Open Skies, Open Spaces, Open Minds
This article - co-written by Vince and Georgina Povey, with Kathy Stearn of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust - focuses on the similarities of a how a landscape can recover from the dark days of war, and how learning to understand that landscape can help recovery from depression and inspire artistic creativity - this article was originally featured at www.wiltshirewildlife.org/open-skies-open-spaces-open-minds-blakehill-farm in April 2017
Everyone has mental health.
You cannot see it, but what is happening on the surface of an individual can often be nothing more than a finely painted thin curtain, hiding a tumbledown muddle of self-destructive feelings and behaviours that are carried as baggage. This may have arisen from damaging life events that the individual is too shy to share, or in some cases simply strong enough to hide. Their minds are made of memories that are the residual shadows; left after a physical act is completed or the subject of focus lost.
Allowing a natural open space to heal you is one of the most spiritual and humbling feelings you may ever experience. Some find a sense of place and purpose; with the healing of the mind thorough the healing of the land.
Individuals who suffer grief or mental anguish, and can eventually manage to find the courage to visit open spaces, often find that forming a positive relationship with the natural environment, eventually allows mental wounds to begin to mend.
For some it is a matter of life and death.
Open spaces such as meadows and the part they play in the landscape can actually help to rebuild lives; especially for those who are suffering from depression or low self esteem
Simply the distraction and the stimulation of returning again and again to the natural environment one finds relaxing becomes habit. A person may start to feel the change of the seasons, the natural cycles and climate. This can enable the day to day pressures of the 21st century to gradually become second place. Eventually, one day, they may realise that they have become attuned to the subtle behaviour of the creatures around them, and they adjust to the cycle of the year, finding themselves in touch with the natural rhythms. They regain a real sense of place, of grounding, of stability. Life becomes understandable once again. Perspective is re-established.
They may even realise that it’s time to put away their smart phones. They may even realise that the energy they feel from the 200 year old oak they lean against is tangible. Nature is the greatest show on earth. They begin to enjoy it. They tell their family and bring them back to share their experience. A way forward and growth is achieved.
Appreciation of the healing of the land and healing of the mind, are firmly and passionately understood at the former RAF Blakehill Farm by the two volunteer wardens, Vincent and Georgina.
The area was once part of Braydon forest which, over the centuries, gave way to farmland. The needs of the nation and events of world war two resulted in 580 acres of land being purchased by the government, bulldozed and turned into an airfield as part of the planned allied invasion of Europe.
Needs change, and by 1999, most of the airfield infrastructure had been demolished. 240 hectares of the former airfield were turned into a nature reserve.
Vincent and Georgina have both experienced grief and psychological trauma which have made them stop. For a while they, could see no way forward to reconcile their past and their loss.
They are fortunate in living next to Blakehill nature reserve with its history; from Forest to farmland; War to wildlife. Walks across the old air field have helped them reassess place in their world, their loss. Through the rhythms of the seasons and the restoration of the land, they have been stimulated to notice the endless forms that make the history, memories, and creatures most beautiful at Blakehill.
Most crucially, they have been moved the share those stories for others.
Vince and Georgina were inspired by art, poetry, song writing, storytelling, model making, selfless research and museum study to bring the Blakehill story to life, sharing their experience of the site with visitors. Their theme is “War to Wildlife” and healing of the land.
On arrival at the nature reserve entrance, Visitors are offered the chance to understand the role the airfield played during the dark days of WWII and the sacrifices made by those who served, including the ‘flying nightingale’ nurses who tended to so many of the wounded who were flown back to the air station for treatment. There is a huge information board, donated by Vincent and Georgina in 2016, that explains the history of the site and the sacrifices made by so many during world war two. It reminds visitors to be mindful of those who never returned, and to pay their respects as they tour the site.
As well as offering this information to visitors, Vincent and Georgina, as volunteers for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, also host guided historical tours of the site, followed by an in depth historical lecture, bringing value to the visitor experience.
The lectures and display boards lead on to the ‘healing’ of the land by careful restoration to flower rich meadows. Once more, the site is home to cattle, sheep and meadow wildlife. From the rare species of curlews finding a haven on the rich plateau left now that the airfield has gone, to the butterflies, bees, dragonfly and many owls and hares which are native on the reserve.
Visitors have been inspired to come from far and near to learn more about the world war two history of the site.
On the 17th September 2016, Martyn Arnold, drove from Durham to lay a wreath for his late fathers friend, who accompanied his father during the Arnhem operations as his first pilot, flying a Horsa glider. Often pausing due to the emotion of the event, whilst the wreath was laid, Vincent read out the names of the crews who left for Anthem and never returned. There was not a dry eye amongst anyone there. Yet the tranquillity of the site with the wind through the meadows and wild bird song gave a sense of
healing to those attending.
Georgina has found purpose painting, inspired by wildlife at the Blakehill. She loves the sense of place, incorporating wildlife in her own pastel studies. Her owl studies are inspiring in themselves with the attention to detail and clarity of image. Georgina helped design a children’s game at the Whitworth building, (a former airfield hut), which offers youngsters the chance to learn about wildlife in its diversity and understand the seasons whilst the game is played.
RAF Blakehill is now a rich and diverse nature reserve. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and SOMM are continually striving to enhance the management of the natural environment. The gliders that left for Arnhem flew in silence, as do the barn and short eared owls that hunt on site now.
Past human endeavour and memory is firmly embedded in the dynamic of history and sense of place at Blakehill. Vince and Georgina strive to reach out to the wider community though storytelling, remembrance, respect, education and the gentle grace of nature forever.
Forever lasts a long time, and although the meadows at Blakehill are quiet this year, for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, their memories will never, ever, fade.
Combine these human attributes into a natural landscape over centuries of time, where a focus of human activity has made memories, these memories become history, and history becomes embedded in national pride.
In certain cases, national pride, results in national gratitude. All this adds to the healing of the broken land and broken people who may walk there.