristine grasslands, woodlands, and even wetlands, which consist of two small ponds and a stream that runs across the property. There’s an orchard and a butterfly bank as well as a celtic roundhouse with a traditional thatch roof. Somewhat incongruently, there is also a small shanty town built to imitate those existing in Sierra Leone. The last of these projects was my personal favorite. Completely constructed out of reused materials — tiers, plywood, metal sheets, you name it — the mini town resembled the photos of shanty towns that you’ve probably seen while flipping through a National Geographic. Inside each hut I found the dimly lit space to be fully furnished and actually quite cozy. When asking Mr.Farthing about the project he explained that it was built using reused materials that would have been otherwise thrown away in a landfill site. This projects main purpose was to introduce students to another way of life. “We hoped to give students insight of a different way of life… a harder way of life, and broaden their worldly perspectives. There’s a lot we take for granted every day and the hope was that the shanty town would help demonstrate how truly lucky we are to live where we do and have what we have,” noted Mr.Farthing, “and I do find that most children come away from the shanty town quite grateful for the fact that their going home to a warm bed and fully laid table.”
My guide, Christina Kennedy, informed me that all the objects used to furnish the small huts were originally headed for a neighboring landfill. One that happens to sit directly next to the Carymoor nature reserve. This contrast, a beautiful nature reserve placed directly next to a fully functioning waste disposal center, is another one of Carymoors unique characteristics. When driving into Carymoor we had passed the entrance of the main waste facility. Gray brick, barbed wire, and an endless number of trucks and heavy machinery blocked my view of about everything other than a tall chain link fence and more gray concrete. The scene was the definition of dismal. However this sea of gray and wire quickly gave way to trees and lush green field the closer we drove to the Carymoor visitor center. As a visitor its quite hard to imagine that this pristine nature reserve once looked as equally gray and uninviting as its neighboring waste plant. Ms. Kennedy informed me that one of Carymoors main attractions used to be a tour of the landfill site, however, since the establishment of their other projects, like the shanty town and outdoor classroom, they have become more focused on the ecological and land education aspects and have steered away from the shocking tours. When asking about the relationship between the operating waste management center and Carymoor itself I was surprised to find that the two were not only friendly but are also collaborators. The waste center helps fund the charity and supports them in their efforts to educate the youth and local community. I was even more surprised to learn that Mr. Farthing himself used to work at a similar waste management facility, “Waste is one of those fields where the more you find out about it the more interesting it is… Just the idea of waste reflecting how we live as a society, what we value, how rubbish reflects who we are and what we do, even our cultural beliefs in many ways… it’s all very fascinating.” Mr. Farthing admitted.
Even though the landfill tours are not as common anymore Carymoor still hopes to educate students on the importance of diminishing the amount of personal waste one produces. One way they have done this is by setting up a “waste tunnel” which serves as a physical and visual example of what we throw away and how long it can take it to decompose, if it ever does. Along with the waste tunnel Carymoor also challenges each student group to a lunch waste challenge. For the challenge each group of students is told prior to their visit to the nature reserve to pack their lunches using reusable containers, recyclable boxes, and no plastics. At the end of lunch on the day the students visit Carymoor the kids must collect all their trash and weigh it, and the group that has the least trash wins. It’s these small challenges, hands on learning opportunities, and visually compelling projects that make Carymoor so effective. “A lot of people don’t really know much about what’s naturally around them and end up taking most of it for granted, so to take a day out of school where you can really just focus on that, as well as find and discover nature on a site like this is quite special and I believe quite memorable.” Mr. Farthing commented
Carrymoor is certainly memorable. A landfill site, land that would appear forsaken after being smothered by heavy metals and covered in all sorts of toxic chemicals and sludge, has literally sprouted into a sea of fertil green wildlife. It’s a natural example of David slaying the industrial Goliath and coming back ever stronger. The Carymoor Environmental Trust has taken a heavily polluted and disregarded site and transformed it into a sanctuary with an incredibly positive message of sustainability.
It’s the perfect example of a community coming together to rebuilding the old and turn it into something both new. A place where we can work to protect our world and teach people how to save it. However there’s a lot more to Carymoor than just the land. In fact when speaking to the employees involved with the charity I noticed that the thing people were most excited about and supportive of were the students. When asking Ms. Kennedy what she thought was the most unique aspect of both the charity and nature reserve she answered, “the children. If we can teach children to understand the importance of preserving and protecting nature through a really lovely experience… teach them that they can make a difference, then we may have a chance of changing the world.”