Fighting for our future and environment

NATURE Terena Plowright with her animals at her paddock in Petersfield
NATURE Terena Plowright with her animals at her paddock in Petersfield
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In the environmental world, Terena Plowright is a big name.

She founded the eco-friendly ‘Greening’ campaign that is now adopted in more than 250 towns and villages and gets people to reduce their electricity consumption.

And she helped to set up an award-winning natural burial site and sustainability centre on the South Downs.

Her latest venture, which has courted some controversy, could be setting up a pet cemetery at Johnston’s Coppice in Purbrook as part of a bid to restore the woodland.

But what drives a woman to set up a natural burial site for people and now cats, dogs and other creatures?

I wanted to find out, so I drove up to meet the 51-year-old at her Petersfield home.

I was told to bring wellies, but was a little mystified when I drove into suburbia, albeit with stunning views of the South Downs all around.

Mud was not far away, however, and myself, Terena and the two sheep dogs, Wocki and Swift, jumped into the car and travelled to her smallholding, complete with its 12 sheep, two ponies and chickens.

As Terena cuddles one of the sheep, I am in no doubt I have met a fellow animal-lover, but I am a little unnerved as one of the ponies gallops across the field, a little too close for comfort to where I am standing.

Terena explains that the pony was jealous the ewe was getting all the attention.

So, dice with death over, we return to Terena’s home to chat over hot tea.

Terena explains that she is named after a dog.

Her aunt had a dog called Terena Storm.

‘I think it’s very appropriate I’m named after a dog,’ says Terena, a vegetarian since she was 16.

‘Dogs are central and most core to my life.’

Terena was born in London, but the family moved to Titchfield as her father got a promotion, before sadly dying.

It was here in Titchfield that Terena’s love of the countryside was born.

She says: ‘I grew up with the river and the fields. We were lucky because we could run riot.

‘In those days, you came back when it was dark and that was it. There was no contact. We were fit and healthy.

‘We weren’t loaded, but we had love.’

After studying politics at Southampton University, Terena went on to become a researcher for BBC local radio and then for the television programme, Southern Eye.

Terena explains: ‘I did a lot of rural-themed documentaries and things like, why do people move to the countryside and then complain it smells of animals?

‘It’s slightly bizarre that if you don’t like the smell of the countryside, don’t move to the countryside – because it stinks, and it’s great.

‘That’s the beauty of it.’

In the 80s when climate change was something mildly abstruse you might learn about in a geography lesson, Terena was trying to spread the eco-friendly message to the masses.

She opened her first shop in Fareham in 1988, called ‘Live and Let Live’, with a view to educating people about renewable energy – as well as apartheid.

As the interview goes on, two themes are apparent (a) Terena is clearly passionate about the environment and (b) she is not one to mince her words.

She tells me that in 1999 she set up a natural burial site at East Meon and later became the manager of its adjoining sustainability centre for nine years.

‘I dug the very first grave with a pick axe and a shovel,’ she says.

‘The family were there. It was quite emotional, but very beautiful because it was the start of something special.

‘There’s about 1,000 people buried there now and the comments that have come out of that have been amazing.

‘It’s just won a national award for best burial site.

‘I set up the burial site on the land which provided money for the running of the sustainability centre.’

I ask her if that is her biggest achievement, but Terena replies: ‘No. I don’t know what my biggest achievement is – staying alive I think.

‘Working with animals, you get knocked about a bit, and I find it a miracle that I have managed to stay on the planet.

‘But running the sustainability centre was a big achievement. There was no money in the beginning, but the staff there are absolutely incredible. As a team, they are just phenomenal and the experience they have now got is second to none.’

What was the ethos behind the project?

Terena explains: ‘There has become a really big separation between society and nature.

‘Especially, at the turn of the millennium, the two were distinctly separate.

‘Children used to be really worried about getting mud on themselves and some of them still are.

‘It’s a very dangerous position to be in, because at the end of the day, we are animals.

‘We need wildlife – we have to have it. That’s the foundation of the pyramid we are sitting on.

‘We are very powerful as a species, but what we seem to fail to understand is that nature is more important and more powerful than us.

‘The flooding recently has shown that perhaps we have overstepped the mark and nature is kicking back.

‘So the sustainability centre is a place where people can re-connect with nature and feel it, as opposed to read about it.’

Six years ago she began her next project, the Greening Campaign, little knowing the idea would snowball.

‘It was an idea I had to help people manage their energy use,’ she says.

‘I ran my own little campaign in Petersfield, then East Meon and Harting ran one. I am now up to about 260 communities across the UK running it, with four in Scotland now.

‘The ethos is to try to bring communities together to make better use of energy and respect the environment in which they live.

‘It’s all aspects of sustainable living, looking at your food, energy use and maybe installing community energy systems, looking at woodland management, wood fuel.’

Terena explains she lives in a massively insulated house to cut down her energy bills.

‘I can’t get it perfect,’ she admits.

‘I do drive a car. But if everyone did what they could, the impact of the human race would be a lot less.’

The burning question for me is why is the environment forefront on Terena’s mind, while most people go about arguably more materialistic pursuits?

‘The environment gives us everything, therefore how can we not have the respect to give everything back to it?’ she says.

‘It seems so wrong when wildlife and future generations of people are suffering because of our selfishness.

‘We have overpopulated the planet – and have kept taking from the planet.

‘That will result in a kickback from nature, almost certainly.

‘The proof of climate change is getting more and more powerful. The future is actually very grim and almost already out of our control.

‘The carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere now won’t affect us for another 30 years.’

The interview enters a more morbid tone as we begin to discuss the future of planet, with Terena explaining how she believes that rather than a big catastrophe, there could be warfare caused by the displacement of human populations resulting from some areas no longer being habitable or food-producing.

But the mood lightens as Terena explains how she walked the 100-mile South Downs Way three times.

‘I tend to set off,’ she says.

‘I will put it up on a website where I’m going to be and some people join me for a day or half a day.

‘It’s a fabulous way of giving yourself perspective on your life.

‘I don’t think everyone realises how reliant we are on the South Downs for our water supply and food supply.’

Terena believes she lives in the ‘most beautiful place on the planet’ and this August is organising the South Downs Show to showcase the best of the area.

It’s clear Terena’s goal in the maze of life is to do what makes her happy.

She adds: ‘I love England and I love my life.

‘If I want a break I can just walk in what consider the most beautiful place in the world.

‘I love England because it’s rich in history, it’s safe, it’s stunning to look at. It’s not perfect, but has a good set of morals. It doesn’t have guns on the street and I’ve got freedom of speech.’

And when her time is up, Terena wants to be buried – naturally of course – on the South Downs.

She says: ‘I have already got my spot. I’ve laid in it.

‘It’s beside Richard Jones’ organic sheep field at the Sustainability Centre.

‘I can see sheep. It’s a place I adore, it’s on the South Downs and my dogs can be buried with me.’

· Councillors at Havant Borough Council are set to vote on plans for a pet cemetery at a meeting tomorrow, starting at 5pm at The Plaza in Havant.