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  • Alice Briggs


A description of the Cynefin group by the group founder David Bavin.

Cynefin has myriad, layered meanings, but a conceptual thread that runs through the layers is that of a hefted sheep - being of, and belonging, to part of the land.

Cynefin is a group of people from diverse backgrounds with a uniting interest in the environment. The core group constitutes environmentalists, farmers, foresters, facilitators, conservationists, business entrepreneurs, artists, academics, musicians and film makers.

The group was established in the spring of 2019 following a ‘Future Landscapes’ conference in Aberystwyth, west Wales. It became clear during the conference that a) there were some major disparities in knowledge and information between groups with an interest in land, food growing, and conservation, b) that there was a growing tension between environmentalists and farmers, exacerbated by political uncertainty and emergent rewilding, and c) that arts and the humanities were not being realised as having a crucial role to play in conceptualising future land use and bringing depth and nuance to debates around land use. The group is voluntary, and members are asked to leave their organisational affiliations at the door, enabling open, honest respectful discussion.

Cynefin seeks to learn about existing and future environmental challenges and ask questions about what the future of land management, community, conservation and farming might, or could look like. Initially, the overt aim was to plug knowledge gaps and facilitate relationships and collaborations, particularly between people who would traditionally hold different world views with respect to environmental perspectives. We also aimed to establish a shared narrative. After much discussion within the group it emerged that a major barrier to effective collaboration between environmentalists and the agricultural community is that they have arrived at the present from very different narrative trajectories. We agreed, as a group, that it was imperative to establish a foundation of deep, shared knowledge and trust, from which to move forward towards our objective of a resilient landscape, with recovering wildlife, sustainable food production, and diverse, thriving communities; to find areas of consensus between the various narrative pathways. We also recognize that the arts had a vital role to play in contributing emotion, meaning, beauty, and depth to this narrative; to bride gaps between people with different backgrounds and world views. A central ethos of connection, respect, and empathy, is the heart of Cynefin.

We began gathering and sharing knowledge, principally through field trips led by relevant experts, exploring issues first-hand through discussion and demonstration in the field. During our field trips we have explored the ecology and culture of upland farming; continuous cover forestry and woodland management; self-sufficient food growing systems; the concept of tribe and indigeneity, and spiritual connection with nature; and rewilding.

During lockdown we have remained connected online through our WhatsApp group where the diversity of discussion has expanded and flourished. We have shared and discussed a huge range of the most prescient issues relating to land and the environment, including species reintroductions; environmental conflict resolution; trauma and healing; Welsh culture and historical land-use; egalitarianism; racism and colonialism within conservation; slavery and the history of race in the rural; land ownership; the urban/rural connection; biodiversity loss; agro-forestry and grazing; permaculture and regenerative farming; biogeography, and community. This gives a small flavour of our discussions, which amounts to thousands of messages of input across many threads. We also provide mutual support for each other, and share more emotive, personal pieces, including poetry, stories, and music.

We recently gathered to share our perceptions of the nature of Cynefin and began to form some aspirations. We perceive Cynefin as a dynamic think tank – and have recognized that our understanding of many issues of local importance is more advanced than the mainstream narratives (on rewilding for example). We are able to develop nuance and depth in our understandings due to the experience and diversity of perspectives within the group.

A clear outcome was the recognition that each of the members of the group, and the group as a whole, has an ambassadorial role to play in sharing our learning within our varied spheres of influence and practice; this is either passive, through living out our learning, or active, by bringing debates and information to the wider community. So far, Cynefin has inspired artistic projects, conflict resolution, project collaborations between members, and has influenced thought pieces and conference lectures. Individually we are nodes, connecting diverse networks of people and practice.

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