Environmental Stewardship: The Challenge of Change and Building Resilience

Resilience: One definition is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’ The first is in line with our current challenges. But how do we make a change and do so consistently?

At home I am training myself to put things in their place first time rather than putting them down and having to come back to them. I started about 5-10 years ago with the realisation that making the change would save myself both time and mental energy. I’m still practising!

A friend once used a ‘red dot system’ when dealing with paperwork. A dot every time you picked up a piece of paper. How many times do we ‘shuffle’ our paperwork rather than dealing with it in a timely manner? This shuffling requires the input of additional energy, both physical, mental and emotional until we resolve the problem. 

There is an urban myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Unfortunately this has been scientifically reviewed and although possible is highly unlikely. Scientists have identified that the time to change a habit varies from person to person, between situations and the level of skill required by the new habit. So next time you make a new year's resolution, be kind to yourself. Slipping up is part of the journey before a new habit is automatic and will require some focus and prompts to keep us on the right track.

As gardeners in temperate climates we are familiar with the changeability of the seasons. Changeable amounts of rainfall, snow and sunshine have all been part of our history. Observation of whether spring is early or late this year, how cold a winter we’ve had and the possibility of unusual frosts hopefully put us on our guard and change when we sow and plant out.

In the garden there is often a good feedback loop. Deal with a plant in a particular way and it gives a better crop or more abundant flowers. When plants don’t thrive then hopefully we take on board good advice and try to tweak our gardening the following year to improve our chances of success. While much depends on environmental factors, we are in the process of adjusting to mitigate the more negative ones such as periods of drought and reduced numbers of insects.

Growing awareness of the complexity of the issues that challenge us today can overwhelm and sometimes make us feel that what I do isn’t helping mitigate anything much, except maybe my own conscience. Many of us grow things in relative isolation. Sometimes what is shown on television or Youtube doesn’t bear a resemblance to our own gardens. It may help us by raising awareness and making recommendations  of changes we can make but trying to do it all at once while juggling work, caring responsibilities and our own capacity may be a big ask. 

So here are some suggestions you may like to use to manage expectations.

  • Start with a realistic review
  • What are your priorities in making changes? Food security; manage your water consumption; reduce the use of pesticides; encourage pollinators; something else? 
  • What challenges would you like to plan for the next few years?
  • Think about your time and capacity.
  • Think about what would be easy to implement. What would make the quickest contributions.
  • Set yourself some challenges for the short, medium and longer term.
  • Start with things that are specific and achievable. One step at a time.

Many ideas in the past have been started and taken up by a few people initially but then have had a snowball effect. As gardeners we can each contribute and as is said ‘Every little bit helps’.

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