Archive for November, 2023

Islands: Places For Spiritual Self-learning

Wednesday, November 29th, 2023

1  Educational Pathways To Sustainable Development

In 2008 the Welsh Government published information for teacher trainees and new teachers in Wales to promote education for sustainable development and global citizenship. As of 2023 this humanist framework can be used in Wales’ new national education system to help every school in Wales develop its own curriculum that incorporates a syllabus for radical hope.  As the world grapples with environmental concerns and the need for a circular economy, islands stand at the forefront of these issues. Establishing a green working educational network (GWEN) is crucial to promoting circularity on islands and aligning their development goals with sustainability.  Engaging in such initiatives is crucial for raising awareness, sharing knowledge, and encouraging positive actions towards a more sustainable future.  For example, posting to groups in the Green Forum, such as the ‘Green Learning Network’, Islands, ‘Learning Circularity With CIDS’ and ‘GO4SDG’s provides dynamic educational/training resources to delineate cross curricular learning pathways to sustainable development.

Islands, often characterized by their unique ecosystems and limited resources, face distinct challenges in achieving sustainable development.  A circular economy represents a paradigm shift from the traditional linear model of ‘take, make, dispose’ to a more sustainable and regenerative approach. Circular economies prioritize the reduction, reuse, and recycling of resources, aiming to minimize waste and environmental impact. This approach is especially relevant for islands, where resource scarcity and waste management pose significant challenges.

Islands face a unique set of challenges that hinder their path to sustainable development. Limited land availability, dependence on imported goods, and vulnerability to climate change make these regions particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of unsustainable practices. Establishing a circular economy becomes imperative for islands to address these challenges and build resilient, self-sustaining communities.

Education is a powerful tool for driving change, and a GWEN can play a pivotal role in promoting circularity on and between islands. By raising awareness about the principles of a circular economy, educating communities about sustainable practices, and fostering a sense of environmental stewardship, education becomes the catalyst for positive transformation.  A network facilitates community engagement by involving local residents, businesses, and educational institutions in the circular economy discourse.  Workshops, seminars, and training programs can empower individuals to adopt sustainable practices in their daily lives. Education fosters innovation and entrepreneurship by encouraging the development of sustainable technologies and businesses. Islands can become hubs for green innovation, creating a cycle of economic growth and environmental stewardship.  A well-informed community is better equipped to manage its resources efficiently, reducing waste and optimizing resource use.  Circular economy principles can be integrated into local policies and practices for effective resource management.  Education on climate change and its impacts empowers island communities to adapt and build resilience.  Circular economy practices, such as sustainable agriculture and renewable energy adoption, contribute to climate resilience.

The establishment of a Green Working Educational Network on islands is not just a necessity but a strategic imperative for achieving sustainable development goals. By fostering a circular economy mindset, empowering communities through education, and promoting innovation, islands can chart a course towards a more sustainable and resilient future. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to education, islands can emerge as models of sustainable development, showcasing the potential for circular economies to thrive in diverse and resource-constrained environments.

2  Need for a syllabus of radical hope

A syllabus of radical hope is not a standardized or widely recognized educational document like a typical subject syllabus. Instead, it is a conceptual framework or a set of principles that can guide educational practices and curricula to instill hope, resilience, and positive action for the environment in students facing life in an unstable post-carbon world. It incorporates a variety of subjects, disciplines, and practices to foster a mindset that goes beyond traditional academic content.  In this respect, spiritual thinking about human ecology often addresses questions related to the meaning of life, purpose, and values. Integrating these aspects into school curricula can help students explore their own purpose in a broader context, fostering a sense of individual fulfillment and direction.  Spiritual teachings often emphasize interconnectedness and community. This sense of belonging can counter feelings of isolation and helplessness, which are common in times of crisis.  

Incorporating spiritual thinking into a syllabus of radical hope does not necessarily mean promoting a specific religion. Instead, it involves teaching the universal values and principles found in various spiritual traditions, encouraging students to explore their own beliefs and values while respecting others’ perspectives. This approach can contribute to the holistic development of individuals, fostering a sense of hope, purpose, and empathy, whilst empowering students with the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to contribute to positive social, environmental, and personal change.

3 Islands and Spirituality

Islands can be particularly conducive to incubating spiritual values for several reasons:

Many islands have a close and direct connection to nature. The limited space and isolation can foster a deep appreciation for the natural environment, leading to spiritual values that emphasize the interconnectedness of all living things.  Island communities are often smaller and more close-knit compared to larger mainland populations. This sense of community can contribute to the development and reinforcement of shared spiritual values, as individuals are more likely to be closely connected to each other.Islands often have rich cultural heritage and traditions that are closely tied to their spiritual beliefs. These traditions can be passed down through generations, creating a strong cultural identity and a sense of continuity in spiritual values.  The isolation of islands can lead to a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Islanders may rely on their local resources and community support systems, fostering a sense of interdependence and shared responsibility, which can align with certain spiritual values.  Islands are often more vulnerable to environmental changes, such as rising sea levels or natural disasters. This vulnerability can lead to a heightened awareness of the fragility of the environment and a greater emphasis on spiritual values that promote environmental stewardship and sustainability.

The unique ecological and geographical features of islands can contribute to a sense of awe and wonder, which are often associated with spiritual experiences. The beauty and diversity of island landscapes may inspire a deep spiritual connection to the natural world.  Many islands are culturally diverse, with a mix of indigenous and immigrant populations. This diversity can contribute to a rich tapestry of spiritual beliefs and practices, fostering an environment where individuals are exposed to and influenced by a variety of spiritual values.  Islanders often need to adapt to the challenges posed by their unique environments, fostering qualities such as resilience and perseverance. Spiritual values can play a role in providing individuals with a sense of purpose and meaning during times of adversity.

It’s important to note that the relationship between islands and the incubation of spiritual values can vary widely depending on specific cultural, historical, and geographical contexts. While islands can provide a conducive environment for the development of spiritual values, the presence and nature of these values depend on a multitude of factors, including the cultural and historical context of each island community.

Including a spiritual dimension in a sustainable development syllabus for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) can offer several benefits. Here are some reasons why it could be important.  Many SIDS have unique and rich cultural traditions that often include spiritual beliefs. Integrating a spiritual dimension into the syllabus can make the content more culturally relevant and resonate with the local population.  Spiritual teachings often provide ethical and moral guidelines that can influence decision-making. Including a spiritual dimension in the syllabus can help individuals connect their values and beliefs to sustainable development practices, fostering a sense of responsibility towards the environment and community.  Spiritual beliefs often play a significant role in community life. Incorporating a spiritual dimension in the syllabus can facilitate community engagement by aligning sustainable development goals with local values and practices. This can enhance the sense of ownership and participation in sustainable initiatives.

Sustainable development is not just about economic and environmental aspects but also involves social and cultural dimensions. Spirituality often encourages a holistic approach to life, considering the interconnectedness of all aspects. This perspective can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of sustainable development.  SIDS are often vulnerable to environmental challenges such as climate change and natural disasters. Spiritual beliefs can provide individuals and communities with coping mechanisms and resilience in the face of adversity. Integrating these aspects into the syllabus can help build adaptive capacity.  Spiritual connections to the land and environment are common in many SIDS. Incorporating this dimension into the syllabus can help individuals develop a deeper sense of place and attachment to their surroundings. This, in turn, may foster a greater commitment to sustainable practices that preserve and protect the local environment.  Many spiritual traditions emphasize the interconnectedness of all living things. This perspective can reinforce the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainable resource management. It encourages a mindset that values the well-being of both people and the natural world.  Spiritual beliefs often include a long-term perspective on life and the interconnectedness of generations. Including this dimension in the syllabus can encourage a more sustainable, intergenerational approach to development, fostering a sense of responsibility for the well-being of future generations.

In summary, incorporating a spiritual dimension into a sustainable development syllabus for SIDS can enhance cultural relevance, ethical foundations, community engagement, and holistic understanding. It can also contribute to resilience, a sense of place, interconnectedness with nature, and a long-term vision for sustainable development.

4  A syllabus of radical hope

Developing a syllabus of radical hope for any educational context involves considering a balanced integration of both scientific and spiritual perspectives. Each perspective contributes unique insights that, when combined, can provide a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the challenges faced by individuals and communities. Here’s a breakdown of how science and spirituality can be essential focuses in developing such a syllabus:

Science provides the tools and methodologies for understanding the intricate complexities of environmental challenges. From climate change to biodiversity loss, a solid scientific foundation is crucial for comprehending the causes and effects of these issues.  Scientific inquiry can inform evidence-based solutions to environmental problems. It enables students to critically evaluate data, engage in problem-solving, and implement sustainable practices.

Spirituality often has deep roots in cultural practices. Understanding and respecting cultural perspectives is crucial, especially in the context of small island developing states (SIDS), where the cultural identity is intertwined with the environment.  It can provide a moral compass, emphasizing values such as stewardship, interconnectedness, and reverence for nature. These values can inspire a sense of responsibility and motivate individuals to act as custodians of the environment.  Combining scientific and spiritual perspectives creates a holistic approach to education. This approach acknowledges that environmental challenges are not only scientific issues but also have ethical, cultural, and spiritual dimensions that require attention.  Integrating science and spirituality encourages students to see the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. It fosters a broader understanding of the environment that goes beyond the reductionist view provided by science alone.

A solid scientific foundation empowers individuals to engage in informed decision-making and advocacy. Scientific literacy is essential for understanding policy implications and participating in efforts to address global environmental challenges.  Spirituality can provide individuals with a source of resilience and hope, essential for navigating challenges. It encourages a sense of purpose and community engagement, motivating individuals to take positive action for both environmental and societal well-being.

In conclusion, the best focus for developing a syllabus of radical hope is an integrative one that recognizes the complementary nature of science and spirituality. By combining these perspectives, educators can equip students with a comprehensive understanding of environmental issues while fostering a deep connection to values and ethics that inspire positive action and hope for the future.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face a myriad of challenges ranging from environmental vulnerabilities to economic limitations. In the face of these challenges, there is a growing recognition that addressing the issues confronting SIDS requires more than just conventional strategies. Spiritual ecology emerges as a holistic platform that goes beyond the materialistic approach to environmental issues, providing a unique foundation for a syllabus of radical hope. This essay explores the concept of spiritual ecology and its potential as a transformative force for the sustainable development of SIDS.

Spiritual ecology is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to explore the interconnectedness of ecological and spiritual principles. It acknowledges the intrinsic relationship between humanity and the natural world, emphasizing the need for a harmonious coexistence. At its core, spiritual ecology recognizes that environmental issues are not merely technical problems but deeply rooted in ethical, cultural, and spiritual dimensions.

In the context of SIDS, a syllabus grounded in spiritual ecology can offer a holistic approach to education. Traditional curricula often neglect the spiritual and cultural aspects that are integral to the identity of these nations. By incorporating spiritual ecology, education can go beyond the conventional boundaries and foster a profound connection with nature and community. This approach can instill a sense of responsibility, encouraging individuals to see themselves as stewards of both their cultural heritage and the environment.

A spiritual ecology-based syllabus can cultivate environmental consciousness by instilling values such as reverence for nature, mindfulness, and gratitude. SIDS, with their unique biodiversity and vulnerability to climate change, can benefit immensely from an educational approach that encourages individuals to view nature not merely as a resource but as a source of spiritual inspiration. This perspective can lead to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all life forms, promoting sustainable practices and responsible stewardship.

SIDS often face the brunt of climate change impacts, including rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and loss of biodiversity. A spiritual ecology-based syllabus can equip individuals with the resilience and adaptability needed to navigate these challenges. By fostering a sense of interconnectedness and community support, education becomes a tool for building societal resilience. The spiritual dimension encourages individuals to find solace and strength in their cultural roots, enabling them to face adversity with a sense of purpose and hope.

Spiritual ecology emphasizes the importance of community and collective action. In the context of SIDS, where local communities are at the forefront of environmental challenges, this approach becomes particularly relevant. A syllabus grounded in spiritual ecology can empower local communities to take charge of their sustainable development. By fostering a deep connection to the land and promoting traditional knowledge, education becomes a catalyst for community-driven initiatives that address both environmental and cultural preservation.

In conclusion, the integration of spiritual ecology into the educational syllabus offers a transformative pathway for small island developing states. By recognizing the interconnectedness of ecological and spiritual principles, this approach goes beyond conventional strategies and taps into the deeper roots of environmental challenges. The resulting syllabus of radical hope not only equips individuals with the knowledge and skills for sustainable development but also instills a sense of purpose, resilience, and community that is essential for navigating the unique challenges faced by SIDS. Ultimately, spiritual ecology provides a holistic platform that can guide these nations towards a future that is both environmentally and culturally rich.

5  Exploring Spiritual Ecology on Islands.

Islands, with their isolated and distinct ecosystems, offer a unique setting for the exploration of spiritual ecology—a profound understanding of the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world. In these isolated landscapes, the delicate dance between nature and spirituality becomes more apparent, providing a rich canvas for individuals to learn, reflect, and integrate ecological wisdom into their lives. This essay delves into the concept of spiritual ecology on islands, exploring the interconnected relationship between the spiritual and natural realms and the lessons that can be gleaned from these paradises of biodiversity.

Islands, often regarded as biodiversity hotspots, boast a rich tapestry of flora and fauna that has evolved in isolation. This unique biodiversity creates a palpable sense of interconnectedness, where every species plays a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem. As individuals immerse themselves in these ecosystems, the intricate web of life becomes a tangible expression of spiritual interconnectedness, fostering a deep sense of reverence and awe. The natural beauty of islands, from lush rainforests to pristine beaches, serves as a source of inspiration for spiritual exploration. The serene landscapes and diverse ecosystems provide a sacred backdrop for individuals to connect with a higher power, fostering a sense of spirituality rooted in the profound understanding of nature’s divine design.

Many islands are home to indigenous communities that have cultivated a deep spiritual relationship with their environment over centuries. These communities offer valuable insights into the harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. Learning from indigenous wisdom becomes a vital aspect of understanding spiritual ecology on islands, as these cultures often possess a profound respect for the interconnectedness of all life.

Rituals, ceremonies, and traditional practices of island communities often revolve around ecological sustainability and a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. By immersing oneself in these practices, individuals can gain a firsthand experience of the spiritual significance of ecological balance and preservation.

Despite the apparent harmony between spirituality and ecology on islands, these paradises face numerous challenges. Rapid urbanization, climate change, and overexploitation of natural resources threaten the delicate balance that sustains these ecosystems. Learning about spiritual ecology on islands must also involve an acknowledgment of the pressing environmental issues that demand urgent attention and action.  However, within these challenges lie opportunities for transformative change. By understanding the spiritual dimensions of ecological interconnectedness, individuals and communities can become advocates for sustainable practices, environmental conservation, and the preservation of the unique spiritual heritage embedded in island ecosystems.

Exploring spiritual ecology on islands offers a profound journey into the interconnectedness of humanity and the natural world. Islands, with their unique biodiversity and indigenous wisdom, provide a fertile ground for individuals to cultivate a deep sense of spiritual connection with the environment. By learning from the delicate ecosystems and rich spiritual traditions of islands, we can gain valuable insights into living harmoniously with nature, fostering a renewed commitment to ecological stewardship and sustainability. In the face of environmental challenges, the lessons learned from spiritual ecology on islands can inspire transformative action, nurturing a collective responsibility to protect and preserve the delicate balance of our planet’s precious ecosystems.

6  The Spiritual Beauty of Islands. 

Islands have long captured the human imagination, not only for their physical beauty but also for the profound spiritual resonance they evoke. These isolated pockets of land surrounded by vast expanses of water have a unique ability to inspire introspection, contemplation, and a sense of awe. This essay explores the spiritual beauty of islands, delving into the ways in which they serve as sanctuaries for tranquility and reflection, inviting individuals to connect

with the divine and the profound beauty inherent in the natural world.

The untouched landscapes of islands often resemble a natural cathedral, where the mountains, forests, and seascapes stand as pillars and arches of an ancient sanctuary. The spiritual beauty of islands lies in the harmonious integration of these elements, creating a space that invites reverence and reflection. The gentle rustle of leaves, the rhythmic lapping of waves, and the symphony of bird songs become the hymns of nature, guiding individuals toward a deeper connection with the spiritual essence embedded in the environment.

Islands, by their very nature, offer solitude, a precious commodity in the fast-paced world. In solitude, individuals can escape the cacophony of modern life and embrace the serenity of their surroundings. The spiritual beauty of islands lies in their capacity to provide a haven for contemplation, where one can ponder life’s mysteries, reflect on personal journeys, and seek a profound understanding of existence.  The interplay of light and shadow on an island is a visual poetry that speaks to the soul. Sunrise and sunset, casting hues of gold and crimson over the landscape, create moments of breathtaking beauty that transcend the material world. This dance of light and shadow becomes a metaphor for life’s cycles, reminding individuals of the ephemeral nature of existence and encouraging a deeper appreciation for the present moment.

The isolation of islands, while physically limiting, becomes a metaphorical canvas for spiritual exploration. In this solitude, individuals confront themselves, their beliefs, and their purpose in a way that is often obscured in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Islands become places of pilgrimage, not just in the religious sense, but as destinations for those seeking a connection with their inner selves and the divine.

Surrounded by the boundless expanse of the ocean, islands are enveloped in a sense of mystery and sacredness. The sea, with its ebb and flow, becomes a symbol of the cyclical nature of life and a conduit for spiritual reflection. Whether through the rhythmic lapping of waves against the shore or the vastness of the horizon, the waters surrounding islands inspire a profound sense of interconnectedness and unity with the cosmos.

The spiritual beauty of islands lies in their ability to serve as conduits between the tangible and the transcendent. Through their landscapes, solitude, and the dance of natural elements, islands beckon individuals to embark on a journey of self-discovery, contemplation, and spiritual enrichment. In a world filled with noise and distraction, the sanctuaries of tranquility and reflection that islands offer become invaluable spaces for those seeking to find solace, meaning, and a deeper connection with the spiritual dimensions of life.

7  Thinking with Islands

The cultural and spiritual landscape of Scotland is adorned with a rich tapestry of history and tradition, much of which is woven through the lives and legacies of its saints. The concept of thinking with islands takes on a profound significance when considering the spiritual odyssey of Scottish saints. These holy men and women, through their solitary contemplation and unwavering faith, cultivated islands of spirituality within the vast sea of challenges and uncertainties. This essay explores the unique connection between thinking with islands and the lives of the Scottish saints, highlighting the enduring impact of their devotion on the collective consciousness.

The rugged landscapes of Scotland, with their craggy coastlines and remote isles, have long been associated with solitude and introspection. Similarly, the Scottish saints sought solitude on islands, retreating to isolated monastic communities or remote hermitages. These islands of solitude became crucibles for spiritual growth, allowing the saints to deepen their connection with the divine amidst the raw beauty of nature.

The story of St. Columba and the island of Iona is emblematic of the symbiotic relationship between Scottish saints and islands. In the 6th century, St. Columba, an Irish missionary, established a monastery on the small island of Iona. This monastic community served as a beacon of learning, spirituality, and artistic expression, influencing not only Scotland but also the broader Celtic Christian tradition. The island of Iona became a sacred space, where monks engaged in prayer, study, and craftsmanship, fostering a holistic approach to spiritual life.

St. Ninian, known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts, also left an indelible mark on Scotland’s spiritual landscape. He founded the Candida Casa (White House) monastery in Whithorn, a place that, in its isolation, allowed for profound contemplation and religious scholarship. St. Ninian’s dedication to education and evangelism from this island of thought laid the groundwork for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland.

Beyond their roles as places of retreat and contemplation, certain islands associated with Scottish saints became pilgrimage sites. Pilgrims sought spiritual rejuvenation by traversing the rugged terrains to reach these sacred islands, fostering a communal connection with the saints and their teachings. The act of pilgrimage, in itself, became a form of thinking with islands, a journey of self-discovery and faith.  The thinking with islands approach employed by Scottish saints left an enduring legacy on Scotland’s cultural and spiritual identity. The monastic traditions, illuminated manuscripts, and the enduring connection between nature and spirituality are all manifestations of the influence these saints exerted. Today, the echoes of their contemplative thinking resonate through the centuries, inspiring a modern appreciation for the symbiosis between faith and the isolated, introspective spaces the Scottish saints embraced.

Thinking with islands, as exemplified by the lives of Scottish saints, transcends geographical isolation to become a metaphor for spiritual depth and contemplation. The islands these saints inhabited, both physically and metaphorically, provided the space for introspection, prayer, and the cultivation of a profound connection with the divine. The legacy of these spiritual pioneers endures, inviting us to explore our own islands of thought and deepen our understanding of the interplay between solitude, spirituality, and the collective consciousness.

8  Navigating the Seas of Thought.

In the vast expanse of the human mind, there exists an intriguing metaphorical landscape —an island that serves as a symbol for the complex realm of thought. This mental island is a place where ideas, memories, and emotions converge, forming a unique terrain that shapes our perceptions and influences our decisions. Just as a physical island is surrounded by the ever-changing sea, the island in the mind is surrounded by the dynamic currents of consciousness. This essay delves into the concept of thinking with an island in the mind, exploring the rich metaphorical landscape and the cognitive processes that take place within it. .

The island in the mind serves as a metaphor for the individual’s cognitive domain, encapsulating the diverse elements of thought and emotion. Like a geographical island, it is a distinct entity, separate from the vast ocean that surrounds it—representing the external world and collective consciousness. This separation implies a certain autonomy and uniqueness to each person’s mental island, as thoughts and experiences are shaped by personal perspectives and individual histories.

One of the prominent features of the mental island is its shorelines—the boundary between the conscious and the subconscious. Memories, like waves, wash ashore, shaping the contours of our thoughts. The island’s shoreline is a dynamic space where the tides of recollection constantly redefine the landscape. Nostalgia and reflection are the gentle breezes that rustle through the wind-trimmed trees of memory, while the stormy waves of trauma may erode the shores, leaving lasting imprints on the island.  At the center of the mental island rise the mountains of imagination—a landscape sculpted by creativity, dreams, and aspirations. These peaks represent the heights of human potential, where ideas take form and visions come to life. The island in the mind becomes a playground for exploration and innovation, with each individual cultivating their unique mountain ranges based on their desires and passions.

Beneath the surface of the mental island lie the caves of reflection—an introspective realm where individuals delve into the depths of their thoughts. These caves provide shelter and solitude, allowing for self-discovery and contemplation. It is in these secluded spaces that one can examine the roots of their beliefs, confront their fears, and find the clarity needed to navigate the complexities of the mental landscape.

Thinking with an island in the mind involves navigating the seas of thought—a vast and sometimes turbulent expanse that connects the individual islands of humanity. The currents of collective consciousness ebb and flow, shaping societal norms, shared beliefs, and cultural values. Understanding the interplay between personal mental islands and the broader sea of shared thought is essential for effective communication, empathy, and the development of a harmonious society.  The metaphor of thinking with an island in the mind provides a captivating lens through which to explore the complexities of human cognition. Each mental island is a unique tapestry of memories, emotions, and ideas, shaped by the individual’s experiences and perceptions. By understanding and appreciating the diverse landscapes of these mental islands, we can foster a deeper connection with ourselves and others, navigating the seas of thought with empathy, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

9 Exploring the Spiritual Nexus. 

Spirituality is a multifaceted concept that finds expression in various forms across diverse cultures and belief systems. One fascinating intersection lies in the juxtaposition of Brahman, a foundational concept in Hindu philosophy, and the unique spirituality associated with islands. Brahman, as an abstract and transcendent reality, intertwines with the intimate connection between people and their island environments, fostering a distinct spiritual   What follows is an excursion into the confluence of Brahman and island spirituality, seeking to unravel the profound connections that emerge when these two realms intersect.

Brahman, a central concept in Hinduism, represents the ultimate reality or cosmic spirit that underlies and unites the diverse manifestations of the universe. It is beyond human comprehension and defies definition, transcending the limitations of language and conceptualization. Brahman is often described in the Upanishads as being beyond attributes, formless, and eternal, existing as the source and essence of all that is.  The concept of Brahman encompasses the idea of an interconnected and interdependent universe, where the boundaries between the self (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman) dissolve. This unity, known as Advaita (non-dualism), encourages individuals to recognize the divine essence within themselves and all living beings, fostering a sense of oneness and interconnectedness.

Islands, with their isolation and distinct ecosystems, often give rise to unique spiritual perspectives shaped by the natural environment and the close-knit communities inhabiting them. The island environment, surrounded by the vast expanse of the ocean, fosters a deep connection between the inhabitants and the natural world. Island spirituality often emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, as the isolation of an island prompts an awareness of the delicate balance between humans and their environment.

Island cultures frequently develop a strong sense of community and shared identity, reflecting the interdependence required for survival in these confined spaces. The islander’s spirituality often incorporates rituals, ceremonies, and beliefs that honor the land, sea, and celestial forces. The cycles of nature, from the changing tides to the migration of birds, become integral components of island spiritual practices.

At first glance, Brahman and island spirituality may appear disparate, belonging to distinct cultural and religious contexts. However, a closer examination reveals striking parallels. Both emphasize interconnectedness, oneness, and a deep reverence for the natural world.

The concept of Brahman aligns with the islander’s recognition of the interconnected web of life. The islander, much like the follower of Advaita, understands that the boundaries between self and nature are illusory, recognizing a divine essence that permeates all living things. Island spirituality, rooted in the intimate relationship with the environment, echoes the Hindu notion that the divine is immanent in the natural world.  Moreover, the island’s isolation mirrors the Advaitic emphasis on transcending the limitations of the individual self to realize the universal Self (Brahman). In the solitude of the island, one may find the space for introspection and a deeper connection with the unseen forces that govern existence.

The intersection of Brahman and island spirituality unveils a profound tapestry of interconnectedness, unity, and reverence for the natural world. While arising from different cultural and religious traditions, these spiritual perspectives converge in their acknowledgment of the divine essence that underlies the cosmos and binds together all living things. As we explore the intricate tapestry of human spirituality, the confluence of Brahman and island spirituality invites us to appreciate the universal themes that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, fostering a shared understanding of the sacred interconnectedness that defines our existence.

10 Upanishads and Islands

The Upanishads, a collection of ancient Indian philosophical texts, are revered as the culmination of Vedic thought and the foundation of Hindu spirituality. These texts, composed between 800 and 200 BCE, delve into the metaphysical nature of reality, the self (Atman), and the ultimate cosmic reality (Brahman). While the Upanishads originated in the Indian subcontinent, their profound insights resonate with universal themes that can find surprising parallels in the context of islands and their unique spiritual dimensions.

The Upanishads emphasize the transcendent nature of Brahman, a reality beyond attributes and forms. Simultaneously, Brahman is immanent in all aspects of creation. Similarly, islands, often isolated by wind and tides from the mainland, possess a transcendental quality in their separation from larger land masses. Yet, the immanence of spirituality is palpable in the intimate connection islanders feel with their natural surroundings.

The Upanishads stress the underlying unity of all existence, despite the apparent diversity of the world. This idea resonates with the diversity of life found on islands, where unique ecosystems have evolved and coexist in harmony. Islanders often develop a sense of unity and interdependence, recognizing the importance of every component in the delicate balance of their isolated ecosystems.  Many Upanishadic teachings advocate introspection and meditation as a means to realize the self (Atman) and connect with Brahman. Similarly, the inherent solitude of islands can provide an environment conducive to introspection. The tranquility and isolation of islands may serve as a natural setting for individuals to explore their inner selves and seek a deeper connection with the spiritual dimensions of life.

Upanishadic thought underscores the interconnectedness of all living beings, emphasizing the divinity within each entity. Islanders, deeply tied to their natural surroundings, often cultivate a strong bond with the environment. Rituals and traditions on islands frequently revolve around nature, acknowledging the sacredness of the land and sea, mirroring the Upanishadic reverence for the divine immanence in the natural world.

Island communities often develop a strong sense of shared identity and communal living, reflecting the Upanishadic concept of recognizing the universal Self (Brahman) within each individual. The cooperative efforts required for survival on islands foster a sense of interconnectedness and mutual dependence, echoing the spirit of unity championed in the Upanishads.  The Upanishads use the metaphor of the ocean to describe the vastness of Brahman. Similarly, islands, surrounded by the expansive ocean, symbolize a physical and metaphorical connection to the infinite. The ebb and flow of the tides, the life-giving force of the sea, and the vastness of the ocean mirror the cosmic themes found in Upanishadic literature.

In conclusion, the Upanishads and islands, though originating in vastly different geographical and cultural contexts, share thematic commonalities that highlight the universal nature of certain spiritual principles. Both offer insights into the interconnectedness of all life, the importance of solitude and introspection, and the recognition of the divine within the natural world. The exploration of these parallels invites us to appreciate the diverse expressions of spirituality across different landscapes and cultures while recognizing the underlying unity that binds all of humanity.

11 Island  Peoples and Their Spiritual Lands

Indigenous peoples around the world have long maintained a profound and sacred connection to their ancestral lands. For these communities, the concept of land transcends mere physical geography; it is intricately woven into their cultural, spiritual, and social fabric. The relationship between indigenous peoples and their spiritual lands is a testament to the deep understanding these communities possess regarding the interdependence of humans and the environment. This essay explores the significance of spiritual lands for indigenous peoples, delving into the spiritual, cultural, and environmental dimensions of this sacred connection.  For indigenous peoples, the land is not merely a physical space but a living entity with its own spirit. This spiritual connection is rooted in a profound understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things. The land is considered a source of life, wisdom, and sustenance. Indigenous spiritual practices often involve rituals, ceremonies, and storytelling that celebrate the sacred relationship between the people and the land. The connection to spiritual lands provides a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose, shaping the worldview of indigenous communities.

The spiritual lands of indigenous peoples are repositories of cultural heritage and traditional knowledge. These lands hold the stories, myths, and histories that have been passed down through generations, forming the cultural identity of indigenous communities. The landscapes are adorned with sacred sites, such as burial grounds, ceremonial spaces, and natural landmarks, which are imbued with cultural significance. The preservation of these lands is crucial for the continuity of indigenous languages, traditions, and customs, ensuring that future generations inherit the rich tapestry of their cultural legacy.  Indigenous peoples are often recognized for their sustainable and harmonious relationship with the environment. The spiritual connection to their lands instills a deep sense of responsibility and stewardship. Traditional ecological knowledge, accumulated over centuries, guides indigenous communities in sustainable resource management, ensuring the longevity of ecosystems. Indigenous practices emphasize the importance of living in harmony with nature, reflecting a holistic approach that considers the well-being of both the human and non-human inhabitants of the land.

Despite the profound significance of their spiritual lands, indigenous communities face numerous challenges that threaten the integrity of these sacred spaces. Historical injustices, such as forced displacement, colonization, and exploitation, have disrupted the harmonious relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands. Modern developments, including industrialization and resource extraction, further encroach upon ancestral territories, leading to environmental degradation and the erosion of traditional ways of life.  The spiritual connection between indigenous peoples and their lands is a fundamental aspect of their existence. These lands are not only physical spaces but repositories of cultural heritage, spiritual significance, and environmental wisdom. Recognizing and respecting the sacred relationship between indigenous communities and their lands is essential for fostering understanding, reconciliation, and sustainable development. As the world grapples with environmental challenges, embracing the holistic perspective of indigenous peoples towards their spiritual lands can offer valuable insights into creating a more balanced and harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world

12 Marvels of Evolution.

Islands, with their isolated ecosystems and unique environmental conditions, have long fascinated biologists and evolutionary scientists. The study of evolution on islands provides valuable insights into the processes that shape biodiversity, adaptability, and the intricate dance between species and their environments. This section explores the evolutionary marvels that unfold on islands, highlighting the mechanisms that drive adaptation, speciation, and the distinctive trajectories of life in these isolated havens.  The isolation of islands, whether oceanic or continental, plays a pivotal role in shaping the evolutionary pathways of species. Restricted gene flow between island and mainland populations fosters genetic divergence, leading to the development of unique traits and characteristics. Over time, this isolation can result in the evolution of distinct island species.

Islands often provide a diversity of ecological niches and resource availability. In the absence of competition from mainland species, a phenomenon known as adaptive radiation occurs, where a single ancestor gives rise to multiple species with diverse adaptations. This rapid divergence is particularly evident on islands, where species exploit various ecological niches to maximize their chances of survival.  Island environments, characterized by limited resources and unique selective pressures, can lead to evolutionary phenomena such as gigantism or dwarfism. Examples include the giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands and the dwarf elephants, now extinct, that evolved on of certain Mediterranean islands. These size variations are adaptive responses to the specific challenges and opportunities presented by the island ecosystem.

Islands impose selective pressures distinct from those on the mainland. Species must adapt to limited resources, predation risks, and climatic variations. This results in unique evolutionary adaptations, from specialized feeding behaviors to changes in body size, coloration, and reproductive strategies, all tailored to the island environment.

Islands often harbor a high degree of endemism, with species found nowhere else on Earth. The Galápagos Islands, for example, showcase a remarkable array of endemic species that have evolved in isolation. The concentration of endemic species contributes to the formation of biodiversity hotspots, making islands crucial for the conservation of global biological diversity.  Human activities, including habitat destruction, introduction of non-native species, and climate change, have profound effects on island ecosystems and their evolutionary trajectories. Invasive species can disrupt native island flora and fauna, leading to extinctions and altering the course of evolution. Understanding these anthropogenic influences is crucial for effective conservation strategies.

Islands serve as natural laboratories for studying evolution. The controlled environments and clear boundaries make it easier to observe and document evolutionary processes. Scientists can use islands as model systems to test hypotheses about adaptation, speciation, and the broader dynamics of evolutionary change.  The study of evolution on islands provides a captivating glimpse into the resilience and creativity of life in the face of unique challenges. From the iconic finches of the Galápagos to the lemurs of Madagascar, islands showcase the incredible diversity of evolutionary strategies that emerge in isolated environments. As ongoing research continues to unravel the mysteries of island evolution, these isolated ecosystems stand as both testament and crucible to the dynamic forces that have shaped life on Earth. The evolutionary marvels of islands not only deepen our understanding of biological diversity but also underscore the importance of conservation efforts to preserve these unique and fragile ecosystems.

12  Island Spirituality and Evolution: 

The convergence of spirituality and evolution on islands unveils a profound tapestry where the interconnectedness of the natural world intertwines with the human experience. Islands, with their unique ecosystems, isolation, and intimate relationship between inhabitants and their environments, foster a distinctive spirituality that echoes the evolutionary processes shaping life on these isolated havens. This section explores the intricate relationship between spirituality and evolution on islands, highlighting the synergies that have emerged in these distinct landscapes.  Island spirituality is often deeply rooted in the connection between communities and their surroundings. The isolation of islands fosters a heightened awareness of the delicate balance between human existence and the natural world. Islanders frequently develop spiritual practices, rituals, and belief systems that reflect their reverence for the land, sea, and celestial forces. The cycles of nature, from the changing tides to the migration of birds, become integral components of island spirituality.  Islands, characterized by limited resources and isolation, present unique challenges and opportunities for the evolution of life. Species on islands undergo adaptive processes, developing unique traits and characteristics to thrive in these confined environments. The evolutionary resilience of island life mirrors the spiritual resilience of island communities, both adapting to the ebb and flow of existence in a harmonious dance with their surroundings.

The rich biodiversity found on islands often parallels the diversity of spiritual beliefs among island communities. Just as the evolution of species leads to a variety of life forms adapted to specific niches, island spirituality manifests in diverse cultural expressions, rituals, and cosmologies. The coexistence of numerous spiritual perspectives reflects the intricate web of relationships between humans, the environment, and the divine.  Over the course of history, islands have been meeting points for diverse cultures, leading to the exchange of ideas, beliefs, and practices. This cultural evolution often gives rise to spiritual syncretism, where indigenous beliefs intermingle with those introduced by external influences. The resulting fusion of spiritual traditions on islands embodies the adaptability and interconnectedness intrinsic to both cultural and biological evolution.  The interplay between human and natural evolution on islands creates a symbiotic relationship. As island communities evolve culturally and spiritually, their practices often align with a deep understanding of the natural world. Traditional ecological knowledge becomes intertwined with spiritual wisdom, fostering a holistic approach to life that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living things.

Island spirituality frequently emphasizes the sacred responsibility of humans as stewards of the land and guardians of the environment. This spiritual ethos aligns with the growing awareness of the need for conservation and sustainable practices. The recognition of the divine in nature inspires island communities to adopt conservation ethics, preserving the unique ecosystems that are integral to both their spiritual and evolutionary heritage.

The nexus between spirituality and evolution on islands illustrates a harmonious dance between the human spirit and the forces that shape life. As island communities navigate the challenges of isolation and limited resources, their spirituality evolves in tandem with the biological diversity that surrounds them. The spiritual and evolutionary resilience found on islands serves as a testament to the intricate connections between the physical and metaphysical realms. In understanding and appreciating this symbiotic relationship, we gain insights not only into the unique cultural and biological tapestries of islands but also into the universal principles that underpin the coevolution of spirituality and life on Earth.

Islands, with their secluded and often pristine landscapes, have long served as sources of inspiration for artists and seekers of spiritual connection. The combination of isolation, natural beauty, and a unique cultural milieu creates an environment that fosters a profound interplay between spirituality and art. This essay explores the symbiotic relationship between spirituality and art on islands, examining how the confluence of these two elements contributes to a rich and distinctive cultural tapestry.  One of the most captivating aspects of islands is their natural beauty. Surrounded by the vast expanse of the ocean, islands often boast breathtaking landscapes, from lush tropical jungles to rugged cliffs and serene beaches. The isolation and seclusion offered by these landscapes create an environment conducive to introspection and contemplation, inviting individuals to connect with a higher, transcendent force.

In many island cultures, the natural elements are deeply intertwined with spiritual beliefs. The rhythm of the waves, the rustling of palm trees, and the vibrant colors of the sunset become part of a spiritual symphony that resonates with the islanders. Artists, inspired by this connection, channel these natural elements into their work, creating pieces that reflect a profound sense of spirituality.

Art, in all its forms, has been a powerful medium for expressing and exploring spirituality. On islands, where the natural world is often a direct conduit to the divine, artists find inspiration in the landscapes and traditional practices deeply rooted in spirituality. From traditional dances that tell stories of creation to intricate paintings depicting mythological narratives, island art often serves as a visual and performative expression of spiritual beliefs.

Furthermore, many island communities have a rich history of craftsmanship, creating intricate sculptures, carvings, and textiles imbued with spiritual significance. These works of art often serve as tangible representations of the islanders’ connection to the sacred, providing a visual and tactile means of engaging with the divine.  Islands, due to their geographical isolation, have often been melting pots of diverse cultures and traditions. This cultural fusion contributes to a unique spiritual and artistic landscape, where different beliefs and practices coexist and intermingle. The blending of indigenous spiritualities with those brought by settlers or colonizers creates a rich tapestry of beliefs, rituals, and artistic expressions.

Island art becomes a bridge between these diverse spiritualities, providing a visual language that transcends cultural boundaries. This fusion can be seen in the vibrant colors of traditional clothing, the rhythm of island music, and the symbolism embedded in paintings and sculptures. The result is a harmonious blending of spiritual and artistic elements that reflects the diversity of island life.  Spirituality and art on islands are intricately woven into the fabric of cultural identity. The unique landscapes, cultural diversity, and the intertwining of tradition and innovation create an environment where spirituality finds expression through various artistic forms. The art produced on islands serves not only as a reflection of the spiritual beliefs of the community but also as a bridge between the tangible and the divine. In this harmonious tapestry, islands stand as beacons of creativity and spiritual exploration, where the boundaries between the sacred and the artistic blur, inviting individuals to embark on a journey of self-discovery and connection with the transcendent.

Bird’s-eye Landscape Microcosms

Friday, November 17th, 2023

Denis Bellamy

Fig 1 Bird Wind, Peter Lanyon (1955)


Coming to Islands

Thinking with islands

Skomer: a timeline

Skomer: rabbits and vegetation

Skokholm: a scientific outpost

Bird’s-eye landscapes

Mapping ecosystems

Skomer microcosms

Previous studies

Drone survey

Skomer macrocosms

Sea Campion

Skomer: aerial drone surveys

Hyperbooks 1


Web appendices

Skomer mind map

Dream islands

A campfire meditation

Web references

Coming to Islands

My first view of Skomer was in the autumn of 1969, a decade after it had been declared a national nature reserve.   Looking to the west from the mainland across a misty, rainy, Jack Sound from the shelter of the coastguard hut at the top of the Deer Park, I was fascinated by a group of several hundred diving gannets, a reinforcement of the feeling of being immersed  in a powerful local wildness.   Looking to the south west I could see the island of Skokholm, a small smudge on the gray horizon.  Skomer’s  nearness is deceptive, although only just over a mile as the crow flies from Martin’s Haven, it could take two men rowing up to three quarters of an hour to reach Welsh Way, which was the southern point of access until North Haven was made accessible by the Victorians and their dynamite.  This day, on a rare borderline between humankind and nature, began a mindful intellectual link with Skomer, which has lasted to the present day. 

Islands occupy a significant space in the human mind because they are good places to think with.  They are good places with which to think because they are more than scenic locations.  Their natural boundaries help shape and contain narratives. In my case they are places where poetry and contemplation happen, and I was in search of somewhere to link these powerful social expressions of human wellbeing by making connections between ecology and culture.  Up to that time my scientific career had been based on reductive concepts that came from the biochemical laboratory.  I was in search of the bigger, but not too complicated, outdoor picture of evolution.  This shift in outlook began during the mid 1960s in Sheffield, where I was Reader in Endocrinology and Metabolism. The change in mindset emerged during the co-supervision of a PhD project into how freshwater shrimps could survive in the tidal estuary of the River Esk at Whitby.  My new scientific outlook came into a much sharper focus when I was offered a place on an international team studying the physiological survival strategies of animals living at the boundary between the River Amazon and its largest tributary the River Negro.  Our base was the spot where, a century before, a pair of British naturalists and explorers, Henry Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace, had located their expedition.  When Bates arrived home in 1859 after a full eleven years, he had sent back 14,712 species, mostly insects, of which 8,000 were new to science.  From these findings Bates gave the first scientific account of mimicry in animals. The scientific continuity embedded in this small spot on planet Earth was sometimes overwhelming.  

Bates and Wallace had begun to explore the Rio Negro or “Black River,” and noticed that the water seemed darkly stained, like tea or coffee. Similar, smaller rivers can be found across the northern Amazon basin. Such rivers are usually deep, slow-moving, and wind through peaty forests or swamps. Where the blackwater of the Rio Negro meets the silt-laden, “whitewater” of the western Amazon Basin, the transition is sharp and visible from space.  Our research soon revealed this was an amazing juxtaposition of two entirely different outcomes of evolution expressed in food chains and survival mechanisms  This distinct river ecologies also determined diverse cultures of the rivers’ native settlements, which set seeds of cultural ecology in my mind.

The new mindset that was emerging from contact with the diverse tropical rainforest was a response to the fact that educationalists generally do not face “nature” as a whole as an objective and invariant reality, but only in its parts. The reality I had been taught to perceive always implied an isolated subjective and variable component.  In truth, the operational reality of the  living world can only be systematically and gradually perceived by enlarging its systems and differentiating their elements and relationships. Systems thinking with mind maps is therefore a necessary tool for human progress on an overcrowded planet.  It implies both analytical and synthetical processes and thus is sometimes called a “holistic approach” to nature.   Education is not something to keep in closed conceptual boxes, even when the box is classroom-shaped. The habit of learning, an urge to find out more, is developed when we feel inspired. The world outside the lecture room is richly inspiring, constantly re-energising what takes place within. It is the source of all our learning: about our history, about our culture, about our place in the natural world and our relationships with each other. This two-way flow can be embedded in every child’s education, entirely at ease within any age group and any teacher’s ethos.  Sadly an out of date European education system devised to establish and exploit empires gets in the way.  

Sheltering from the weather on the edge of the world, watching the primeval interaction of predator and prey, I needed poetical inspiration to express the wild reality in front of me, which could describe and transmits ecstasy while retaining a practical awareness of the world as a system that goes on relentlessly driven by interlocking food chains.  It was not until 1992, the year of the world summit to launch a strategy to save the planet, that the American poet Mary Oliver captured my mood of 23 years ago, when I vowed to bring students to this place where they could determine for themselves their place in nature.  

The depiction of Skomer in its wildness was the aim of the Welsh painter, Rosemary Howard Jones.  Rosemary, known as “Ray”, grew up near Cardiff and on a visit to Pembrokeshire as a child fell in love with the coastline that was to hold and sustain her throughout her life. In the 1950s she spend long periods on Skomer living in the ‘Rabbit Catcher’s Hut’, with her long-term partner, photographer Ray Moore.  The  hut had basic furniture the pair had made from driftwood.  I remember discussions with her about the merits of the interwar poets in her silver caravan permanently parked just within the gate to the Deer Park when she was regarded a rather eccentric recluse, Another image is of her sitting gross legged in the prow of the boat going to Skokholm, drenched with spray, anorak turned up, sketching the breaking waves around her.

Thinking with islands

Quite remarkable things happen when itinerant people set foot on small islands.   Small is beautiful but small is also vulnerable so resilience and adaptability have to be the order of the day,

Skomer: a timeline

Skomer is a small cliff girt, treeless, island situated about a mile off the coast of South West Wales.   In terms of its function as a human natural resource its history goes back to the migrations of the first  prehistoric farmers. From this time to the present there has been a varying human presence in a long story in many episodes lasting lasting thousands of years or just a few hours.  Evidence for long term social dynamics rests with the development of field boundaries, where denuded plough lynchets and remains of stone walled fields show clear phasing among overlapping farming systems, all indicative of a complex cultural past.

Present day visitors are taken on a tour of the roofless round houses and their associated field systems which have been dated to the Iron Age. The evidence comes from excavations at a prehistoric mound of burnt and fire-cracked stones once used to boil water for cooking.  This has produced calibrated radiocarbon dates of between 751-408 BC,  A cattle tooth deposited in the cooking mound was dated to around 85 BC.   

Speculations about an even earlier culture have focused on a barrow associated with a considerable number of cairns. There is also evidence for possible megalithic structures.  This would date the first human settlement to the of Neolithic or early Bronze Age. It is claimed that among these remains are at least three standing stone pairs which raises the possibility that they represent a small ritual site.  This idea chimes with the latest ideas of the migration of Neolithic henge builders who spread from Orkney to Salisbury Plain, taking a route south along the western coastline of Britain.  The bluestones, which mark an early conceptual stage of Stonehenge, were quarried a relatively short distance from Skomer and this positions the island within the epicentre of a ‘standing stone’ culture which transferred key cultural elements from Pembrokeshire to Salisbury Plain.  

The first documents on Skomer appear in the mid 14th century when the island was established as a large rabbit warren.  A set of accounts recording this operation was compiled by the Norman administration of Haverford West, where the island was an extension of the castle’s community of St Martins. 

It seems that the island was uninhabited during the medieval period except for the seasonal visits of warreners and cattle farmers.

The ruined farmhouse, and surrounding large rectangular fields that now dominate the centre of the island were erected in the 1840s by the mainland owner as an investment for the rental market.  The returns from agriculture were probably marginal and over the years the island came to be valued more for its exceptional wildlife.  This phase culminated in Skomer being declared a national nature reserve in 1959.  It is now staffed by a manager and volunteers of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Old farm buildings have been converted as visitor accommodation and there is a daily boat service most of the year.  There is a house for the manager to which is attached a small laboratory with accommodation for field workers.  However, my first visit to Skomer predated these comforts.   The boat was unpredictable, boarding was either direct from the beach or a convenient rock face and the accommodation was primitive. 

Skomer: rabbits and vegetation

A broad scientific framework for understanding the natural history of Skomer was established in a report of a seven month long expedition to survey the island, organised by the West Wales Field Society in 1946. At that time Skomer was emerging from a period during the war when rabbits had been culled in a semi-agricultural system and   the central fields had been lightly grazed by a few cattle and sheep .  Short rabbit nibbled floriferous pastures dominated the landscape, which were described as being springy and pleasant to walk over.

The principal vector of myxomatosis in Britain in 1954 and 1955 was the rabbit flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi. Rabbits remained numerous on the island of Skokholm where they were free from fleas, but nearly all were destroyed on Skomer.  When I first set foot on Skomer in 1971, the rabbit population was subject to a year on year cyclic rise and fall as myxomatosis had begun to equilibrate with its rabbits and their fleas. From an  island that in 1957 had been lush with grass it was returning to a more patchy landscape dominated by common rabbit resistant plants .  In the late 1960s the springy turf had been reduced to a very thin covering, with many mossy patches and bare ground. The turf was  no longer thick enough to feel pleasant underfoot. Because rabbits live at a such a high density, up to 40 per acre on Skomer, every part of the island, apart from the cliff ledges inaccessible to them, was affected by their burrowing, trampling, scraping, defecation and grazing. There were fears of soil erosion, particularly on the western cliff tops, where nesting burrows of shearwaters and puffins were at risk..  Also, there were several large expanding gull colonies in the centre of the island feeding on household food waste available on mainland rubbish dumps.   

As a result of discussions with the staff of the Nature Conservancy Council who were managing the island, it was agreed that I should evaluate the idea of an imminent erosion threat.  This would involve undergraduates from my department spending two weeks on Skomer in long term group work on the impact of rabbits and gulls, but they would also have their individual self motivated projects that would throw light on the ecological dynamics of other species and give them a taste of what real scientific thinking was about. For the first few years of this work the Cardiff student group was based in the ‘Rabbit Catcher’s Hut’ at the farm.. 

Long term effort was required because everyone recognised that ecological processes occur and interact at various spatial and temporal scales that require long periods of surveillance to detect and evaluate. In contrast, most ecological research occurs over short periods of time and is limited in its spatial extent, restricting our understanding of longer-term and broader-scale processes. The resulting gaps in our ecological knowledge are sometimes labelled the “invisible present”  and the “invisible place”. Without baseline data to provide a reference it is difficult to infer what long-term changes may be occurring and whether short-term local studies are representative or merely anecdotal. Although top-down effects of particular herbivores and carnivores at the landscape level are now well-recognized, these have generally been demonstrated to occur locally and over short periods of time. Importantly, we now have ample evidence that herbivores such as rabbits and deer can dramatically affect plant communities derived from fenced exclosure studies, island studies, and direct observation. Nevertheless, doubts and uncertainty persist concerning whether such long term impacts are serious or pervasive and how long they persist.  

It turned out that Skomer’s gull problem was a temporary one and by 1985 the number of breeding pairs had dropped to about 10% of the 1960s peak.  Regarding rabbits, looking back three decades we can now see that the catastrophic effect of myxomatosis on Skomer had set in motion long term ecological forces expressed in repeated cycles of plant succession.  This produces a fairly predictable surface mosaic related to the rise and fall in the rabbit population, punctuated by rare winter inundations of the island by gale-born salt spray. Regarding weather, the log of the 1946 expedition to Skomer recorded a severe September gale that snapped bracken stems about a foot from the ground, withering vegetation well into the centre of the island.

Looking back, these relatively short lived grassland microcosms characteristically appear and disappear in cycles of plant succession, occupying decades and take place alongside population trends in longer lived colonies of bracken and heath.  At any time the botanical patchiness of Skomer is revealed as a dynamic mosaic of microcosms, with long and short periods.  The longer trends, particularly in heathland, are possibly the outcome of local climate change.

The above conclusions have come from a few sampling sites representative of unenclosed  cliff tops and the large central fields.  However, the island has been compartmented by generations of prehistoric farmers eking out a living from a relatively small space.  Aerial surveys have shown that this has resulted in a complex pattern of small enclosures now only visible at ground level, which extend below the much larger Victorian enclosures.  This raises the question as to what extent this prehistoric field pattern is influencing the current pattern of vegetation.  Phosphorus is unique among the elements in being a sensitive and persistent indicator of human activity. It has long been of interest to archaeologists because of its potential to inform them about the presence of past human occupation and to offer clues regarding the type and intensity of human activity.  In particular several properties of phosphates lead to long-lasting residual ecological effects of phosphate used for crop fertilization. Phosphorus occurs in the soil in several different chemical forms, most of which are relatively insoluble in water, sensitive to pH changes, and immobile. Soil phosphate can also be grouped into inorganic and organic forms.  On Skomer the use of phosphate fertilizer, from manure, is evident in the distribution of stinging nettles   Availability of phosphate is the chief factor affecting their distribution and they may be taken as indicators of the effects of prehistoric agriculture.  For example, in a small prehistoric rectangular enclosure the vegetation inside can be quite different from that outside.  In particular, nettles are found inside but not outside.

Skokholm: a scientific outpost

It was in fact the island of Skokholm, not Skomer, that had first attracted me to Pembrokeshire, with the objective of organising a research project on its colony of house mice.  Mice live freely all over Skokholm in a population that had then been in existence for more than 70 years.   The ecological genetics of these animals had been studied intensively from 1960 to 1969 by the geneticist Sam Berry, who had set up a small field laboratory on the island for this purpose.  At that time I was co-director of the Nuffield Gerontology Laboratory at Hull University  and had just been appointed head of the department of zoology in the University of Wales at Cardiff.  The aim of my research on Skokholm was to investigate to what extent studies on laboratory animals could be extended to animals in the wild. Put simply the question is, do mice in the wild age in the same way as mice bred in the laboratory?

The other important historical feature of Skokholm that had brought me to this part of South Wales, was the significant position of the island in the the development of the science of ecology. The key local figure was Ronald Lockley, a farmer and naturalist, who took a lease on the island and began from 1928  to study migratory birds using the ‘new’ technique of ‘ringing’.  He established the first British bird observatory on Skokholm in 1933,  One of its early pieces of research was Lockley’s work in 1936-7 with David Lack on the homing behaviour of the Manx Shearwater.  Their ringing experiments showed that this bird, which nests in large numbers on Skokholm, can successfully return to the island from great distances.  This involved taking birds to Venice!. The farthest distance of Skokholm from Venice, is about 930 miles direct, while if this bird travelled the whole way back by sea it must have covered at least 3,700 miles.  

The other important biological principle that arose out of discussions among the many ornithologists who visited the bird observatory in its early days, led to David Lack’s ruminations on the fact that islands demonstrate that, the smaller and more remote the island, the more impoverished the bird fauna compared with the mainland.  This is possibly the most general pattern found in ecology, and many explanations have been proposed.  The relationship between island area and number of species is now well known: larger islands contain more species than smaller islands.  Furthermore, “Islands” can be used to refer not only to pieces of land surrounded by water, but to habitat islands as well, such as lakes, forest fragments, etc. 

Regarding my work on the ageing of Skokholm’s wild mice, which was carried out in the early 1970s, individuals were allotted to eight age-classes on the basis of tooth wear, such that the oldest group were over a year old and had survived the previous winter, while the others had all been born in the current breeding season.  This gave a maximum life span of a year.  In the laboratory, these mice lived, as do laboratory mice, for a maximum of around  three years.

Molecular markers showed that natural selection was operating on the wild Skokholm mice, so that the age groups were not genetically homogeneous. Animals living a few metres apart were different genotypes.  A number of characters were shown to be age-correlated, and their importance varied in mice from different habitats; no one trait could adequately describe the observed changes with age.  The conclusion is that ageing studies carried out on ‘standardized’ laboratory animals in a necessarily over-simplified experimental environment may give results misleading to gerontologists.  Human ageing does not occur in the wild because individuals die of disease or predation before they can experience it.

Rabbits are the other small mammal living wild on Skokholm, and Lockley, in his capacity of  farmer, engaged with them as a pest that was frustrating his efforts to make the island pay as a commercial enterprise.  In this connection he adopted every new pest control system that was developed to exterminate them.  So it was that Sir Charles Martin brought the virulent strain of the virus known as Myxomatosis cuniculi to the island.  In his choice of Skokholm Sir Charles had decided that the possibility of the virus being carried from Skokholm to wild rabbits elsewhere was too remote to constitute a public danger.  He made three separate attempts to induce myxomatosis in Skokholm rabbits in 1936, 1937 and 1938. Although in each attempt the rabbits inoculated with the virus appeared to have died within the usual period of less than fourteen days, there was little or no spread to uninoculated rabbits. The result of the Skokholm experiment was to dismiss any use of the virus as a rabbit control measure.  

However, in October 1953 myxomatosis’ was introduced into south-eastern England by unknown means and was first notified in October 1953. Attempts were at first made to eradicate it, but it spread and was established at twelve places in the south-eastern counties by the spring of 1954. It was recorded from Wales in May and from Scotland in July, its spread in these cases having undoubtedly been helped by the transfer of diseased rabbits to uninfected areas. Most of England and Wales south of a line from the Wash to the Wirral peninsula was affected by the end of 1954, and every county in northern England had some infection. Deliberate spreading of the disease by transfer of infected rabbits was made an offence in November. Virulence remained high, generally with a mortality of about. 99 per cent., through 1955, and the disease was present in most parishes in Great Britain by the end of the year. After an epidemic, which killed up to 99% of mainland animals, sporadic cases continued to occur among the depleted population to the present day.

Bird’s-eye landscapes

The artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), who wrote extensively on the aesthetics and philosophy of modern art, identified the aerial landscape (especially the “bird’s-eye view”, looking straight down, as opposed to an oblique angle) as a genuinely new and radicalizing paradigm in the art of the twentieth century. In his view, air travel, and more specifically, aerial photography had created this broad change in scenic consciousness. The Italian Futurists were similarly fascinated with aerial views of landscapes.

Unlike traditional landscapes, aerial landscapes often do not include any view of a horizon or sky, nor in such cases is there any recession of the view into an infinite distance. Additionally, there is a natural kinship between aerial landscape painting and abstract painting, not only because familiar objects are sometimes difficult to recognize when viewed aerially, but because there is no natural “up” or “down” orientation in the painting..

The Cornish painter and glider pilot, Peter Lanyon, imagines being hundreds of feet above the Penwith Peninsula as a bird, wings spread, with wisps of cloud, and fields and hedges far below represented in a style that straddles the figurative and the abstract (Fig 1). Another interpretation of this painting is that it is a personal body of interdisciplinary knowledge about Cornish cultural ecology situated  to the south of St Ives.

It is only recently that science and art have come together in the presentation and analysis of the surface landscape.  The methodology and  evidence is that of aerial survey. The first aerial photograph to obtain geographical information was taken of a French village and its surroundings in the late 19th century. The man who took the picture was photographer Gaspar Felix Tournachon.  He patented the concept of using aerial photographs to compile maps.  The invention was to prove much more effective than the time-consuming ground surveys that had then been used by national mapping organisations that developed throughout the 19th century. George R. Lawrence took aerial photographs of San Francisco in 1906 following the devastating earthquake, but it was not until World War I,  when potentially military applications were foreseen, that a systematic process of taking aerial photographs would become key to the development of the photographic method for obtaining environmental information.  Archeology has gained the most from its application to reveal buried remains of earthworks and buildings.  

Science meets up with art in digital technology, when an artwork is produced from an aerial photograph taken in an ecological survey. (Fig 2).

Fig 2 Skomer: ‘photoshopped art’ from snapshot of grassland taken from helicopter


Mapping ecosystems

As the largest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, grassland is also associated closely with many of the most challenging environmental and ecological problems that humankind will face during the next several decades, at a global scale. These include desertification, land degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity. It is vitally important that better long term temporal inventories are obtained of grassland and that improved surveillance and monitoring with relative accuracy takes place, so that sustainable, long term  grassland management is achieved. However, due to its great expanse and diversity, rapid and low-cost evaluation and management techniques are required. For this reason, remote sensing technology provides a powerful tool for producing an inventory, managing it and monitoring outcomes.

Remote sensing has been recommended for at least 30 years for use in the management of grassland resources on a worldwide basis. The first black and white aerial photography became available for investigating grassland as a resource in 1935. Remote sensing developed into a science in the mid to late 1960. The launch of Landsat 1 in 1972 ushered in a new era extending remote sensing beyond air photo interpretation into the realm of digital analysis of multispectral and multitemporal data. A literature survey shows that 407 papers in grassland remote sensing were recorded by the CABI information database from 1995 to 1999.

The application of remote sensing technology covers land classification and changes in grassland-use, grassland productivity-assessment, conservation and recreation, detection and monitoring of stress caused by fire, drought and pests.   Today, remote sensing, along with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have provided a powerful and sophisticated approach to the utilization, development and management of grassland resources throughout the world.

Skomer microcosms

The vegetation of Skomer Island was first surveyed on the ground and presented as a bird’s eye view of the surface of the island  in 1947.  The map makes a scientific statement that the ground cover was about equally shared between sub maritime grassland and dense stands of bracken with small areas of  heather heath (Fig 3). From the mapped distribution of these habitats bracken seems to be more dominant in the north east of the island with grassland more common in the south west. A glance at the current Google satellite image suggests that the distribution of these two habitat features has changed little in the last 70 years (Fig 4).

Fig 3 Ground survey of vegetation 1947


Fig 4 Skomer: Google satellite image, 2017

google whole island.jpg

Within a global context, the treeless island of Skomer has been classed as a Western Eurasian Thicket, maintained dynamically by a combination of south westerly maritime air flows and heavy rabbit grazing.  In the classification of Palaearctic habitats Skomer may be described holistically at the present time as an arrested succession towards Atlantic Blackthorn/Bramble Scrub.   The bìg question is how bracken heath and grassland have coexisted in a dynamic equilibrium  for such a long time without management.  This question will be answered through long term aerial surveillance of the vegetation patchwork to assess the stability of patch boundaries and the life strategies of the plant species in border microcosms.

Table 1  Common plants of of the Skomer microcosms

SpeciesCommon name
Calluna vulgarisLing Heather
Holcus lanatusYorkshire Fog
Silene dioicaRed Campion
Glechoma hederaceaGround Ivy
Teucrium scorodoniaWoodsage
Armeria maritimaThrift
Silene maritimaSea Campion
Rumex acetosellaSheep’s Sorrel
Endymion non-scriptusBluebell
Matricaria maritimaScentless Mayweed
Agrostis/Festuca communityRabbit occupied grassland
Arrhenatherum, elatusFalse Oat

Because it is only about two miles wide and relatively flat, Skomer is an ideal habitat for aerial surveys,  which can easily be truthed as microcosms on the ground.  In this context the production of the 1947 vegetation map by J. Sadd is a remarkable achievement.   It delineates the island as a botanical patchwork of ecological compartments comprising about a dozen common plants (Table 1).

Fig 4  Skomer:topographical compartments


The ecological compartmented microcosms have been simplified to produce a map of 20 topographical divisions for locating observations and projects (Fig 4).  In the centre of the island these divisions coincide with the fields laid out in the 19th century to create a ‘modern’ farm linked with the mainland economy.  At the time of Sadd’s survey the commercial farming enterprise was utilising the central fields to grow early potatoes for the mainland market.  This venture provides a baseline of zero biodiversity for at least three of the fields (compartments 4,5, 6, & 18) from which their present wildness has developed over the following six to seven decades.  

It is probably significant that Sadd records areas of burnt heath north of the farm.  This is indicative of management of heather for livestock grazing.  It is known that cattle grazed the outer regions of the island at this time, and Sadd mentions there were also sheep and goats.

Walking round the island today, it doesn’t  take long to recognise that some of the local botanical patchwork is related to geological features.  Persistent grassland often occurs in the immediate vicinity of rock outcrops.  It also becomes clear that human activity has produced subtle ecological patterns and that some of the impacts have been transient.  The was the case for Compartment 8 in the 1970s, where grassland ridge and furrow had been colonised by heather.  It flourished along the drier ridges but was absent from the wetter furrows.  Over the next decade or so the heather was displaced by bracken, a trend that instigated a management reaction aimed at protecting the incipient heathland from rabbit grazing.  In retrospect, it can now be seen that bracken invasion, not rabbits was the culprit.   Now, bracken and heather exist together.

Today one often comes across ecological differences across man-made boundaries, recorded as the loss of species or changes in their relative density (Fig 5).  For instance, there are patches of nettles alongside hut circles. Scatterings of nettles are also found in some small prehistoric fields.  Nettles are evidence of soil phosphate, which originates from waste disposal and livestock dung.  Are these the outcomes of the behaviour of prehistoric farmers that have persisted as local differences in soil chemistry for thousands of years?

Fig 5  Differences in density of Red Campion and Bracken across a prehistoric lynchet south of the Garland Stone (1980: Compartment 3)

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In the 1980s good examples of small scale patchworks could be observed in Compartment 12 (Fig 6).    

Fig 6 A diverse botanical microcosm (compartment 12, 1987)

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With the advent of satellite mapping the patchiness of bracken in grassland was obvious in the 2017 Google map of Compartments 16, 17 & 18 (Figs 7 and 8).

Fig  7 Compartment 16 (Google satellite map, 2017)


Fig 8  Compartments 17 & 18 (Google satellite map, 2017)

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Regarding ground truthing, the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) is one of the key common standards developed for nature conservation agencies that takes a macrocosm view of botanical diversity. The original project aimed to produce a comprehensive classification and description of the plant communities of Britain, each systematically named and arranged and with standardised descriptions for each.  It was originally commissioned in 1975 by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) and was intended as a new classification, not an attempt to fit British plant communities into some existing scheme derived from elsewhere in Europe. The general approach adopted was phytosociological and, therefore, concentrated on the rigorous recording of floristic data. It did, nevertheless, try to avoid over-scrupulous selection of samples, rejection of awkward data and preoccupation with the hierarchical taxonomy of vegetation types  Quadrats are used to collect data on the abundance and frequency of each plant species. This information is then analysed using NVC community/ sub-community descriptions. Each NVC habitat type then uniquely defines a macrocosm as a particular statistical combination of frequency and abundance values.  

A quadrat-based approach was applied to survey Skomer’s vegetation in 1979 based on a random distribution of 270 sampling sites of which  90 were made permanent. The plants common to this survey are listed in Table 1.

The results did not fit any of the NVC categories, which was to be expected because  there was no rejection of awkward data and the averages do not match the obvious patchwork perceived visually as local high levels of diversity produced by the activities of rabbits.  In 1998, 76 of the quadrats were re-surveyed for the six main species and 13 were analysed in 2015. Due to time constraints and the fact that the position of most plots is unknown, only 13 were surveyed in 2015. Much time was spent searching for the plot markers. Because of the small numbers of quadrats that were actually found no firm conclusions were possible regarding temporal trends in species abundance.  This testifies to  the futility of trying to organise long term surveillance by positioning quadrats on a map without precise grid 

Therefore, there is only anecdotal evidence as to long term changes in the surface landscape.  In this context, there has been a great loss of maritime heath.   Up until the last farming episode on Skomer in the 1940-50s maritime heath had been maintained by a combination of grazing, probably by sheep, and periodic burning.  These operations were likely to have been managed at relatively low densities of rabbits, which had always been controlled by owners and tenants by shooting and trapping them.  Sadd only mentions the impact of rabbits when he described Compartment 9, which was definitely not grazed by farm livestock.  

The abolition of the livestock production system and the banning of rabbit culling when the island became a nature reserve is likely to have been responsible for the gradual loss of heathland.  In recent years climate change may also have played a part.

Previous studies

The following changes in vegetation have been investigated  by students of Cardiff University from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Periodic, short lived population explosions of a range of common plants.  These include Sheep’s Sorrel,  Scentless Mayweed, Red Campion and Ragwort.  These are weedy biennial species with seeds that are stored in the ground to germinate when

The main findings of the cardiff work are discussed in the following report.

Relationships Between Vegetation and the Population Dynamics of Skomer’s Rabbits

Drone survey

Drone technology is increasingly being used for scientific research. It has a wide range of applications, for example in agriculture, coastal erosion, animal tracking and land-use. It is increasingly being used, alongside satellite images and fixed point photography for botanical research. It is a developing area with applications being trialled and refined, taking advantage of the high resolution images that can be captured. This project aims to determine the efficiency and accuracy of surveying the seasonal and long term dynamics of the Skomer’s botanical patchiness integrating drone photography with conventional ground techniques of transects and quadrats.

Skomer macrocosms

Sea Campion


1  Rationale

Research into the population dynamics of the Sea Campion (Silene maritima; now renamed Silene monoflora) was started by Prof Denis Bellamy in the 1970s as part of a long term effort to understand the influence of rabbits on the vegetation and soils of Skomer’s coastal slopes.  At that time, rabbit grazing and burrowing had resulted in cycles of bare ground being colonised by a sequence of Sea Pink (Armeria maritima),Sheep’s Sorrel (Rumex acetocella) , Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus ), Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum) and Sea Campion .  These cycles peaked with dead vegetation (usually Yorkshire Fog and Bent), which was then colonised unpredictably by the species next in succession.  It  was clear from quadrat analysis in many parts of the island,  that these cycles had periodicities of several years and were profoundly influenced by occasional strong South Westerly gales, which were powerful enough to uproot bracken in the centre of the island. Two other species have population explosions on Skomer related to rabbit numbers both of which have a dramatic scenic inland impact.  These are Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Red Campion (Silene dioica) ; the most recent being in 2015 (Figs 1 and 2l).

It is the winds swirling around the West coast of Wales that are the major physical factors that determine the pattern of island vegetation.  Their effects are summarised in the ecological snapshot of vegetation on Middleholm, the tiny island between Skomer and the mainland, as it was six decades ago  (Fig 3).  A south to north gradient of decreasing impact of south westerly weather determines a botanical gradient from grassland to bracken. The actual species in this gradient are determined by the impact of gulls (Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)) and rabbits (Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus)).

Fig 3  Diagrammatic representation of the vegetation on Middleholm (Gillham, 1956)

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By the 1980s on Skomer, at the Wick and North of Skomer Head, the peaty soil of the coastal slopes had been stripped down to bare rock.  A rabbit exclosure at Skomer Head showed dramatically the difference that unchecked rabbits had made.  Inside, there was a 0.5 metre deep development of a monoculture of  fescue peat (Festuca rubra), which contrasted with the surrounding bare soil, rock and the patchy colonisation by the rabbit avoided species listed above.  Several Shearwaters had burrows inside the exclosure highlighting the fact that rabbits had destroyed a considerable area of its nesting habitat along this part of the coastal slopes .  The fine details of the rabbit burrow microcosm had been defined by Mary Gillham in her research on the nearby island Skokholm in the 1940-50s.

She had placed a rabbit proof exclosure between five burrows in a patch of degenerating Armeria. (Fig 4).   Her map depicts a rabbit-proof enclosure in the sixth summer after its erection.  Regarding its complex dynamics she says:

“Festuca in the interim had occupied practically the whole area except the north-west corner which was exposed to the prevailing winds and close to a burrow entrance. As the burrow system was extended by puffins and rabbits the Armeria reinvaded locally above its ramifications, and with it the perennial, deep- rooted Spergularia rupicola which is one of its commonest associates in all burrowed areas, although seldom abundant because of its palatability to grazing animals. Rumex species are also able to resist the Festuca in the ungrazed vegetation over burrows, whilst Poa annua, Stellaria media and Erodium maritimum may invade temporarily as the Festuca succumbs.”

Fig 4  The relationship of ungrazed vegetation to the underlying burrows. Rabbit-proof enclosure, N.E. Skokholm, July 1953  (Giillham, 1956).

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Gillham’s research on Skokholm, which began in 1948, was mainly concerned with the impact on vegetation of the faecal nutrients from nesting colonial seabirds.  Although only a mile away along the coast from Skomer, the island of Skokholm is more exposed to South Westerly air flows and is like a promenade regarding the impact of gale driven waves and salt spray.   In this respect, Skomer with its valleys and rocky outcrops responds to weather variations in more diverse ways.

2  Setting the scene

Because of its smaller size and more widespread exposure Skokholm is a good place  to model the combined effects of burrowing sea birds and rabbits on vegetation.  Gillham defined the island as being dominated by ten plant species spread between four botanical habitats: namely, Thrift, Grass (mainly Yorkshire Fog and Bent), Heather and Bracken (Table 1).

Table 1  Ground cover and frequency of the twenty most important species growing over burrows  in the four chief plant communities on Skokholm in order of decreasing abundance (Gillham, 1956).

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Silene maritima is an important plant of puffin colonies on offshore islands.  In this connection, partial burial of Silene, as occurs after the inundation on shingle banks, stimulates the plants to more vigorous growth to keep on top of the shifting substrate.  Regarding puffins nests, this trapping of soil by the Silene stems helps to prevent erosion and maintain the step-like formation of the cliff profile. A small, fairly level area at the burrow entrance is necessary or the birds could not alight. Hence the maintenance of this platform by the Silene is an important factor contributing to the habitability of burrows on the steeper slopes. In the more sheltered puffin colonies of the eastern parts of Skokholm where the burrow entrances give rise to a step-like formation on the steeper earth slopes, the Silene tends to occupy the untrodden brinks of the vertical faces.

These ecological features of led to the idea behind an in depth study Sea Campion as a potential candidate for managing the process of soil erosion by extending its vegetation cover using  clonal transplants on Skomer’s  eroding coastal slopes.  Work was therefore needed to define its variation, reproduction and growth.  This involved measurements being made on the island and the collection of seeds for mainland studies.

In addition, this is a classic species for research on plant reproduction. Originally described by Linnaeus, members of this genus have been the subject of research by plant ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and geneticists, including Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel.  Many Silene species are widely used scientific models, particularly in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology.  Thus, studies on the Sea Campion would bring this fundamental botanical work to a focus on Skomer as an outdoor laboratory and an educational resource for the study of conservation management.

The ‘campions’

‘Campions’ is the common name for the genus Silene, which worldwide is composed of around 700 individual species including annuals, biennials and perennials.   They occupy a variety of habitats such as meadow, woodland, mountain, coastal slopes and metalliferous waste tips.  The genus has colonised Asia, Europe, Australasia and the Americas.  Recently, S. latifolia has become an invasive pest in North America where it was introduced around 200 years ago.

Silene species commonly contain a mixture of hermaphroditic and female (or male-sterile) individuals (gynodioecy), and early studies by Correns showed that male sterility could be maternally inherited,  an example of what is now known as cytoplasmic male sterility. Two independent groups of species in the genus Silene have evolved separate male and female sexes (dioecy) with chromosomal sex determination that is analogous to the system found in humans and other mammals.  The ease with which some of them hybridised places the genus as an example of evolution in action. In this context Silene has  been used to study speciation, host-pathogen interactions, biological species invasions, adaptation to heavy-metal-contaminated soils, metapopulation genetics, and organelle genome evolution.  Notably, some members of the genus harbour the largest mitochondrial genomes ever identified.

First report August 1987

Silene maritima is the only persistent perennial ground cover on the upper part of the coastal slope to the north of Skomer Head where it forms small low growing patches with a few isolated individual cushions about 0.5rn in diameter. These plants vary with regard to the size of the flowers, the coloration of the corolla, the size and position of the anthers, stamens and style, and the time of flowering. They also probably vary in their growth rates. The two extremes of corolla colour are cream pale green to purple veined. The purple variety is the commonest. Plants differ in the absolute size of the flowers and the relative proportions of their parts. Generally the latter variations are most obvious in the ratio of length to breadth in the corolla which is either narrow, or broad. The commonest form of sexual development of the flower is for the stamens to spread out from the corolla with small dark anthers displayed against the white petals, and the style out of sight in the corolla tube. There are two other less common forms, both associated with smaller flowers. One form has an exaggerated development of the anthers which become enlarged with purple pollen, and have shortened stamens so that the anthers block the upper end of the corolla to give the flower a purple centre. In this form the development of the style is retarded. In the other form, the style is enlarged to project from from the corolla and the stamens remain immature clustered around the bottom of the ovary. Often, one form or the other dominates any particular plant but occasional normal flowers also occur. There are other flower variants involving abnormal sexual development.

All forms listed in Table I also occurred in the large, vigorous community of Silene at the Wick during the 1980s (Table 2).

Table 2 Different types of flowers found at The Wick


A quantitative assessment of the relative numbers of flowers conforming to these 6 types was obtained by dropping a 0.5 m2 quadrat every five metres along a 100 metre transect from the edge of the riff path east across Wick Saddle towards the large but circle, were the Silene community terminated (Table 1). Each quadrat sampled one plant. The density of flowers varied from about 20 to 90,. Eight out of the twenty samples were of the normal type with no variations, four had a majority of flowers with abnormal sexual development, and the remaining eight samples had predominantly normal flowers. There was no obvious trend for the density of flowers or the flower variation to be related to distance along the transect from the cliff edge (Table 3).

Table 3  Numbers of different types of flowers in 0.5m2 quadrats ub a 100m transect east from the cliff footpath at the Wick

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Table 2 Part 2


The largest variation in width of corolla (C.V.= 19), and the smallest variation in height (C.V.=10). The data for height were normally distributed the others were polymodal or skewed.

The variable width data were bimodally distributed with cohorts at 0.7 and 0.9 cm. The first cohort (the narrow corolla variant) contained predominantly plants No 4 and 1 (which made up about 60% of the samples in the cohort). Each of these two plants had 60% and 50% of their flowers in this category respectively. The remaining flowers in this category came mostly from plants No 6 and 2, which had respectively 30% and 20g of their flowers in this category.

The second cohort (the broad corolla variant) contained mostly flowers from plants No 3 and 5 which made up 60% of the cohort samples. The remaining flowers came mostly from plant No 2 and 7 with each plant having 30% of its flowers in this category.

Width of the corolla was not related to either corolla height or flower diameter in these two cohorts.

Overall however short corollas tended to be wide (p>0.057; R= 0.279) and large flowers tended to have narrow corollas (p>0.05; R= 0.332).

In terms representative plants with no overlap with each other the plant with the narrowest corolla was No 6 and the one with the broadest was No 7 (twice as wide as No 6) and the one with an intermediate width was Nol.

In terms of the ratios of height and diameter to width there were two cohorts. Most plants had mean ratios H:W of 1.8 and D:W of 2.0. Plants No 1 and 6 had ratios of about 2.3 and 2.6 respectively which accounted for about 70% of the samples in the high ratio cohorts.

Regression analysis produced significant correlations of p>0.001 between width and diameter and width and height. The highest regression coefficient was found between height and flower diameter.

Removing plants No 1 and 6 from the total data set had very little effect on the mean ratios with width and their coefficients of variability.


There is a strong selection for height of corolla, and a lower selection for width of corolla and flower size.  There are two corolla morphs, which differ in width and which do not completely segregate with individual plants.  The corresponding two flower types do not have any significant relationship between coroa hisht and flower diameter and the width of corolla.  Plants having flowers in either of these categories appear to have a maximum of 50% of flowers showing the appropriate morph character and a minimum of about 30%.

Skomer: aerial surveys

Vegetation is more of a continuum than a set of distinct units. Holistic knowledge on vegetation heterogeneity, scenic patterns and species dynamics is therefore an indispensable prerequisite for identifying and understanding ecological processes and hence, providing subsequent insight for managing ecosystems .  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) represent a considerable change in environmental data management, as they connect territorial information to different databases, allowing for the “integration” of the territory, adding and producing new information. The use of remote sensing tools, permits the gathering of many kinds of territorial information and the investigation of aspects that are difficult to monitor. 

The ability to estimate plant distributions over large areas (i.e., several hectares) using traditional approaches (transect or quadrat methods) is generally limited because of the time and expense required. Intensive plant surveys may also result in unacceptable levels of disturbance to sensitive ecosystems due to soil compaction, disruption of soil organic layers, trampling, and vegetation damage. This is an important issue on Skomer where there is a high density of relatively shallow nesting burrows.  Remote sensing via satellites provides information on landforms and the general distribution of vegetation types over large areas.  However,  it is unlikely to provide adequate spatial or temporal resolution for determining the distributions of individual species or fine-scale differentiation among surface landscape features and vegetation types. Moreover, available satellite images may not represent optimal phenological stages for the identification of different species and vegetation types. Manned aircraft and large drone surveys can have increased resolution, but are prohibitively expensive for most investigations.   Generally, they do not provide a high enough resolution to assess the distributions and compositions of plant communities. On the other hand, utilization of micro–unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, unmanned aerial systems [UAS], small aerial drones) do provide adequate levels of image detail to estimate the distribution of individual plant species or vegetation types over several hectares at a relatively low cost. Therefore, in 2017, to get the holistic picture of Skomer’s vegetation, drone technology will be applied to make a digital surface model.   The goal is to define the advantages and limitations of small aerial drone surveys covering the whole of the island for estimating the distributions of individual plant species and vegetation types making up the surface landscape at fine spatial scales.  In particular, the aim is to plot the impact of rabbit behaviour.  Hopefully this will be a fifty year old dream come true. 

Web appendices

Skomer mind map

Dream islands

A campfire meditation

Web references,_Judie.pdf

Spiritual Ecology

Monday, November 13th, 2023

1  Need for a syllabus of radical hope

A syllabus of radical hope is not a standardized or widely recognized educational document like a typical subject syllabus. Instead, it is a conceptual framework or a set of principles that can guide educational practices and curricula to instill hope, resilience, and positive action for the environment in students facing life in an unstable post-carbon world. It incorporates a variety of subjects, disciplines, and practices to foster a mindset that goes beyond traditional academic content.  In this respect, spiritual thinking about human ecology often addresses questions related to the meaning of life, purpose, and values. Integrating these aspects into school curricula can help students explore their own purpose in a broader context, fostering a sense of individual fulfillment and direction.  Spiritual teachings often emphasize interconnectedness and community. This sense of belonging can counter feelings of isolation and helplessness, which are common in times of crisis.  

Incorporating spiritual thinking into a syllabus of radical hope does not necessarily mean promoting a specific religion. Instead, it involves teaching the universal values and principles found in various spiritual traditions, encouraging students to explore their own beliefs and values while respecting others’ perspectives. This approach can contribute to the holistic development of individuals, fostering a sense of hope, purpose, and empathy, whilst empowering students with the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to contribute to positive social, environmental, and personal change.

2 Spiritual ecology

Spiritual ecology is a field of study and practice that explores the relationship between spirituality, religion, and the environment. It recognizes that our ecological and environmental challenges are not just physical or material in nature but also have deep spiritual and ethical dimensions. Spiritual ecology emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life forms and seeks to integrate spiritual values and awareness into environmental discussions and actions.

At its core, spiritual ecology encourages individuals and communities to develop a deep sense of reverence and respect for the natural world, promoting a harmonious relationship between humanity and the environment. It often draws inspiration from various religious and spiritual traditions, indigenous knowledge systems, and philosophical perspectives that emphasize the sacredness of nature.

Practitioners of spiritual ecology engage in practices such as meditation, ritual, and contemplation to foster a sense of connection with nature and to develop ecological awareness and responsibility. They may also advocate for environmental conservation, sustainable living, and social justice from a spiritual perspective.

In summary, spiritual ecology is a holistic approach that combines spiritual, ethical, and ecological perspectives to address environmental challenges and promote a more sustainable and harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world.  Therefore, cultural ecology and spiritual ecology are related fields of study that explore the interactions between human cultures and their environments. While they have distinct targets, there are overlapping aspects that connect the two disciplines:

  • Interconnectedness: 
  • Both cultural ecology and spiritual ecology recognize the interconnectedness between human societies and their natural surroundings. Cultural ecology studies how cultures adapt to their environments, examining the ways in which human communities rely on, modify, and transform their natural surroundings. Spiritual ecology, on the other hand, emphasizes the spiritual and sacred connections between humans and nature, highlighting the deep interdependence of spiritual and ecological well-being.
  • Belief Systems and Environmental Practices: 
  • Cultural ecology examines how cultural beliefs, traditions, and practices influence human interactions with the environment. Similarly, spiritual ecology explores how spiritual and religious beliefs shape people’s attitudes and behaviors towards nature. Both fields recognize the impact of cultural and spiritual values on environmental conservation efforts and sustainable practices.
  • Sacred Landscapes: 
  • Cultural ecology often studies the concept of sacred landscapes, which are natural or cultural sites considered sacred by specific communities. Spiritual ecology delves deeper into the spiritual significance of these landscapes, exploring how they are revered, protected, and integrated into religious or spiritual practices. Both fields acknowledge the importance of these sacred sites in understanding the relationship between culture, spirituality, and the environment.
  • Ethical Perspectives: 
  • Both cultural ecology and spiritual ecology address ethical considerations related to environmental issues. Cultural ecology explores how ethical norms within a culture affect resource use and conservation. Spiritual ecology, informed by spiritual and ethical principles, advocates for environmental stewardship, ecological sustainability, and the ethical treatment of nature, emphasizing the moral responsibility humans have towards the environment.
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge: 
  • Cultural ecology often incorporates traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), which is the knowledge, practices, and beliefs indigenous and local communities have developed over centuries about their environments. Spiritual ecology values and respects TEK as it often contains spiritual and sacred dimensions, emphasizing the importance of preserving indigenous wisdom for both cultural and ecological preservation.

In summary, cultural ecology and spiritual ecology are interconnected through their shared focus on the relationships between human cultures, spirituality, and the natural environment. They offer complementary perspectives that contribute to a holistic understanding of humanity’s place in the ecological web, a network sustained by the flow of energy and nutrients as various organisms consume each other.

3  Krishnamurti and the Evolution of Spiritual Ecology

The interplay between spirituality and ecology has gained significant attention in recent years as humanity grapples with the urgent need to address environmental issues. In this context, the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, a renowned philosopher and spiritual leader, offer profound insights into the fundamental connection between human consciousness and the natural world. This essay explores the philosophical underpinnings of Krishnamurti’s teachings and their relevance to the evolving field of spiritual ecology.

Krishnamurti’s philosophy emphasizes the oneness of existence and the interconnectedness of all life forms, promoting the idea that humans are not separate from nature but an integral part of it. He challenges the conventional dualistic view that separates humanity from the environment. By recognizing the oneness of existence, Krishnamurti lays the foundation for a spiritual ecology that acknowledges the intrinsic unity between humans and nature.

Central to Krishnamurti’s teachings is the concept of self-realization, a process of profound self-awareness and inner transformation. He argues that true understanding of oneself leads to compassion and a deep sense of responsibility toward all living beings, including the Earth. In the context of spiritual ecology, self-realization becomes the catalyst for environmental consciousness. When individuals are in tune with their inner selves, they naturally extend their empathy and care to the environment, fostering sustainable practices and ecological stewardship.

Krishnamurti  did not align himself with any particular religious tradition. Throughout his life, he emphasized the importance of self-inquiry, independent thinking, and the exploration of one’s own consciousness. While he did not identify as anti-religious, he was critical of organized religion and the dogmas, rituals, and structures that he believed could limit individual understanding and freedom of thought he encouraged people to go beyond traditional religious frameworks and question deeply ingrained beliefs.  In this context, Hinduism is often considered a flexible and adaptable belief system that provides a framework for individuals to navigate the complexities of everyday life.

He critiques the rampant materialism and consumerism that pervade modern society. He advocates for a simple and uncluttered way of life, emphasizing that the pursuit of material possessions and wealth distracts individuals from their spiritual and ecological responsibilities. By embracing simplicity, people can reduce their ecological footprint, promoting a more sustainable relationship with the environment.  He explores the limitations of thought and ego, asserting that these constructs often lead to a fragmented perception of the world. In the context of spiritual ecology, transcending the confines of egoistic thinking is essential. By moving beyond the narrow boundaries of the self, individuals can develop a deep sense of empathy for all living beings and the Earth. This shift in consciousness is pivotal in cultivating ecological mindfulness and promoting environmental conservation.

Krishnamurti emphasizes the importance of action rooted in awareness. In the realm of spiritual ecology, this principle underscores the significance of mindful ecological practices. From sustainable agriculture to conservation efforts, environmentally conscious actions are most effective when they are grounded in a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all life forms. By aligning our actions with ecological awareness, we can create a harmonious balance between human needs and the well-being of the planet.

Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teachings provide valuable philosophical insights that resonate deeply with the principles of spiritual ecology. By recognizing the oneness of existence, fostering self-realization, embracing simplicity, transcending egoistic thinking, and grounding action in awareness, individuals can embark on a transformative journey toward ecological consciousness. In the face of pressing environmental challenges, Krishnamurti’s wisdom offers a profound guide for fostering a sustainable and spiritually enriching relationship between humanity and the natural world. As we integrate these teachings into our lives, we pave the way for a more harmonious coexistence with the Earth, embodying the essence of spiritual ecology in its truest form.

4 The Upanishads

Upanishads, are a collection of ancient Indian philosophical texts. The exact origins of the Upanishads are challenging to pinpoint, but they are generally believed to have been composed between 800 and 200 BCE.  They represent a shift in focus from the external rituals and sacrificial ceremonies to the internal, contemplative exploration of the nature of reality and self.  They hold a profound and timeless wisdom that delves deep into the nature of reality, the self, and the universe. Advaita Vedanta is one of the schools of Hindu Vedantic philosophy and is based on the concept that the higher or true Self is identical to Brahman, the Absolute Reality. The term comes from the Sanskrit advaita, meaning “not two,” veda, meaning “knowledge,” and anta, meaning “end” or “goal.” It is non-dualism based on the Vedas, the ancient Hindu texts, specifically the Upanishads.  Central to the Upanishads’ teachings is a profound connection between people and Nature, which is not only a source of inspiration to create a syllabus of hope, but also a key element in understanding the human experience and the spiritual journey through life itself. A challenge for educationalists is to track the intricate relationship between nature and the Upanishads.  The aim is to shed light on how these texts provide insights into the interconnectedness of the natural world with the human spiritual realm that takes learners beyond Hinduism.  For example, one of the recurring themes in the Upanishads is the concept of “Brahman,” the ultimate reality or the supreme, all-pervading consciousness. This concept is closely related to nature as the Upanishads teach that Brahman can be found in every aspect of the natural world. It is in the rustling leaves of a tree, the flowing waters of a river, and the radiant sun in the sky. The Upanishads urge individuals to contemplate and realize that the divine essence, Brahman, resides not only within themselves but also in the natural world that surrounds them. This perspective elevates nature to a sacred and divine realm, making it an essential part of one’s sense of purpose for embarking on a spiritual journey.

‘The Upanishads also emphasize the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. They teach that the individual self, known as “Atman,” is not separate from Brahman but, in fact, a microcosm of the divine. The interconnectedness of all beings is symbolized in the Upanishads through the idea of “neti-neti,” which means “not this, not that.” It suggests that we should strip away our identification with the superficial and transient aspects of the self and instead recognize the interconnected web of existence. In doing so, we acknowledge our oneness with nature and all living creatures as equals.

The similarities between Krishnamurti’s teachings and the wisdom found in the Upanishads are striking. Both emphasize the primacy of individual experience, the need to transcend the ego, and the quest for freedom from conditioning. They share a profound commitment to self-inquiry, inner transformation, and the recognition of a deeper, unifying reality.

In Hinduism, Brahman is the ultimate, unchanging reality or cosmic spirit that underlies and sustains the phenomenal world. It is considered the ultimate, formless, and transcendent reality that is beyond all dualities and distinctions. Brahman is often described as Sat-Chit-Ananda, which means existence, consciousness, and bliss.

Deities in Hinduism, on the other hand, are various gods and goddesses that represent different aspects of the divine. These deities are believed to emanate from or be manifestations of Brahman. While Brahman is considered formless and beyond attributes, the deities are personifications of specific qualities, powers, or aspects of the divine in everyday life.  For example, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and nature, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is referred to as the mother of the Vedas, and chants directed to her, called the ‘Saraswati Vandana’, often begin and end Vedic lessons.

In some philosophical schools of Hinduism, there is a concept known as “Ishta Devata,” which refers to the chosen deity that a devotee meditates upon as a means of connecting with the divine. The idea is that by focusing on a particular deity, one can cultivate a personal relationship with the divine and eventually realize the unity of the individual with Brahman.

5 Removing the Veil of Difference

The Upanishads, are a cornerstone of Indian thought and spirituality. These texts, which form the culmination of the Vedas, have profoundly influenced Hinduism and various other spiritual traditions. One of the central themes in the Upanishads is the idea of the “veil of difference” – a concept that explores the nature of reality and the interconnectedness of all existence.

The Upanishads, composed between 800 BCE and 200 CE, explore the ultimate reality, referred to as “Brahman.” This concept can be likened to the universal, all-encompassing reality or the divine, and it underlines the Upanishadic belief that all beings and phenomena are interconnected through Brahman. However, the world as we perceive it is often clouded by the veil of difference, which obscures the underlying unity and interdependence of all things.

This veil of difference is primarily a result of our ordinary, dualistic perception. Thus in our everyday existence, we perceive differences, distinctions, and separations. We see ourselves as distinct individuals, separate from the world and from one another. We classify things into categories, drawing lines that create boundaries and divisions. This division between the self (Atman) and the external world, or between one self and another, is what the Upanishads refer to as the veil of difference.

The Upanishads assert that the perception of difference is an illusion, a misconception. They invite us to look beyond the veil and realize the essential oneness that underlies all existence. To do this, one must engage in self-inquiry and meditation, seeking to transcend the superficial superficial layers of perception and understand the ultimate truth that unites all beings in a belief system that is thousands of years old.

The idea of the veil of difference is beautifully illustrated in several Upanishadic texts. For instance, the Chandogya Upanishad speaks of how all things in the universe are woven together by a single thread of consciousness. Just as different ornaments are made from the same gold, the Upanishads argue that all beings emerge from the same pool of consciousness, even though they appear distinct entities on the surface.  

The idea of realizing the unity of all expressions of consciousness with a higher, universal consciousness is a central theme in Hindu spiritual and philosophical thought.  In this context, one might interpret the “single thread of consciousness” as the idea that all individual consciousnesses are interconnected and ultimately derive from the same source, which is the universal consciousness (Brahman). This realization is a significant aspect of spiritual growth and liberation in Hinduism through harmony with Nature.  We connect with nature and adopt the attributes of one of its elements.  For example from a mountain, we would get strength and timelessness, while letting go of the artificial or divisive constructs that obscure our relationship with the natural world.

Another significant Upanishad, the Mandukya Upanishad, introduces the concept of “AUM,” which represents the essence of all reality. AUM is said to consist  of three syllables, each corresponding to a different state of existence: “A” represents the waking state, “U” the dream state, and “M” the deep sleep state. Yet, beyond these three states is the unchanging “Turiya” – the fourth state, which transcends all differences and duality. It symbolizes the ultimate reality, the realization of which removes the veil of difference.

The Upanishadic teachings on the veil of difference have had a profound influence on the development of Hindu philosophy and spirituality. They underpin the Advaita Vedanta school, which expounds the non-dualistic philosophy that there is no ultimate difference between the individual self (Atman) and the universal reality (Brahman). Adi Shankaracharya, a prominent philosopher in the Advaita tradition, emphasized the importance of recognizing this unity beneath the apparent diversity of the world.

The concept of the veil of difference has had a lasting impact on various spiritual and philosophical traditions beyond Hinduism. It resonates with the teachings of Buddhism, which also seeks to transcend dualistic thinking and realize the interconnectedness of all things. Moreover, it has found echoes in contemporary philosophy, where thinkers like Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley have explored Eastern philosophical concepts, emphasizing the illusion of separation in our everyday perception. Indeed,  Huxley argued for the universal compatibility of all spiritual systems. 

To conclude, the Upanishads offer a profound and timeless insight into the nature of reality through the concept of the “veil of difference.” They teach us that our ordinary perception, characterized by distinctions and divisions, is an illusion that obscures the underlying unity of all existence. By lifting this veil through self-inquiry and spiritual practice, one can come to realize the interconnectedness of all beings and their ultimate oneness in the transcendent reality of Brahman. 

This timeless teaching continues to inspire and guide individuals on a transformative journey toward a deeper understanding of the self and the universe.  In particular, the Advaita Vedanta tradition primarily focuses on the non-dualistic philosophy that emphasizes the spiritual or metaphysical unity of all things, rather than biochemical or physical unity.

6  Thinking beyond the material world

Advaita Vedanta, founded by Adi Shankaracharya, invites you to believe that there is only one ultimate reality, Brahman, and that everything in the universe, including living beings, is ultimately an expression of this one reality. It doesn’t delve into the specifics of biochemistry or physical unity as much as it does into the metaphysical or spiritual unity of all existence.  Brahman is real, but the world in which we live is a mere illusion, like a mirage. It appears in our consciousness because of the activity of the mind and the senses. Since we totally depend upon them, we do not perceive Brahman, the ultimate reality, who is hidden in all. Only when they are fully withdrawn and made silent through detachment, purity and renunciation, can they see the Self in Brahman.  This unity can be shown in many forms, including deities – presentations of the divine.

The findings of comparative biochemistry, which highlight the fundamental similarities in the chemical makeup of all living organisms, can be seen as harmonious with certain aspects of Advaita Vedanta philosophy, particularly its emphasis on the underlying unity of all existence. But, while Advaita Vedanta primarily deals with metaphysical and spiritual unity, it does not necessarily conflict with scientific observations that reveal commonalities in the material or biochemical aspects of life.  In this context, Advaita Vedanta teaches that the ultimate reality, Brahman, is the source and essence of all existence, and that all living beings, at their core, are manifestations of this singular reality. In this sense, it aligns with the idea that all living organisms share a common origin, which can be viewed from a biochemical perspective.  

Thus, the teachings of Advaita Vedanta do not negate the empirical observations of science but operate at a different level of understanding.  Advaita Vedanta’s primary focus is on transcending dualistic thinking, realizing the oneness of the self (Atman) with the universal reality (Brahman), and seeking spiritual liberation. It is a metaphysical and philosophical system that explores the nature of consciousness and the ultimate reality behind the material world.  However, while comparative biochemistry may emphasize the shared biological processes and structures among different life forms, it doesn’t address the spiritual or metaphysical aspects of existence, which are the central concerns of Advaita Vedanta. These two perspectives, one scientific and material, the other metaphysical and spiritual, can coexist as belief systems without necessarily conflicting with one another. The unity of all existence, as proposed by Advaita Vedanta, can be seen as a profound and transcendent perspective, complementing rather than contradicting the insights of comparative biochemistry in the realm of the material world.

7  Ultimate reality

The concept of the ultimate reality behind the material world varies across different philosophical and spiritual traditions. In Advaita Vedanta, as well as in some other philosophical and religious systems, the ultimate reality is often referred to as “Brahman.” Brahman is considered the unchanging, absolute, and transcendent reality that underlies all of existence. It is often described as formless, infinite, and beyond all attributes or qualities. Brahman is the source and essence of everything in the universe, and it is immanent in all things while also transcending them. This philosophy posits a belief system that the material world, including all living beings and the physical universe, is a manifestation or projection of Brahman. At the deepest level of understanding, Advaita Vedanta teaches that there is no real distinction between the individual self (Atman) and Brahman; they are ultimately one and the same.

As to defining Brahman, rather than seeing Brahman as pervading the universe, teachers speak of Brahman as wholly transcendent, describable in human terms only by saying what Brahman is not: “It is not coarse, not fine, not short, not long, odorless, tasteless, without eye, without ear, without voice, without name, unaging, undying, without measure, without inside and without outside.”  This way of speaking stretches the mind beyond the available categories of the world to glimpse that which cannot be contained by human categories.

Other philosophical and spiritual traditions have different conceptions of the ultimate reality. 

For example:  

In some forms of Buddhism, the ultimate reality is referred to as “Nirvana” or “Emptiness.” Nirvana represents the state of liberation from suffering and the dissolution of the ego. It is often described as the cessation of suffering and the realization of ultimate truth.

  • In Christian theology, the ultimate reality is often equated with God, who is seen as the creator and sustainer of the universe. God is typically considered a personal and transcendent deity who is the source of all existence.
  • In various forms of Hinduism and other Eastern philosophies, there are different conceptions of the ultimate reality, including concepts like “Atman” (the individual self), “Shiva” (the destroyer and transformer), and “Shakti” (the divine feminine energy), among others.  Such is Saraswati the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, flowing water, abundance and wealth, art, speech, wisdom, and learning.

So, indigenous belief systems around the world may have their own interpretations of ultimate reality, often tied to the natural world, ancestors, or specific deities.  These understandings of the ultimate reality can be highly subjective and are shaped by one’s philosophical, religious, or spiritual perspective. Ultimate reality, as a foundational concept of spirit, provides answers to fundamental questions about the nature of existence, the purpose of life, and the relationship between the material world and higher or transcendent realms. Different traditions offer their unique insights into the nature of the ultimate reality, and individuals may resonate with one or more of these perspectives based on their own beliefs and experiences.

It is important to bear in mind that Advaita Vedanta, is a non-dualistic school of Hindu philosophy, which primarily focuses on metaphysical and spiritual matters, such as the nature of reality, the self (Atman), and the ultimate reality (Brahman). While it doesn’t explicitly address the scientific or biological origins of life, it does provide insights into the nature of existence and the relationship between the individual self and the ultimate reality. It posits that the ultimate reality, Brahman, is the source and essence of all existence, including life itself. According to this philosophy, all living beings are manifestations of Brahman, and the apparent multiplicity and diversity in the world are illusory, born of ignorance (avidya) and Maya (illusion). In this sense, Advaita Vedanta suggests that life, like all aspects of the material world, emerges from and is sustained by the ultimate reality.

In summary, while Advaita Vedanta does not provide a scientific or biological explanation for the origin of life, it offers a metaphysical perspective that places life within the context of the ultimate reality, emphasizing the interconnectedness and unity of all beings in the grand scheme of existence.  It is important to note that Advaita Vedanta does not engage with the details of the biological or scientific processes through which life originated on Earth. Instead, it is concerned with the deeper metaphysical and spiritual dimensions of existence. Advaita Vedanta teaches that understanding the nature of the self and realizing the oneness of the individual self (Atman) with the universal reality (Brahman) is the key to transcending suffering and attaining spiritual liberation (moksha).  Questions regarding the scientific origins of life are typically addressed within the domain of biology, chemistry, and other empirical sciences, rather than within the purview of Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

8 Sacred groves  and landscape

Hindu philosophy acknowledges the concept of Brahman, which is considered the ultimate, unchanging reality or divine essence that underlies the entire universe. Brahman is often described as both formless (nirguna) and having form (saguna), and this duality is an important aspect of Hindu thought.

  • Nirguna Brahman: Nirguna means “without qualities” or “formless.” This aspect of Brahman is beyond all attributes, forms, and characteristics. It is the transcendent and absolute reality that is beyond human comprehension. It is often described as infinite, eternal, and without specific attributes, as it cannot be fully grasped or described using human language and concepts.
  • Saguna Brahman: Saguna means “with qualities” or “with form.” This aspect of Brahman is the more accessible and personal manifestation of the divine. It is associated with deities such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, or the goddess Devi, who are considered as various manifestations or avatars of the one ultimate reality. These deities are endowed with specific qualities, forms, and attributes and can be objects of devotion and worship for Hindus.

The duality of nirguna and saguna Brahman provides a flexible framework for understanding the divine. Many Hindus find it helpful to approach the divine in a way that resonates with their individual spiritual journey. Some may choose to worship a specific deity with attributes (saguna Brahman), while others may prefer a more abstract and formless contemplation of the divine (nirguna Brahman). Ultimately, both paths lead to the same understanding of the ultimate reality, but individuals may have different preferences and inclinations on their spiritual paths.

Sacred groves are an interesting and unique aspect of Hindu spirituality and nature worship that can be related to the idea of acknowledging the presence of the divine in all things. Sacred groves are small or large forested areas that are set aside as sacred and protected spaces by local communities. They are considered the abodes of deities or spirits and are revered as places of natural sanctity. This practice is not limited to Hinduism but is also found in various other indigenous and nature-centric belief systems.

The significance of sacred groves in the context of Hinduism can be understood as follows:

  • Connection with Nature: Sacred groves highlight the importance of nature and the environment in Hindu spirituality. They serve as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all living beings and the divine presence in the natural world. Worship and reverence in these groves often involve rituals that honor the earth, trees, and local deities associated with nature.
  • Acknowledging the Divine: Just as deities in temples or idols in homes are seen as representations of the divine, sacred groves are seen as the dwelling places of deities or spirits of the land and natural elements. By protecting these groves and conducting rituals there, devotees acknowledge the presence of the divine in the natural world.
  • Biodiversity Conservation: Sacred groves often act as centers for biodiversity conservation because they are left undisturbed and protected by local communities. This practice contributes to the preservation of various plant and animal species, promoting ecological balance.
  • Community Practices: Worship and rituals in sacred groves are often community events that bring people together to celebrate nature and their shared spiritual heritage. This fosters a sense of belonging and communal responsibility for the environment.

In this perspective, sacred groves can be seen as a manifestation of sagana, the broader Hindu philosophy that recognizes the divine presence in all aspects of life, including the natural world. Trees, rocks and mountains are containers for Brahman.  They serve as a way for devotees to establish a personal and prayerful connection with the divine while simultaneously respecting and preserving the hard core of the landscape.

The sacred relatively isolated islands of Scotland are a good representation of how easy it is to populate a landscape with Brahman.  They are intertwined with myths and folklore that have been passed down through generations. Each island has its own unique stories of mythical creatures, ancient deities, and heroic feats. The Isle of Skye, for instance, is associated with various legends, including the tale of the Fairy Pools, enchanting waterfalls believed to be inhabited by supernatural beings. These folklore elements contribute to the aura of mystery surrounding the islands, making them intriguing destinations for those interested in the mystical.

In contemporary times, Scotland’s sacred islands continue to draw pilgrims, spiritual seekers, and tourists hoping for a connection with the divine  Many visitors are also attracted by the islands’ natural beauty and the opportunity to experience a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of ancient ruins, sacred sites, and breathtaking landscapes Pilgrimages to these islands are not only religious but also spiritual journeys, where individuals seek solace, reflection, and a deeper understanding of their selfhood.

These mystical cultural realms offer a glimpse into the past, inviting travelers to explore the convergence of history, spirituality, and natural beauty to generate a sense of awe.

9 Island Spirituality

In spiritual ecology, a “thin place” refers to a location where the boundary between the physical world and the spiritual or sacred realm is believed to be particularly permeable or “thin.” This concept is often associated with a heightened sense of connection to the divine, nature, or the transcendent. In such places, individuals may feel a profound spiritual presence or experience a deeper connection with the natural world.

The term “thin place” is rooted in Celtic spirituality, but similar concepts exist in various religious and cultural traditions around the world. These locations are often characterized by a sense of sacredness, peace, and a feeling of being in touch with something beyond the ordinary.

People who visit thin places may report a heightened awareness, a sense of awe, or a feeling of being in the presence of something sacred. These experiences are highly subjective and can be influenced by cultural, religious, and personal beliefs.

In the context of spiritual ecology, thin places are seen as spaces where the inter connectedness of the natural world and the sacred is palpable. These locations may inspire a sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship and a recognition of the spiritual dimensions of ecological interconnectedness. The idea is that experiencing the sacred in nature can foster a deeper appreciation for the environment and a commitment to caring for the Earth.

Thin places and feelings of wonderment and awe go together.  Awe is a complex emotion characterized by feelings of reverence, and sometimes fear in response to something grand, mysterious, or beyond human understanding. While emotions in general have evolved as adaptive mechanisms to help us respond to various challenges and opportunities in the environment, the specific evolutionary function of awe is a topic of ongoing research and debate among scientists and scholars.

One possible evolutionary function of awe lies in its role in promoting social cohesion and cooperation among individuals in a group. Experiencing awe in response to natural wonders, powerful leaders, or significant events may have facilitated bonding among early human communities. Awe-inducing experiences might have encouraged people to come together, share their feelings, and create a sense of collective identity and purpose. This sense of unity within a group could have conferred survival advantages, as cooperative societies were better equipped to face challenges, such as finding and sharing resources, defending against predators, and adapting to environmental changes.

Additionally, awe may have played a role in promoting adaptive behaviors by encouraging exploration and learning. Experiencing awe can inspire curiosity and a desire to understand the world, leading individuals to explore their surroundings, learn about the environment, and acquire new knowledge and skills. In the context of early human ancestors, being in awe of natural phenomena like fire, stars, or predators might have motivated them to study these elements more closely, eventually leading to the development of tools, techniques, and knowledge that enhanced their chances of survival.

Another perspective suggests that awe may have evolved as a way to cope with the challenges posed by the environment. Awe-inducing experiences, such as observing a breathtaking landscape or a powerful storm, might have helped our ancestors regulate their emotions and reduce stress. By eliciting a sense of wonder and fascination, awe could have provided a psychological buffer against the harsh realities of life, promoting mental well-being and resilience in the face of adversity.

It’s important to note that these explanations are not mutually exclusive, and awe likely served multiple functions in our evolutionary past. Moreover, the experience of awe is not limited to humans; it has been observed in various animal species as well. Studying awe in different contexts and across species can provide valuable insights into its evolutionary origins and functional significance.

In summary, awe may have evolved as a social and cognitive mechanism that promoted social bonding, cooperation, exploration, learning, and emotional regulation among early human communities. These functions could have contributed to the survival and success of ancestral human populations, making awe a potentially adaptive emotion in our evolutionary history.

The concept of “thin places” is intriguing, and our fascination with it adds depth to the exploration of such spiritual phenomena. The idea that certain locations, like the Scottish island of Iona, serve as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds is not a new one, but it continues to captivate individuals who experience a unique connection in these places.

An acknowledgment of the power of nature, particularly the vast skies and natural forces in the islands, as a potential source of the “thinness” is an interesting perspective. It suggests a connection between the environment and the spiritual experience, highlighting the role of the physical surroundings in shaping our perceptions of the divine.  The recognition that people interpret the concept of “thin places” differently is crucial. It acknowledges the subjective nature of spiritual experiences and underscores the personal and cultural factors that influence these interpretations. We have to be open to diverse interpretation that adds nuance to the discussion and reflects a respect for the diversity of spiritual beliefs.

Scotland’s  Western Isles and Shetland have an historical and powerful draw in terms of religion which provides a historical context, suggesting that these places have held spiritual significance for centuries. This historical continuity adds depth to the understanding of the “thin places” phenomenon, hinting at a longstanding connection between these locations and spiritual practices.  Different people will interpret that thinness and what it means to them in different ways. It is no surprise that for hundreds of years many of the Western Isles and right up to Shetland have had a powerful draw when it comes to religion.

In summary, visitor’s comments contribute to the richness of the exploration of “thin places,” weaving together elements of nature, personal interpretation, and historical context. The acknowledgment of the mysterious and powerful nature of these places adds a layer of wonder to the discussion, leaving room for individual perspectives and interpretation

The term “thin place” is rooted in Celtic spirituality, but similar concepts exist in various religious and cultural traditions around the world. These locations are often characterized by a sense of sacredness, peace, and a feeling of being in touch with something beyond the ordinary.

People who are attracted to thin, otherworldly places, have report a heightened awareness, a sense of awe, and a feeling of being in the presence of something sacred, which touches  spiritual nerves. They say they are dwarfed by nature and the landscape.  They see beauty everywhere.  It anchors the soul and instead of the landscape belonging to them, they belong to it and ‘Atman becomes Brahman’.

 These cross cultural experiences are highly subjective and can be influenced by cultural, religious, and personal beliefs. In the context of spiritual ecology, thin places are seen as spaces where the interconnectedness of the natural world and the sacred becomes a palpable tapestry. These locations may inspire a sense of responsibility for environmental stewardship and a recognition of the spiritual dimensions of ecological interconnectedness. The idea is that experiencing the sacred in nature can foster a deeper appreciation for the environment and a commitment to caring for the Earth.  In this connection, no matter what kind of belief system a person is starting from, the Upanishads encourage deep contemplation on the nature of reality and existence. This can provide students with a cross curricular framework for exploring new perspectives and challenging established norms.

 10 Internet References

Biosphere Reserves

Sunday, November 5th, 2023

‘Island Models’ For Learning About ‘Circularity With Hope’ 

1 Hypertex essays

A hypertext essay is a type of digital or online essay that uses hypertext to enhance the reading experience. Hypertext is a way of organizing and presenting information in a non-linear fashion, allowing readers to navigate through the essay by clicking on links, buttons, or other interactive elements. These links can connect to related sections of the essay, external sources, multimedia content, or additional information, creating a dynamic and interconnected reading experience.

Hypertext essays are often used to explore complex topics, present multiple perspectives, and provide readers with the freedom to choose their own paths through the content. They are common in digital media, web-based publications, and educational contexts, where the ability to link to additional resources or provide context through multimedia elements can enrich the reader’s understanding of the subject matter.

Hypertext essays can vary in their structure and complexity, but they all share the common feature of offering readers the ability to explore content in a non-linear and interactive manner, often blurring the lines between traditional text and multimedia elements.

2  Biosphere reserves

Biosphere reserves are valuable education resources, promoting environmental awareness, conservation, and sustainable development. These areas are designated by UNESCO to demonstrate and support the coexistence of biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, and scientific research. Here’s how biosphere reserves function as educational resources:

  • Biodiversity Education:
  • Biosphere reserves are typically home to a wide variety of ecosystems and species. They provide a living laboratory for students and researchers to study and learn about different ecosystems, flora, and fauna. This firsthand experience fosters a deep understanding of the importance of biodiversity and conservation.
  • Environmental Awareness: 
  • Biosphere reserves often have visitor centers, guided tours, and educational programs designed to raise awareness about the importance of preserving natural environments. Visitors, including school groups, can learn about the significance of protecting these areas and the consequences of habitat destruction and species loss.
  • Sustainable Development: 
  • Biosphere reserves are models for balancing conservation and development. They can serve as case studies for sustainable resource management, eco-friendly agriculture, and responsible tourism. This teaches the principles of sustainable development and demonstrates how communities can thrive without harming the environment.
  • Research Opportunities: 
  • Biosphere reserves are hubs for scientific research, which often involves partnerships with educational institutions. Students and scientists can conduct research on a wide range of topics, from biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics to climate change and sustainable practices. This research not only advances knowledge but also provides valuable fieldwork experience.
  • Cultural and Indigenous Knowledge: 
  • Many biosphere reserves include areas with cultural and indigenous significance. Learning about the history, traditions, and knowledge of local communities is an essential aspect of education within these reserves. This cultural exchange can help students appreciate the interconnectedness of culture and environment.
  • Outdoor Education: 
  • Biosphere reserves offer an ideal setting for outdoor education. Students can engage in hands-on activities like hiking, camping, birdwatching, and water quality testing. These experiences foster a sense of stewardship and connection to the natural world.
  • Curriculum Integration: 
  • Educational institutions can integrate biosphere reserve content into their curricula, from elementary schools to universities. This provides a structured and systematic approach to creating a syllabus of radical hope for teaching about environmental conservation, ecology, and sustainable development.
  • Citizen Engagement: 
  • Biosphere reserves often involve local communities and citizens in conservation efforts. This engagement fosters a sense of responsibility and empowers individuals to take action to protect their local environment.
  • Networking and Collaboration: 
  • Biosphere reserves are part of a global network, and they often collaborate with other reserves and institutions. This networking helps facilitate information exchange, knowledge sharing, and best practices in conservation and education.

In conclusion, biosphere reserves are excellent educational resources that offer diverse learning opportunities about ecology, conservation, sustainability, culture, and more. They inspire individuals to become responsible stewards of the environment and provide a platform for research, education, and collaboration in the pursuit of a more sustainable and harmonious relationship between people and nature.

3 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are designated areas where sustainable development and biodiversity conservation are promoted and integrated. These reserves often serve as “islands” of protected natural and cultural landscapes within larger, more developed regions. In this sense, the term “metaphoric island” could be used to describe the idea that within the biosphere reserve, ecosystems are somewhat isolated from the pressures of urbanization and resource exploitation found in the surrounding areas.

This isolation in terms of conservation goals and sustainable practices can be seen as a way to protect and preserve unique natural and cultural resources. However, it’s important to note that this is a metaphorical use of the term “island,” and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves themselves are not necessarily islands in the traditional geographic sense.  They are not a literal islands but designations for a specific type of protected area that encompasses terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems. While it is not a physical island, the term “metaphoric island” could be used in a conceptual or symbolic sense to describe the isolation and conservation goals of a biosphere reserve.

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, located in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, is a testament to the astounding natural beauty and ecological significance of the Western Ghats region of India. This UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve is a hub of biodiversity and serves as a vital link between various ecosystems. It encompasses an area of approximately 5,520 square kilometers and is recognized for its rich floral and faunal diversity, unique landscapes, and the critical role it plays in conserving the ecological heritage of the Western Ghats.


  • Flora: 
  • The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is home to an impressive array of plant species, many of which are endemic to this region. The Nilgiri Hills, Anamalai Hills, and the Silent Valley house diverse forest types, including tropical evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous, and dry deciduous forests. These ecosystems host a multitude of tree species like teak, rosewood, and ebony. The reserve is particularly renowned for its profusion of orchids, with over 100 species recorded.
  • Fauna: 
  • The reserve boasts a rich and diverse wildlife population. Notable species include the Bengal tiger, Indian elephant, Indian bison (gaur), Nilgiri tahr, and lion-tailed macaque. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve also harbors a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and avian species, including the great pied hornbill and the Nilgiri wood pigeon. This rich fauna is the result of the varied and well-preserved habitats within the reserve.

Conservation Efforts:

  • Protection of Endangered Species: The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve plays a crucial role in the conservation of several endangered species. The Nilgiri tahr, in particular, has found a sanctuary here, helping to revive their dwindling populations. Conservation initiatives are also in place for the Indian elephant and lion-tailed macaque.
  • Community Involvement: Sustainable development and conservation go hand in hand in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Local communities play an essential role in maintaining a balance between human needs and ecological preservation. Initiatives for community-based resource management and ecotourism projects have been launched to ensure the active involvement of the local populace in conservation efforts.
  • Research and Education: The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve also serves as an important center for scientific research and environmental education. Various research institutions and universities conduct studies on the region’s unique ecology and offer valuable insights into biodiversity and conservation. Environmental education programs for local schools and visitors help raise awareness about the importance of this region.


Despite its immense ecological importance, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve faces several challenges, including:

  • Habitat Destruction: Increasing human activities, including plantation agriculture, infrastructure development, and illegal logging, threaten the natural habitats within the reserve.
  • Invasive Species: Invasive plant and animal species pose a significant threat to the native flora and fauna.
  • Climate Change: The impacts of climate change, including altered rainfall patterns and rising temperatures, could disrupt the delicate ecological balance in the reserve.


The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve stands as a testament to the intricate interplay of ecosystems and the remarkable biodiversity of the Western Ghats. Its role in conserving endangered species, protecting unique habitats, and involving local communities in conservation efforts is commendable. However, it is crucial that continued efforts are made to address the challenges it faces, such as habitat destruction and climate change. Only through rigorous preservation and responsible human engagement can this precious natural heritage continue to flourish, inspiring future generations to appreciate and protect.

5 Tribal peoples

Tribal peoples in the Nilgiri Hills and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are indigenous communities who have historically inhabited these regions and continue to maintain their distinct cultures, languages, and ways of life.

(i) Nilgiri Hills:

  • The Nilgiri Hills are located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the southwestern state of Kerala. These hills are home to several indigenous tribal groups, including:
  • Irula:  The Irula are historically known for their expertise in snake catching, and they have traditionally played a significant role in controlling snake populations and extracting venom for medicinal purposes. They are former hunter gatherers who have been displaced by plantation-deforestation and many are now living in extreme poverty.
  • Toda: The Toda people are one of the most well-known tribal communities in the Nilgiri Hills. They are known for their distinctive culture, which includes unique architectural styles, such as their huts, and dairy-based livelihoods.
  • Badaga: The Badagas are another prominent tribal group in the Nilgiri Hills, known for their agriculture-based way of life and their own language, which is part of the Dravidian language family.

(ii) Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, are home to various indigenous tribes. Some of the prominent tribes in this region include:
    • Great Andamanese: This is a collective term for a group of indigenous tribes that were historically found in the Great Andaman region. Unfortunately, many of these tribes have faced severe population decline and cultural erosion.
    • Jarwa: The Jarwa people are one of the most isolated tribes in the Andaman Islands, and they have limited contact with the outside world.
    • Sentinelese: The Sentinelese are another isolated and highly reclusive tribe living on North Sentinel Island. They are known for their avoidance of contact with the outside world.

It’s important to note that many of these tribal communities face significant challenges, including encroachment on their traditional lands, loss of cultural heritage, and efforts to protect their rights and ways of life. Efforts are being made by the Indian government and various organizations to safeguard the rights and interests of these indigenous communities while respecting their autonomy and cultural diversity.

6 The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Biosphere Reserves

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, situated in the Bay of Bengal, are a natural treasure trove of biodiversity. These islands, which consist of more than 500 landmasses, are home to one of the most ecologically significant and biologically diverse regions on the planet. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Biosphere Reserves, recognized by UNESCO, represent a critical junction of terrestrial and marine ecosystems.


  • Terrestrial Biodiversity: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands boast a spectacular array of plant and animal species. These islands are characterized by lush tropical rainforests, mangroves, and pristine white-sand beaches. They are home to numerous unique flora, including the Andaman Padauk tree and the Cane Bamboo, both of which are endemic to these islands. These lush forests are inhabited by a variety of animal species, such as the Andaman wild pig, Andaman horseshoe bat, and the vulnerable saltwater crocodile.
  • Marine Biodiversity: The waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are teeming with marine life. The coral reefs in this region are some of the most diverse and pristine in the world, hosting a vast variety of corals, fish, and other marine organisms. The islands are also known for their sea turtle nesting sites, including the olive ridley, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles.

Conservation Efforts:

  • Protection of Endangered Species: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Biosphere Reserves play a vital role in the protection of endangered and vulnerable species. Conservation programs have been initiated for the saltwater crocodile, the Andaman wild pig, and sea turtles. These initiatives aim to safeguard these species from poaching and habitat degradation.
  • Marine Conservation: Preserving the rich marine biodiversity of the region is a priority. The coral reefs are especially significant, and efforts are made to reduce coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures and to prevent destructive fishing practices.
  • Indigenous Communities: The islands are inhabited by indigenous communities, such as the Great Andamanese and Onge tribes. Conservation initiatives include respecting their traditional knowledge and involving them in sustainable resource management.


The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Biosphere Reserves face several challenges:

  • Habitat Destruction: Increased human activities, including deforestation, infrastructure development, and tourism, threaten the natural habitats and biodiversity of the islands.
  • Invasive Species: The introduction of invasive species can outcompete native flora and fauna, leading to imbalances in the ecosystem.
  • Climate Change: Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and ocean acidification pose significant threats to the islands’ ecosystems, particularly the coral reefs.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Biosphere Reserves are a testament to the rich natural heritage and unique biodiversity found in this remote corner of the world. These reserves, while striving to protect their invaluable ecosystems, face formidable challenges, especially in the face of climate change and increasing human presence. Conservation efforts must continue to focus on preserving this pristine paradise and promoting sustainable practices. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands serve as a reminder of the critical importance of safeguarding our planet’s natural treasures for future generations.

7 Sustainability Plan

8 “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island”

The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has approved a mega infrastructure project in Great Nicobar Island situated at the southern tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Island group. 

Two crucial approvals were granted recently—the stage-1 (in-principle) forest clearance on October 27, 2022, and the environmental clearance on November 11. The NITI Aayog piloted the project, with the project proponent being the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO), based in Port Blair.

The centrepiece of the project named known as the “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island”, is to be a transshipment port at Galathea Bay along the island’s south-eastern coast. Other components are an international airport, a power plant, and a greenfield township on more than 160 square kilometres of land, including 130 sq km of primary forest. The island has a total area of a little more than 900 sq km, with nearly 850 sq km designated as a tribal reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956. The ecologically rich island was declared a biosphere reserve in 1989 and included in UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme in 2013.

The sustainability of any development plan depends on various factors, including its environmental, social, and economic impacts, as well as its alignment with sustainable development goals and practices.

To determine whether a development plan is sustainable, it’s important to consider several key factors:

  • Environmental Impact: Assess the plan’s potential effects on the natural environment, including its impact on biodiversity, ecosystems, and climate change. Sustainable development should aim to minimize negative environmental impacts.
  • Social Inclusivity: Evaluate whether the plan promotes social inclusivity, respects the rights of indigenous populations, and supports the well-being of local communities. Inclusive development is a key component of sustainability.
  • Economic Viability: Consider whether the plan encourages economic development and improves the livelihoods of the local population without causing long-term economic imbalances.
  • Infrastructure and Resources: Assess the availability of necessary infrastructure, resources, and funding for the plan’s implementation, as well as its long-term maintenance.
  • Regulatory Framework: Ensure that the plan complies with relevant laws, regulations, and international agreements related to environmental protection and sustainable development.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: A sustainable development plan should include mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating its progress and impact over time.
  • Public Participation: Evaluate the level of public and stakeholder participation in the planning and decision-making processes to ensure transparency and accountability.

Without specific details about the plan in question, it’s challenging to provide a definitive assessment of its sustainability. Sustainable development is a complex and multifaceted goal, and it requires a careful analysis of the specific context and details of the plan.

To make an informed judgment on the sustainability of the plan for the development of the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, it’s essential to review the plan’s details, environmental impact assessments, community feedback, and its alignment with international sustainability standards and best practices.

  • Biodiversity: Great Nicobar Island is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including many that are endemic or endangered. Preserving the natural habitat can help protect these unique and vital species.
  • Ecological Balance: The island’s ecosystems play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance. Altering these ecosystems can have far-reaching consequences, including potential disruptions in local climate patterns and natural resource availability.
  • Climate Change Mitigation: Preserving natural areas can contribute to climate change mitigation by acting as carbon sinks and preserving coastal areas that help mitigate the impact of rising sea levels.
  • Cultural and Indigenous Heritage: Many indigenous and local communities have deep connections to the land, and their traditional knowledge can be valuable in preserving the environment and its biodiversity. Development plans should respect and involve these communities in decision-making.
  • Tourism Potential: Well-managed ecotourism can provide economic benefits while preserving the environment. Great Nicobar’s natural beauty and unique ecosystems can attract tourists interested in sustainable, low-impact tourism.
  • Research and Education: Biosphere reserves like Great Nicobar serve as important sites for scientific research and environmental education. Such reserves offer opportunities for understanding and protecting our natural world.
  • Long-Term Sustainability: Sustainable development practices that prioritize preserving the environment can lead to more resilient and long-term benefits compared to short-term gains from resource exploitation.
  • International Agreements: Great Nicobar Island may be subject to international agreements and conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, that require the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Unforeseen Consequences: Large-scale development can have unforeseen consequences, including unintended environmental damage, loss of biodiversity, and social disruptions. These should be carefully considered in the decision-making process.
  • Global Responsibility: In an era of increasing environmental awareness and climate change, there is a global responsibility to protect and preserve critical natural areas.

Ultimately, the decision regarding the future of Great Nicobar Island should involve comprehensive, transparent, and science-based evaluations of the potential benefits and risks associated with development. It’s crucial to engage with local communities, environmental experts, and other stakeholders to make informed and sustainable decisions that balance development and conservation.