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26 Habitats

16 September 2021

Meadow. Source: Lydia Thornley

Today, there is no issue more urgent than the climate crisis. Green Angel Syndicate (GAS) was set up specifically to support companies who will reduce and prevent the carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases fuelling this emergency. Today, GAS would like to showcase the work of the 26 Habitats project, highlighting the damage that climate change is wreaking on our habitats and also seeking to raise awareness of what individuals can do to help.

The climate crisis and nature loss is why writers’ group 26 has partnered with The Wildlife Trusts to create a body of poetic work highlighting the extraordinary diversity of habitats on our planet and to explore what we all, as part of that ecosystem, might lose if we don’t protect them. Please take a moment to read the writing of the 26 Habitats project and to engage by leaving your thoughts in the comments section, either under the poems themselves or here, or both!

In spring this year, The Wildlife Trusts selected vital habitats distinctive to the UK. Over the summer, writers immersed themselves in these habitats and then wrote a poem of exactly 100 words — a centena — and a short essay inspired by their experiences. As John Simmons, a founding member of 26 says, the centena is “a fitting form for writing about nature, because the last line is a repetition of the first line, providing a poignant ending and connecting us to the circularity of nature and the cycle of the seasons.”

Peatland. Source: Lydia Thornley

I had the privilege of being an editor for 26 Habitats and the experience was not what I expected. I was completely drawn in by the poetry and essays I read and felt compelled to go and learn more about each of these fragile environments. This is the essence of a well-crafted poem — it tugs at our heartstrings and helps us explore truths that perhaps we’ve not yet seen or understood. Or truths that we always knew were there, but had just not got around to thinking about. Using poetry to celebrate and raise awareness of the nature that surrounds us, and habitats that we’ve overlooked, makes so much sense. Two of my personal favourites: Holme Fen Post by Galen O’Hanlon and See, she smoulders by Jess Swales.

​This is not just a UK undertaking… from the first day of COP26 (that number appears again — what synchronicity), members of 26 in New Zealand will also be posting about their own endangered habitats. On the opposite side of the world, they are facing many of the same threats as the UK habitats; this is truly a global problem.

There are so many ways that humans endanger wildlife and the primary reason wildlife is being lost is because we are degrading and destroying their habitats. Climate change is a large part of this. I’ve changed my language over the last year — I don’t talk about climate change, I talk about climate emergency.
John Simmons, Founding Member, 26

Fenland. Source: Lydia Thornley


Nick Lyth, CEO and Co-Founder of Green Angel Syndicate explores why it is vital, for our own sakes, that we save these habitats: “Looking after the natural world is no longer a choice for us members of the human race. In the last three decades, Human History and Natural History have converged. Events that decide the outcome of our civilisations and systems are now intertwined with events that decide the outcome of Earth’s natural systems. Each year that passes, the interconnection becomes more noticeable, and more violent. So we say, with the account of these 26 Habitats, do not help to save them for their own sake, but help to save them because they are the only thing now that can save you.”

Kaye Brennan, Head of Campaigning and Organising, The Wildlife Trusts, focuses on the hopeful and celebratory nature of the project: “More of us need to think about what abundance could really look and feel like, because we’re really not used to that. Too often nature is ‘in the way’ or too ‘messy’, but nature should be joyous, noisy and fecund, especially so in an urban setting. We know that wildlife and nature can recover and we dream of a wilder future! I found these poems informative, evocative, heartbreaking and beautifully written.”

26 is a not-for-profit organisation for writers and anyone who believes in the power of words. It was founded in 2003 by seven writers to champion the importance of words in all aspects of life. They chose the name 26 because there are 26 letters in the English alphabet — “the DNA of language” — and because they saw the humour in naming an organisation all about words after a number!

26 runs several projects a year, creating bodies of work inspired by everything from the music of Nick Drake to the Armistice. 26 has around 300 members based mainly in the UK, but also including the US, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, India and South Africa.

The Wildlife Trusts are making the world wilder and helping to ensure that nature is part of everyone’s lives. It is a grassroots movement of 46 charities with more than 850,000 members and 38,000 volunteers. No matter where you are in Britain, there is a Wildlife Trust inspiring people and saving, protecting and standing up for the natural world. ​

26 founding member John Simmons met environmental activist Kaye Brennan when she was working for the Woodland Trust and they came up with the beautiful 26 Trees project, described as “a love letter to 52 remarkable trees; each a unique source of inspiration, given voice by 52 writers who have spent time amongst their branches and bark, roots and leaves.”

When Kaye joined The Wildlife Trusts as Head of Campaigning and Organising, she and John developed 26 Wild, and tasked writers with writing poetry on endangered species in the UK. Many of the problems with vulnerable wildlife are caused by human degradation of natural realms and habitats, and this naturally led to the birth of the 26 Habitats project.
Kaye comments: “At a time where our connection to nature is waning every day, but our fears for our natural world increase with every news report, art can be a wonderful medium. I’ve always felt as a campaigner we need to bring in arts to learn and help people express themselves. After doing the 26 Trees project I really wanted to deepen our exploration. The writers in 26 Wild looked at the concept of disappearance and loss, but matched it so beautifully with the ideas of hope, recovery and change. It was heartbreaking but also hopeful.”

Hedgerows. Source: Lydia Thornley

On supporting 26 Habitats, Kathryn Brown, Interim Director of Climate Action at The Wildlife Trusts, says: “In 2021, the world has seen the effects of increasingly extreme weather on both nature and people; whether it has been through the unprecedented heatwave conditions in North America, catastrophic flooding in Germany or the wildfires affecting many parts of the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also been categorically clear on the science in 2021; climate change is with us, it will get worse, but there is still time to act to keep global temperature rise below 2C if the world acts now. In amongst all of the data, trends and projections, it can be easy to lose sight of the cultural and emotional value that the natural environment holds for people, everywhere. We’ve seen how important nature is to people during ​the Covid pandemic, and also how fragile it is. 26 Habitats brings out that value and that connection that we hold with nature beautifully. We mustn’t lose sight of that, alongside what the science is telling us about the urgency of acting on climate change.”

So, 26 Trees inspired 26 Wild, which inspired 26 Habitats, which has already inspired 26 Pledges (more on that next month). Hopefully these projects, which expand in reach with each iteration, will all provide inspiration at COP26. Protecting the natural environment from the ravages of climate change is a subject close to the heart of Green Angel Syndicate and this is why GAS wants to support and showcase this writing. Join us in entering the worlds of these habitats, celebrating them and thinking about what we can all do to protect them.

Abi Siri Andersen is an Editor for the 26 Habitats project and a Writer for 26 Pledges (more info on this next month). She is also Communications Consultant at Green Angel Syndicate, the only angel investment syndicate in the UK specialising in the fight against Climate Change and Global Warming.