During the July heatwave, temperatures in Basingstoke (the town nearest to Ewhurst) reached 42 degrees. All across the UK records were broken and then re-broken as parts of the country faced heat never seen before.
Here at Ewhurst, the park felt eerily quiet, as our animals and even insects sheltered from the heat. The RSPCA said they saw a 60% increase in calls to their helpline from the day before to the first day of the heatwave, with people asking for help for dehydrated hedgehogs, fox cubs and baby birds. We also saw plants shrivel and grass wither. Our native plants thrive in temperate conditions; they are not built for summers that scorch the earth. Elsewhere in the park we saw leaves on trees turn brown. Water levels were at their lowest in recent history.
And it’s this prolonged dryness that is currently having the greatest impact on the Ewhurst landscape. The estate includes young trees, which are most at risk as their root systems are juvenile and shallow. Their cells can store less water. Lack of water weakens plants, makes them more susceptible to diseases and causes them to drop their leaves earlier. Without their leaves they are unable to generate food through photosynthesis. While they are in their crucial juvenile stage of development, the stresses from climate change may result in them failing to reach maturity.
Scientists are warning that extreme weather events like the heatwave will become more frequent if we don’t do more to curb our emissions. Hopefully when people experience this extreme weather it will inspire them to do more to fight climate change. Here at Ewhurst, we see the impacts and feel them as we spend time in the park. If people are not connected with the land they occupy it is harder for them to truly realise the brutal effects of climate change. So it’s more important than ever for people to connect with nature; to feel the grass beneath their feet, the breeze coming through the trees. It’s going to take everyone coming together with the same sense of urgency that I feel in order to tackle the climate crisis.
And nature will play a huge role in that fight. Many of the best solutions to reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change are nature-based. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, but they also provide cool shelter in heat waves by releasing water in their leaves into the surrounding air. Natural wetlands are carbon sinks, but they can also prevent flooding and drought by acting like sponges - capturing water during times of intense rainfall and then replenishing groundwater for drier periods.
Nature-led food production is also crucial. In the UK, around 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. In places with widespread deforestation this percentage is much higher. Add to this the carbon that comes from transporting this food to where it needs to be and there’s a sizable problem. Places like Ewhurst that grow food in cooperation with the land and sell to the local community help to drive down the impact of food production.
At Ewhurst, we’re committed to regenerating a range of mosaic habitats for wildlife and spaces for people to explore and reconnect with each other and the rest of nature. With the biodiversity COP coming up in October, I am urging the UK government to send a delegation and use the opportunity to show how serious it is about biodiversity and the commitment to nature based climate solutions. My long term vision for the land is one where nature takes control again, and where we can restore the link between the health of the land and the quality of food we eat. To create the nourishing, sustainable communities we all want, we have to learn to live lightly but productively on the land. I believe we can achieve this.
Read more of Mandy's articles in Sublime Magazine
About the Author
Mandy Lieu is an exclusive columnist for Sublime Magazine, food systems entrepreneur and philanthropist. Having enjoyed success across Asia as a model, film and TV actress, she moved to the UK in 2015 to start a family and join the revolution in local, sustainable food. Now Mandy is transforming her lifelong passion for nutrition and food systems into a business – she owns The Good Plot, a new farm-to-table restaurant and Ewhurst Park a regenerative farm.