Guardians of the Forest

A somatic, spiritual and practical approaches to forest care with practitioners from communities in 30 nations around the world

A transformational journey in somatic, spiritual, and practical approaches to forest care with practitioners from 30 nations across the world. This course has a simple objective: to transform the way you live with trees.

Course preview

Course modules

We ask "why and how do we transform the way we live with trees?" Learn what forests have to teach us about alternative systems that foster planetary health, why a connection to place and memory is vital in the global movement for land and climate justice, and the role that Indigenous Peoples play in knowing and defending forest environments and territories.

We examine who plants and trees are from embodied perspectives. We focus on building personal relationships with plants, drawing on somatic and spiritual approaches (Qi Gong), and exploring the potential held in animal-human relationships. We also explore the medicinal properties held in forests, their protection, and further our knowledge of spiritual approaches in order to deepen our connection with plants.

We focus primarily on Gaelic knowledge of plants, herbs and soil, and the importance of knowing your land and forests. The module builds on the preceding learning to focus on well-being and medicinal connections between humans and plants, and the importance of trees and soil in the affirmation of a sense of belonging and connection. Explore our ancestral connections to trees, the forests of Britain and earth protection in Ireland.

Ancestral forests and traditions are essential to re-imagining a future where humans and trees can cohabit harmoniously. In what ways does ancestral knowledge inform the way future treescapes are being imagined, specifically in relation to iconic forests such as the great Siberian Forest and the Boreal Forest of Canada? How can we join traditional forest communities to conceive a future where the care of forests is secured?

Cultural practices affirm ethical and ecological relations to land and forest. Song, story, dance and other cultural and creative practices are vital to an experiential and lived-in understanding of how we can care for trees, and how forests transform human society.

In this module, we learn how traditional ecological knowledge can form the basis of action and community organisation to defend endangered forests. We explore frameworks for environmental activism and rights of nature that draw on Indigenous Forest Knowledge.

How do communities work together to manage and protect soils, plants and forests? How are human-tree relations held together and how does justice guide the process? What can forest carers learn from Indigenous Wisdom grounded on biocentric values? We will explore Indigenous struggles for land justice in Peru, Paraguay and Brazil, and discuss the effects of COVID-19 in terms of land justice.

In this module, we explore the power of community and group participation in developing advocacy and conservation work. We build on what we have learnt about the power of community action and the importance of traditional ecological knowledge as a way of developing conservation work with the aim to achieve human co-habitation with forests and animals.

Course information


Ecological knowledge is placed at the heart and learnings are embedded in ancient traditions of forest wisdom, which can enrich human life in times of ecological and personal crisis.

Our approach to guardianship is grounded on affective ecology, traditional knowledge and spiritual activism. Drawing on these perspectives, as well as an experiential understanding of treescapes across bioregions, you will learn how to develop collective action for green justice.

The work of our world-renowned forest guardians will inspire your everyday and professional lives. Whether you are interested in environmental journalism, communication, activism, eco-art, research, environmental law, advocacy, or simply looking for inspiration, this course is designed to change the way we understand our human relation to forests in an age of ecological crisis.

Why this course?

In this course, we ask: Is there a society where humans and trees can live together in harmony? We believe that there is. It is called “forest”. Forests are where humans and trees live together. Every member of that society must take on a responsibility for maintaining that shared and common interest, which is forest life.

Over the course of this journey, we learn what it takes to be a forest guardian. We will learn what it means to take responsibility, to care, to act and to devote yourself to that society we call forest.

Structure of the course

The course has been curated as a journey into the world of forests. We will start from a bodily perspective; that is, we will seek to base our learnings on what the body senses, feels, intuits. Trees are connected to the human body. We share many common physical properties—energy conservation mechanisms, common DNA, similar patterns of sexualisation (think of the use of tree perfumes, flowers, etc). We also share “dendritism” or the branched pattern of life forms, such as the branches of your veins or your brain and nerve system, which are structurally speaking, self-similar to the veins of trees. That is because we evolved from a common ancestor (the protist). Based on this embodied understanding of trees, we will be exploring somatic approaches— i.e. moving, breathing, eating, even swimming with forests (kelp).

From there onwards, we will focus on plant and tree wisdom—we will home in on specific trees such as oaks and yews, and we will learn how to read and recognise their particular characters and signatures, deepening our spiritual and cultural connection with particular trees. We will explore activities like walking with trees, tree-spotting, and thinking with trees.

Following on, we will focus on the idea of temporality, or how ancient trees teach us about the past and the future; how ancestral perspectives are vital to preserving the well-being of forests in years to come, and how we can honour this through ancestral wisdoms.

Forest Culture will be the next step in our journey. We will explore the importance of embedding forest guardian values in cultural practices and also artistic and creative work. We will focus on the work of indigenous peoples in Chile and New Zealand, who will share their traditional forest craft and culture with us. We will then travel to the Blue Mountains in Australia, where we will learn how forests are changing political culture in the Blue Mountains community. We will explore how trees can change the way we understand the culture of power and politics.

The next step in the journey is Forest Action. We will travel to Liberia, Kenya, Chad and Tanzania, to learn from leading lawyers, agroecologists, action researchers and academics, on specific forms of forest action. We will focus on two concrete forms of forest action: i) legal, we will be exploring how forest guardians can help protect forest and forests peoples by law, and ii) sustainable agricultural action.

In the next module in this course, entitled Land Justice, we will travel to the tropical forests of South America, where we will deepen our understanding of forest justice, and where we will explore some of the major threats and violations to forest life currently occurring in some of the world’s most iconic forests. We will learn from leading exponents of the rights of nature movement, as well as major indigenous leaders in Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, on the demands of forest guardians, and the major struggles to fight for forest justice.

In the final module of this course, you will learn how to develop groups and community work as part of your forest guardianship learning process. We will travel to South East Asia, where we will learn about forest community building among indigenous communities in West Bengal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Course Includes

8 modules
48 sessions
37 speakers
Curated readings, resources and embodied practices
Community discussion area
Video and audio available


Vandana Shiva

Globally well-known intellectual and activist, Vandana Shiva has shown ongoing commitment in different fields, making it difficult to label her name under a precise and unique category. At the core of her activism there are: counter-development in favour of people-centered, participatory processes; support to grassroots networks; women rights and ecology. Author of numerous important books and articles, Vandana Shiva has shown a lifetime interest in campaigning against genetic engineering and the negative impact of globalisation, advocating for the crucial importance of preserving and celebrating biodiversity.

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Daiara Tukano

Daiara Tukano, of the Tukano indigenous nation of the Upper Rio Negro, is an indigenous activist and artist. With a Masters Degree in human rights at the University of Brasilia, she is a researcher on the right to memory and truth of indigenous peoples. She is an independent communicator and coordinator of Radio Yandê, the first indigenous web-radio in Brazil. In her line of work, Daiara has surveyed the current indigenous panorama to build alliances to encourage the creation of strategies that can contribute to the protection of mother nature, cultural diversity and human rights across the vast region of the Amazonas.

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Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist and geographer. She is the Coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT) and served as the co-director of the pavilion of the World Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative and Pavilion at COP21, COP22 and COP23.

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Chaz Doherty

Chaz ‘Te Puehu’ Doherty is of the Tūhoe tribe. The Tūhoe have lived in Te Urewera, the largest Indigenous Forest in The Fish of Māui (Te ika a Māui) also known as the North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Tuhoe have lived here since the Mist Mother clothed the forest valleys. As a teacher, Chaz works with other Tūhoe people to rekindle and restore connections and return to a complete family with Nature (whānau).

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Nicolas Salazar Sutil

Action researcher, community builder, and transformational leader. Nicolas works in the areas of ecology, human rights and nature rights.

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Swati Foster

Swati Foster is one of India’s best known environment journalists and director at Sea Change Project. Her solo outing as a filmmaker led to her making The Animal Communicator which has had over 6 million views on YouTube. Swati spends her time between India and South Africa and authored a book Born Wild: Journeys into the heart of India and Africa.

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Eline Kieft

In her work, Eline combines her passion for anthropology, health, spirituality, and her intimate knowledge of the dancer’s body. She studied contemporary dance at CODARTS, Rotterdam, and also qualified as a teacher in Movement Medicine. This is an improvisation-based, meditative dance practice with roots in a shamanic paradigm.

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Tawanã Cruz

Tawana is the cultural and spiritual leader of the Kariri-Xoco Fulkaxo, a group of three tribes of the Fulnio trunk based on the banks of the river Opara.

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Yanda Twaru

Yanda is a community leader in her Sapara Nation in the area of communication and economy, and in the field of indigenous media communication.

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Haru Kuntanawa

Haru is a Leader of the Kuntanawa Nation and recognized by many indigenous people of Brazil as one of the most influential young leaders of his time.

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James Canton

James Canton’s writing has been mainly concerned with the ties between nature, literature and the environment.

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Charlotte Pulver

Charlotte Pulver has a background in natural healthcare, studying and practising various medical systems of healing for 20+ years specialising in women’s healthcare and mental health. Her love is rooted in making medicines for people which she sells through ‘Pulver’s Apothecary’.

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Glennie Kindred

Glennie Kindred is the author of twelve books on Earth wisdom, creating ceremony, native plants and trees and celebrating the Earth’s cycles.

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Angharad Wynne

A published author and poet, Angharad is also a storyteller who uses story as the starting point for deep enquiry and a source of timeless wisdom and healing.

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Sioned Jones

Sioned is a renowned environmental activist and guerrilla rewilder based in Bantry, West Cork (Ireland).

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Julia Adzuki

Julia Adzuki works with transformative processes across the fields of visual, relational, performance and sound art. Her embodied enquiry explores underlying frictions of the human-environmental crisis through the sensuous relation of inner and outer landscapes.

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Andrey Laletin

Andrey is a leading Russian ecologist and environmental scientist based in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. He obtained a degree in Biology from Krasnoyarsk State University (KSU) and then a PhD in Ecology from the Sukachev Forest Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FIRAS).

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David Abram

David is the author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, and The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. Described as “revolutionary” by the Los Angeles Times, as “daring” and “truly original” by the journal Science, David’s work has helped catalyze the emergence of several new disciplines, including the burgeoning field of ecopsychology.

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Natasha Myers

Natasha is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at York University, director of the Plant Studies Collaboratory, convener of the Politics of Evidence Working Group, co-founder of Toronto’s Technoscience Salon, and the Write2Know Project.

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Alex Melinir

Quinquen is a renowned community of indigenous Pewenche people— literally, the people of the pewen tree or araucaria.

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Dinnawhan White

"I acknowledge and pay respect to every animal that lives deep in the ground, on the ground, in the air, in the trees, in the waterways, and those that are residing in all our human bodies" Dinnawhan White

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Rosemary Dillon

Rosemary is a highly skilled and passionate leader with over 25 years of experience in local government - delivering significant results in service delivery, strategic financial and asset management, city, community and corporate planning, governance and risk, safety and asbestos management.

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Juan Francisco Salazar

Juan Francisco Salazar is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker with a PhD in Communication and Media from Western Sydney University.

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Alfred Brownell

Alfred Brownell is a Liberian environmental activist and lawyer. He has advocated for more than two decades to protect native forests and human rights in West Africa. Alfred founded Liberia’s first environmental law non-governmental organization, called Green Advocates International (GAI).

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Radiatu Haja Sheriff-Kahnplaye

Radiatu Haja Sheriff-Kahnplaye is a Liberian environmentalist. She works as Policy Advisor for the Natural Resources Women Platform and as Treasurer of Green Advocates International (GAI).

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Daniel Kobei

Daniel Kobei is the Founder and Executive Director of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), a Kenyan-based NGO working to secure human and land rights of the indigenous Ogiek community and other Indigenous Peoples (IPs) across Kenya and Africa.

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Janet Maro

Janet Maro is a leading Tanzanian social entrepreneur and agroecologist.

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Flay Guajajara

Flay is a filmmaker and photographer of the Guajajara people in Maranhão, Brazil. He acts as Communications Coordinator for the Araribóia Indigenous Land.

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Vanessa Hasson

Vanessa is a leading environmental lawyer and advocator based in São Paulo, Brazil.

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Aldo Benitez

Aldo is an environmental journalist from Asunción, Paraguay. He has been working in the field of environmental communication for more than a decade, having conducted major research and journalistic reports on socio-environmental issues in his country. He is a member of Connectas, a network of investigative journalists operating throughout Latin America that promotes the production, exchange, training, and free dissemination of information.

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Ketty Marcelo

Ketty Marcelo is a renowned Asháninka leader, former president of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru (ONAMIAP).

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Eliana Champutiz

Eliana has founded several collective spaces for audiovisual work for and by Indigenous Peoples such as the Corporation of Audiovisual Producers, the Association of Audiovisual Creators of Indigenous Nations and Peoples, ACAPANA and CORPANP respectively. At the international level, she is a member of the Latin American Coordinator of Cinema and Communication of Indigenous Peoples.

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Yesica Patiachi

Yesica Patiachi was born in San José de Karene in the Madre de Dios district, Peruvian Amazon.

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Robertho Paredes

Robertho is an award winning Peruvian photographer based in Puerto Maldonado, Peruvian Amazon. He is the recipient of the XXVIII Award for Jovenes Creadores of the Madrid City Council for his photographic work "He sentido el clima herido y tengo idea de que no aprendemos", based on "Madre Selva" by Alfredo Perez Alencart.

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Boro Baski

Boro Baski is an educator and community leader from West Benghal, India. Boro Baski is an educator and community leader from West Benghal, India. Born in a Santhal family of agricultural labourers, Boro Baski was the first in his village to obtain a masters and doctoral degree. Along with Sona Murmu and Martin Kampchen, he established an NGO named Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha (GASS) to take forward the initiative to provide education to Adivasi communities in West Bengal.

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Amal Dissanayaka

Amal Dissanayaka is an action researcher from Colombo, Sri Lanka. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Ruhuna and a Certificate in Anthropology from the University of Queensland Australia, as well as an MA in Sociology from the University of Colombo. Currently, he is a Researcher at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI), based in Colombo.

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Alastair McIntosh

Alastair is one of the world’s leading environmental campaigners, distinguished in his ability to join together the outer and inner life. His book Spiritual Activism explores such paths of reconnection of the inner and outer worlds, which he argues is nothing less than learning how to sustain the flow of life. If we don’t do this, he states, “then our work will fall on stony ground, we’ll burn out or we’ll sell out.”

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What our students say

This course is teaching me so much, on so many levels. It is not only about the topics we discuss, but the people themselves, what they express with their very presence and lives. It is giving me a deeper insight. In this pandemic, this course has been enormously helpful, inspiring, a breath of fresh air, of hope, a sense of humanity, of community. Thank you all for putting so much love in what you do.

by Alessandra

Learning outcomes

  • Value trees as living beings in their own right.
  • Appreciate the deep interdependence between humans and trees.
  • Embody forest life through spiritual, somatic and experiential practice.
  • Recognise the significance of cultural practices in forest stewardship.
  • Read the land for an understanding of changing environmental conditions and threats to forest biomes.
  • Evaluate ideas holistically for effective approaches to forest guardianship.
  • Develop community-building for collective guardianship action.
  • Understand the legal aspects of forest rights and land justice.
  • Gain awareness of key forest guardianship projects currently underway worldwide.