I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was before dawn, and an uncomfortable night in an uncomfortable tent on an uncomfortable slope in coastal Dorset had woken me early. Slipping on a dewy jumper and chilly shoes, I made my way around the guy ropes through a gap in the hedge, past a small copse of pine trees and out onto the coastal path which fell away down the grassy hill. The rooks had stirred from the uppermost branches before resettling themselves in the pre-dawn gloom. As I came over the crest, the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean greeted me, gently at first, but as I reached the rocky platform eighty feet above the shingle shoreline, the chill wind grabbed at my sleeve with its breath that felt cold, but not quite sharp enough to regret bringing another layer. I nestled into a small, sheltered scallop of a landslip and with arms tightly folded, saw dawn flowing over the rippling waves towards Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove: it was exquisite.
The first few boats laboriously chugged their way to the fishing grounds in front of me, gannets and gulls sought a meal from the shoreline and in the distance, the twinkling lights of a faded coastal town flickered away. As the wind stiffened from the west and the longer I sat, the more I noticed the little things; the rhythm of the shingle cusps on the shoreline, the way in which light shifted and rippled across the wave crests and the inexorable drift of small branch towards deeper water.
It was, quite simply, a period of sheer stillness I had not experienced before. It was uplifting and reflective in equal measure: it was life affirming. Those two hours that I sat in an ever-warming wind ignited and flamed the desire to seek out genuine stillness at every opportunity and to see the world at its pace and not our own. It is hidden from so many of us who don’t take the time to step off the path of predictability and this is rightly so, for such rewards should be for those who take the time to separate themselves from the status quo. Robert Frost would be nodding in agreement I am sure as am I, well over a quarter of a century later. Breathing more slowly and deeply, and thinking more clearly, I made my way back to the campsite, past the now noisy copse, through the blackberry-laden hedge and towards my tent: still the only person to be experiencing the day.
Rewind 10,000 years, and I had sat on that same hillside, stretching out in front of me would have been miles upon miles on Arctic tundra; stony, glacial streams criss-crossing the landscape and herds of woolly mammoths seeking their next meal. The Atlantic Ocean would have been hundreds of miles west of this spot as glaciers and ice sheets trapped 120 metres of global ocean water; sea levels were the lowest they had been in half a million years. Towns and villages were flourishing on the Mediterranean basin floor at this time, and climate change meant that the Sahara was a wooded idyll. Reconstructing this today is something the ‘Drain the Oceans’ TV programme would have adored. Certainly, the modern Mediterranean divers have revelled in finding settlements at 60m and beyond below sea level, not to mention roads, walls and temples that cover the sea-bed. In time and with enough sonar, they might even have had a better view of where Atlantis is located.
In a recent article by the World Economic Forum global risks report, six cities have been identified as being likely to be underwater by the end of the 21st century – Bangkok, Kolkata, New Orleans, Venice, Basra and Savannah. Our coastal existence is under threat, and constant (one-in-a-hundred year) storms merely add to the gently rising sea levels as oceans warm, land-based glaciers melt and water expands. Worth knowing that if all the land-based ice were to melt (as it has done so in the past), sea levels would be 70m higher than today. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld may be more than a Hollywood version of that future vision, although, for those who have seen the film, it would appear the mullet is not only a thing of the past, but also the present and potential future…urgh.
From a UK perspective, the oceanographers amongst us have mapped the UK were all glaciers to melt. Looks like Long Sutton and LWC would escape, though it would only be a short drive to the tidal saltmarshes of North Warnborough and the M3 and then the seaside towns of Hook and Odiham….For those who enjoy a spot of golf, Hartley Wintney GC is a future links course of some distinction.
And why do I say all of this? Nations across the planet are working on solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. Research from the Deloitte Global Millennial survey 2019 shows that Millennials (1977-1995), Generation Z (1996-2010) and Generation Alpha (2011-now) all place climate change, natural disasters and environmental concerns at the top of their worry list for the years ahead and they want to solve them – in fact, they are passionate about it. The future of their tomorrow will be led by those who have a deep-seated desire to transform their environment for the better, with leaders, the engineers, scientists and activists taking those first steps, inspired by the clarion call and dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough.
It is why we are focusing so hard and innovating around what we call ‘The 1200.’ It is why we have appointed a Head of Outdoor Learning, it is why we are looking so hard at embedding an understanding of the environment into our teaching and learning, it is why we have created outdoor learning classrooms, transformed the Saturday morning programme, it is why our STEAM / CANSAT pupils have created a satellite to track forest fires (and competed in a European Space Agency competition), it is why we plant wildflower meadows and environmental stewardship margins. It is why we have added Electric charging points in the main car park and have our own recycling centre on site. It is why we have rebranded LWC to the swallow and have one of the ‘greenest’ farms in Hampshire.
Environments make people and the people make the environment, and we intend to play a leading role in this from an educational perspective.
The pupils of LWC 2022 and beyond will step onto the shoulders of those who are developing the current solutions. Environments have always changed, but that change in the past few thousand years has been a gradual and adaptable one. By embracing curiosity, creativity, collaboration and innovation (C3i), the Sternians of the future will take a stand in nurturing the environment. The green economy, green jobs and the green agenda is mainstream – in fact, it is fast stream. For now though, the 1200 acres of space provide a nursery of understanding and lungfuls of fresh air with which to bolster the soul and ready oneself for the journey ahead. And as I settle back down in that chalky scallop of land looking over the World Heritage Jurassic coastline in my still somewhat distant retirement, I am sure the next generation of sleek and hyper-efficient wind turbines will glint beautifully in the setting sun to the west of Durdle Door.