A team of city-living eco-conscious friends is setting out on a first-of-its-kind endurance cycle challenge through many of the UK's National Parks, green spaces and marine environments in search of regenerative solutions to ecological decline. We spoke with Alex Pierrot to learn more.
What are the main motivations behind your cycling trip across the UK?
The motivations for this trip come in a package of three. Firstly, and most importantly, we are seeking to answer the question: “How can the UK regenerate National Parks at scale?” We are looking to educate ourselves by interviewing experts in the field and visiting their innovative solutions, and then share this knowledge through the production of our documentary: “14 Days South: Over Land and Sea”.
The second motivation is to raise as much money as possible for our charity partner, National Parks UK. It was formed in 2019 (the same year as us!) to bring together the fifteen National Park Authorities in the UK, with the remit of raising the profile of the National Parks and promoting joint working.
Thirdly, our John o' Groats to Lands End (JOGLE) expedition is one with a twist! We will be incorporating water bikes into our journey in order to cycle across two of the most dangerous stretches of sea in Europe: from the Orkney Islands to John o' Groats - the Pentland Firth - and from Lands End to the Isles of Scilly. In between these sea crossings, which amount to 50 miles, we will be bikepacking 1150 miles across the UK, ascending over twice the height of Everest. This challenge has never been done before.
What is an ‘eco adventurer'?
We as a society have taken our green spaces for granted. This has become apparent this past year, when hundreds of thousands of us turned to National Parks to escape the pressures of lockdown. An eco-adventurer is primarily someone who realises this dependence and actively seeks to take action to regenerate and improve the environments they have taken from through the spirit of adventure. It is this consciousness that drives the Pedal 4 Parks mission, and we proudly wear our eco-adventurer badges in search of scalable solutions to the environmental crisis.
No matter the weather, an eco-adventurer pushes on with the elements. They continue to depend on the environment, but do so without leaving a negative footprint. To minimise their environmental impact, they carry their tents, clothes and other essentials in their bikepacks (ours will be strapped to handmade bamboo bikes!) while taking the time to appreciate the nature around them. Wherever possible they propel themselves under their own steam, which is what we are aiming to do by swapping out the ferry for our water bikes!
The UK’s national parks are over 70 years old, but are ecological shadows of what they could be. How can we restore nature and biodiversity in our National Parks?
There is so much that can be and is being done in the UK, at the grassroots level, that very few of us are aware of - and not just in National Parks. Larger businesses and companies have a tight grip on advertising, so what we see online and on TV is prioritised by money, not sustainability. Our expedition is a fight against corporate greenwashing. We will meet with numerous people who are actively making a positive change, some of which you can already listen to and learn from on our podcast, Mind the Green Space. We wish to drive awareness of, and investment into, these solutions, as they have the potential to make a long-term sustainable impact in regard to the UK’s future economy. All companies should be looking to improve their wider impact beyond making money. There are now plenty of B Corps which are leading the way, with many of them driving investment in conservation, restoration and rewilding initiatives.
Concretely, here are some of our favourite initiatives, which we will feature (among many others) in our film:
Câr-y-Môr, Wales’ first regenerative commercial seaweed and shellfish ocean farm in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This form of food production requires zero inputs, which is as sustainable as it gets! In addition, among a host of benefits, seaweed sequesters carbon and reduces methane output by 58% when used as part of cattle feed.
The Langholm Initiative, a Scottish development trust which leads the way in facilitating projects that make a real, lasting difference to its area. Most pertinent to our campaign is their community buyout of Langholm Moor, which they now intend to transform from a former grouse moor into the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.
Bamff, a small estate in the uplands of North East Perthshire, in which the current owners have been rewilding ever since they took it over in the 1980s. Chief among their work is the Wildland Project, which has the long-term aim of allowing the land to become self-willed – a self-regenerating mosaic of dynamically evolving habitats and their associated wildlife species.
I like your new take on JOGLE, taking in the Isles of Scilly and Orkney! What do these segments require in addition to the standard land route?
These segments will be a real test for us! Both sea crossings present their own challenges, requiring additional skills to a traditional land cycle: sea survival and crisis operations, use of VHF radio and satellite phone, first aid at sea and seamanship. The challenge of routing and interpreting weather, currents and tides will be constant and imperative.
Thankfully we have plenty of sounding boards in the form of experienced ocean rowers, ferry operators and fishermen sailors. We plan to have a pilot vessel directing the show at each crossing and navigating us through the safest route on the day. The people guiding us live in these locations, have fished these waters all their lives and have taken sea swimmers across before.
Luckily, some of our team are naturals in water! Isaac and Lukas both took part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the world’s toughest row, in 2018. Furthermore, Isaac has a strong background in swimming, and swam the Channel as part of a relay team whilst at university. Sal is an experienced kayaker who has been on many extreme adventures all over the world. With this wealth of knowledge, the two Alexes are in safe hands!
What kind of impact and legacy do you want your expedition to have? How do you see it impacting the country’s lack of public green spaces?
The most important thing we can each do is recognise the need to restore nature and biodiversity, taking the time to understand why this is a problem. It is this understanding that has driven our ambitions to produce an educational documentary and share the voices of the people who are already working on solutions. We wish for every single person that comes across our campaign - whether by watching the film, hearing our talks or seeing our posts on social media - to take action in their own lives and lead to large-scale societal change.
Thanks to platforms such as Adventure Uncovered helping to spread our and other similar initiative and messages we are able to share our knowledge and solutions in a concise format, and we wish to inspire others to run their own efforts. Furthermore, if our film is screened at COP26, this will enable us to reach the top decision makers directly.
At a grassroots level, enough people focusing on the regeneration of green spaces in their daily lives will eventually influence policymaking and investment towards reversing the current decline of these natural habitats and biodiversity. Given enough noise, this topic will rise up the public agenda, which will only be beneficial for everyone. Last year the UK government pledged to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea for nature by 2030. Ultimately, the more practical and actionable the steps that are available, the more likely it is that our audience will take them.
Most of our readers would be up for the trip, but that would be a logistical nightmare given the timeframe. So what can they do to help to regenerate green spaces?
Working or volunteering for one of the National Parks is a brilliant way to take action on the front line. You can find all the current opportunities on the dedicated section of the National Parks UK website. There are plenty of other organisations that do beneficial work for the environment in this country. Some of the biggest are the National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities to offer your time!
Day to day, consider the way you access and behave in green spaces. The less destructive we are, the more we can focus on helping nature thrive rather than purely repairing the damage done. Travel to green spaces by using public transport or, better yet, by cycling or walking there. Finally, please follow the Countryside Code when you are there.
Ensure that the companies you hand your money to - especially for essentials such as utilities, your pension and clothing - are contributing to the effort too. Change can be as simple as switching your energy provider to one that uses purely renewable sources, such as our sponsor, GEUK. Moving your pension to a provider offering fossil-fuel-free and environmentally-friendly plans, like our sponsor PensionBee, is another strong way to make sure that your money has a positive impact. Our sponsor BAM is also one of several clothing manufacturers who are not only using bamboo as a sustainable raw material, but are also involved in projects aiming to be regenerative across their supply chain.
Finally, an easy action to take is to donate to our campaign. All excess funds not used to support the expedition and produce the film will be donated to our charity, National Parks UK. Thanks in advance for your support!