Guardians of the Forest

New online course transforming the way we live with trees

Forests, our “green lungs”, are a crucial part of life on Earth. Together, the world’s forests host the largest array of biodiversity on the planet, including 60,000 tree species, 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species and 68 percent of mammal species. Millions of people still live in forests, and billions rely on them for their day-to-day livelihoods. Forests play a critical role in global weather cycles and climate regulation, producing over 40% of the world’s oxygen and preserving watersheds that provide our drinking water. In short, forest care and restoration is essential for the future of our living planet – and by consequence, ourselves.

Yet, crucially, forests are valuable in a non-quantifiable sense. Like all ecosystems, forests have been the seat of spirituality and the mythic imagination since time immemorial, revered for their inherent beauty, power, aliveness and spirit. This idea is the bedrock of the Indigenous worldview, though it has largely been cast aside in the Western world.

Forests serve a variety of cultural and symbolic functions:

“Tangibly and intangibly, forests feature in all aspects of culture: language, history, art, religion, medicine, politics, and even social structure itself. Forest trees may house the spirits of ancestors as well as those of the newborn. And forests are viewed in both positive and negative lights as sources of evil as well as power and munificence, as providers for, and hindrances to development. The mystical qualities of specific forest resources often play a crucial role in traditional healing practices. Forests provide the venue for religious, social, and healing ceremonies.”

Holistic approaches to forest care put this non-tangible sense of value at centre stage. While Western environmental narratives tend to focus on the natural resources ecosystems offer and their sustenance of human life, holistic approaches widen the picture to include nature’s spiritual value and inherent worth. And while ‘traditional’ conservation often prioritises one or a number of species for specific results, modern initiatives are taking the bigger picture into consideration, reconciling scientific approaches with the sacred, honouring the inherent intelligence and complexity of nature and recognising that environmental action must be grounded in a radically new relationship with the natural world.

Guardians of the Forest is one such initiative: a 16-week online course run by Advaya and Nic Salazar Sutil, exploring a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to forest protection and restoration. The course brings together 40 experts and practitioners from 30 different nations speaking from their own fields. The result is an intersectional, holistic and transformational space that will allow us to forge a new relationship with the world’s forests – and nature as a whole.

Modern industry, agriculture and capitalism have exploited forests to the brink of collapse. The UN’s State of the World’s Forests 2020 report noted that:

Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contribute significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity. Agricultural expansion continues to be one of the main drivers, while the resilience of human food systems and their capacity to adapt to future change depends on that very biodiversity.

Ultimately, we need to foster a new relationship with nature, and we can achieve that together.

What do we need to do to transform the way we live with trees?

At this pivotal time in human history, forest care and restoration must be multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. Guardians of the Forest covers three key areas:

Ecological: Forests are the seats of the planet’s richest biodiversity, and they play a crucial role in regulating climate and biological systems. Preserving the forests is essential to preserving life for all living beings. All modules on the course will be bio-regionally focused.

Cultural: We explore the status of forests as living beings with rights, as well as humans’ relationship with forests across the planet, and the behaviours that must be addressed and transformed to forge a new, harmonious relationship.

Spiritual: Central to our practice is the sacredness of forests – their intelligence, wisdom and complexity, weaving in Gaia theory, Indigenous perspectives, traditional forest wisdom and spiritual activism.

GOTF is running from 3 May to 11 August 2021, online via Zoom and a dedicated course platform on Mighty Networks with all sessions recorded, live Q&As, resources, discussions and much more. The 16-week course, delivered in English and Spanish, is structured into 7 interactive modules. Each weekly session includes 2 workshops followed by a group reflection and debate.

The course should equip participants with the ability to:

  • Value trees as living beings in their own right.
  • Appreciate the deep interdependence between humans and trees.
  • Embody forest life through spiritual, somatic and experiential practice.
  • Recognise the significance of cultural practices in forest stewardship.
  • Read the land for an understanding of changing environmental conditions and threats to forest biomes.
  • Evaluate ideas holistically for effective approaches to forest guardianship.
  • Develop community-building for collective guardianship action.
  • Understand the legal aspects of forest rights and land justice.
  • Gain awareness of key forest guardianship projects currently underway worldwide.