I have a lifelong interest in wild places, and in the soul and spirit of landscapes that support a natural way of life, far from the madding crowd, and where one can immerse in the stillness, to read and write, or just walk in solitude. Over the years, I have been involved in many wonderful projects within marine, wilderness and urban wildlife conservation, each conceptualised to inspire a deeper awareness of wildlife and the wild habitats they call home. I have shared some of my work experience below…
My deep interest in wilderness preservation led me to working with Dr Ian Player, who graciously wrote the Foreword to my book ‘Connections with Wilderness.’ I was especially touched when he wrote “I particularly like this book because it has a poetry about it and the poets are able to see way beyond our normal range of vision.”
I have also had the privilege of working closely with Vance Martin of The WILD Foundation in the US, learning so much about the earth’s last wild places, and the efforts to conserve them. Our Wilderness Visionaries display was launched at the WILD9 World Wilderness Congress in Mexico.
My path has taken me on spiritual journeys to Kenya and Tanzania, as well as deep into the remote landscapes of the Kalahari desert, where I carried the songs of the San in my heart. And then long trips into the faraway mountains of the Cederberg brought me into contact with ancient Stoneage rock art sites, which had a profound influence on my work. These experiences inspired a small collection of poems that was published by Mallard Publishers, and launched at the Iziko Museum.
My husband and I, through our Mapungubwe Revisited initiative, in partnership with WWF-SA, spent time with the original gold rhino from the ancient African kingdom of Mapungubwe, immersing in the extraordinary antiquity of this historical piece, and raising funds for the conservation of this iconic species.
“Noel and Belinda Ashton’s ‘Mapungubwe Revisited’ is a brilliant initiative to honour the rhino. The reverence of the ancient people for this wonderful animal is a sharp reminder to so-called civilised man to ensure that the species survives in our modern world.” Dr Ian Player, The Wilderness Foundation
A few years ago, inspired by the transformative qualities of a nature experience, I created the Reconnect with Nature exhibit, in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute – the displays are exhibited in the 9 National Botanical Gardens of South Africa.
“Last week I had the pleasure of reading your display at Kirstenbosch. Word for word I connected with what you are expressing there! It was wonderful to connect in that way – these moments are pockets of inspiration and hope.” Chanèl Rossouw
“I was very impressed and moved by your signs up Disa Kloof.” Dr Les Underhill
Since 2002, my husband and I have run our Oceans of Africa programme, focusing on the magnificence of the oceans and the whale and dolphin diversity found along the southern African coastline. Over the years we have worked closely with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, launching diverse programmes from The Whale Walk in Hermanus, to Windows on the Ocean and Sacred Ocean with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and various awareness initiatives at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Our latest book, ‘Watching Whales and Dolphins in southern Africa’ was published by Penguin Random House, with a Foreword by our friend Mark Carwardine, Zoologist and BBC Presenter.
“I have known the Ashton’s for many years and have always admired their intimate knowledge of the region, their passion for its wonderful whales and dolphins, and their remarkable efforts to drum up urgently needed support for conservation efforts to look after them.” Mark Carwardine
As a former trustee of the Baboon Matters Trust, I was so fortunate to meet Dr Jane Goodall and was deeply moved when she spoke about becoming a voice for those who cannot speak out for themselves; this inspired a growing interest in urban wildlife and my vision for Wild Neighbours.
My interest in urban wildlife led me to launch my Wild Neighbours programme in 2010, with the support of urban wildlife specialists Dr John Hadidian and Dr Andrew Rowan in the US, and funding from the Humane Society US. Wild Neighbours became a Wild Cities Champion in 2013.
Examples of my work, including interpretive materials / publications / conceptual displays
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher…”
I truly believe that living a simple life, connected to the land, mindful of our material impacts, walking that extra mile to purchase organic, reuse, restore and recycle, adds a significant depth to one’s life that resonates with the knowledge that we are living in harmony with the wider living world around us.
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