“I love trees and spring flowers and old fences covered with creepers. I love watching geese fly home at sunset and listening to the birds that sing and chatter in my garden. I love robins and foxes and badgers and mongooses. I listen out for porcupines at night and the owls calling to one another from neighbours’ rooftops. I love the ocean breeze, the silence of an ancient woodland, bluebells in spring, snowdrops in winter. A river tumbling over mossy rocks, foxes calling on a moonlit night. I love waking up each day knowing that the delicate magic of life stretches before me…”
Nature is my inspiration. I have always been drawn to wild landscapes and the creatures that live alongside us. Growing up in Cape Town, my childhood was infused with everyday connections to the natural world, from wading knee-deep in mountain streams to exploring wild desolate beaches along the Atlantic coastline. My memories touch on magical encounters along secret trails, and quiet observations of the birds and creatures that inhabit alongside us.
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 culminated in a small volume of poetry that was published by Mallard Publishers, and launched at the Iziko South African Museum. I remember with gratitude, Laurens van der Post’s words – “The spirit of man is nomad, his blood Bedouin…”
My lifelong 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 that “Laurens van der Post would have loved this book because it has the right feel.” I have also had the privilege of working closely with Vance Martin of The WILD Foundation in the United States, learning so much about the earth’s last wild places, and the desperate efforts to conserve them.
Through our Mapungubwe Revisited initiative, in partnership with WWF, we spent time with the original gold rhino from the ancient African kingdom of Mapungubwe, immersing in the extraordinary antiquity of this historical piece. Together with WWF, we crafted beautiful evening events celebrating the narrative of an 800-year old artwork re-created as a modern conceptual sculpture, sharing stories about rhino ecology and the various initiatives in place to conserve these iconic animals.
A few years ago, inspired by the transformative qualities of a nature experience, I created my Reconnecting with Nature exhibit and, in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute, installed these displays in the nine National Botanical Gardens of South Africa. To this day they continue to inspire people to take off their shoes, walk freely along nature trails, and truly immerse in the natural environment. This initiative still receives lovely feedback – “I was very impressed and moved by your signs up Disa Kloof.” (Dr Les Underhill); “Such lovely curation of our natural environment.“ (Dr Cathy Ward)
Since 2003, we have run our Oceans of Africa programme, working to open people’s eyes to the magnificence of the oceans and the cetacean diversity found along the southern African coastline. We have worked alongside so many programme partners, sponsors and supporters and it has been gratifying to know that whales and dolphins are protected in South African territorial waters. Yet there is still so much work to be done, especially with regards the devastating impacts of ocean pollution. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said at the launch of our Sacred Ocean campaign, it is more for ourselves, than even for the whales, that we must do what we can to protect the oceans.
Our latest book, Watching Whales and Dolphins in southern Africa was published by Penguin Random House, with a Foreword by our friend Mark Carwardine.
As a former Trustee of the Baboon Matters Trust, I gained valuable insight into baboon ecology and the challenges of living alongside these intelligent, wide-ranging generalists. Learning to cohabit with baboons, who continually move between urban-edge environments and their natural fynbos habitat, opened my eyes to the many threats facing urban wildlife around the world.
My life-long interest in urban wildlife led me to launch my Wild Neighbours programme in 2010, which was encouraged through the support of urban wildlife specialist Dr John Hadidian of the Humane Society in the United States. I was so proud when Wild Neighbours became a Wild Cities Champion. Sponsorship support from The Humane Society US and IFAW Southern Africa have enabled the various components of this initiative.
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher…” (Wordsworth)
In more recent years, I have been drawn back to Wordsworth’s pastoral England and am now based near Frampton Mansell in the Cotswolds, UK.
Having grown up in a home where my parents have a great love for classical music, I too fill my life with music and the soft touch of poems and written words.
I truly believe that living a simple life, connected to the land, mindful of our material impacts, walking that extra mile to purchase organic, upcycle, 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.
As I watch the little birds going about their lives in my garden, I marvel at the lightness of their touch, how little they impact on the world, and how, through the gaiety of their song and gentle being, they bring light and joy into our own lives.
Having taken a course in creative design at London City University, I empowered myself with the tools needed to create my own materials, and this design/writing/photography combination forms the basis of my work.
As a nature consultant, I create inspirational materials that explore our complex, ever-changing relationship with the natural world, with a particular emphasis on the small creatures that call our towns and cities home.
I am married to sculptor, writer and cetacean specialist Noel Ashton.
“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.”
I am part of the GirlPlanetEarth initiative – https://www.girlplanet.earth/
Out in nature, as we immerse in the quiet of wild places, we are encouraged to touch the earth and connect the dots to the stars in a wider universe