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Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes of a new walking experience.
Geeta Ludhra (British-born woman of South Asian heritage, and a member of the Chilterns Conservation Board), has established a monthly programme of educational nature walks with a difference in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Dadima’s Walks (‘dadima’ being the Hindu noun for grandmother) celebrate ancestral nature wisdom, community kindness and intergenerational learning. Geeta and her husband Subash encourage people from diverse backgrounds and all generations to come and explore the countryside and its beauty. They see the monthly walks as a celebration of communities connecting through walking, talking, learning, and sharing food.
A Lecturer in Education at Brunel University, Geeta is working in partnership with others on an Open University geology project, where projects have included: ‘Reading the Natural Landscape’ and ‘Diverse Stories of the Landscape’. Geeta is striving to change the dominant narrative of how people of colour, and those from underserved communities, are perceived and presented in the media—often as not appreciating the natural landscape or wanting to walk there.
Dadima’s programme of events offers new and multiple ways of connecting with nature beyond traditional media discourses, such as her ‘Sustainable Diwali Art Walk’.
Geeta explains the origins of her walks on the Museum of English Rural life website:
My family and I set up Dadima’s walking group in 2018, as a simple way of encouraging local communities and interested people to connect with nature for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. The group started off in Slough and Windsor with mainly South Asian communities on a Sunday morning.
It quickly became a safe space to talk and share stories, learn from each other, and offer encouragement (and accountability) for regular outdoor movement. In 2020, we moved to the Chilterns and decided to restart the walking group, this time with greater apprehension. I didn’t see myself represented or reflected in the Chilterns countryside, so I created the space that I wanted to see when I first moved here.
The walks are a delight, not at all strenuous or pressured, with plenty of opportunities to stop, notice and discuss the surroundings. Guests are encouraged to share their lived and ancestral experiences of nature, so that knowledge is exchanged in a way that everyone’s voice and opinions are treated as equally important.
In May 2022, on the Chiltern escarpment above Lewknor in Oxfordshire, we heard from Professor Clare Warren, a metamorphic geology expert at the Open University, and Dr Anjana Khatwa, engagement lead for the Wessex museums, about the fascinating geological history of the Chilterns landscape.
In July 2022, Dadima’s celebrated both South Asian Heritage Month and the seventieth anniversary of National Nature Reserves, at Aston Rowant NNR, a unique event. After a Ridgeway walk, we gathered on the hillside in the reserve and heard stories from a host of South Asian friends, about their culture, faith, achievements, and ways of belonging and connecting with nature—including Sri-Lankan dance, amplifying South Asian women’s voices and gender equality through adapted ways of celebrating cultural festivals and traditions, and a forthcoming climb of Mount Kilimanjaro by the Asian Women Mean Business (AWMB) team.
In September 2022, Dadima’s group walked across the National Trust’s property at Ashridge in Hertfordshire, to Ivinghoe Beacon in Bucks, learning about the landscape and its flora, and enjoying a picnic with traditional Indian snacks and masala chai. I told the story of the Open Spaces Society’s victory in removing Lord Brownlow’s illegal fencing from here in 1866.
The countryside should be for everyone to enjoy, but the reality is different. Dadima’s challenges this, by turning the dominant narrative of the countryside on its head. Community experts plan and deliver nature activities with cultural knowledge of their communities, drawing on landscape experts to work with them.
As the society strives to achieve greater diversity among its members and campaigners, we have much to learn from Geeta in her Dadima’s work, and from her colleagues.
This is an edited version of the article which first appeared in South East Walker, December 2022.