Andreas Kornevall is Swedish and started up WorkingAbroad Ltd in 1997 – enabling travellers to take action for nature and society (www.workingabroad.com). He runs and manages the Earth Restoration Service (www.earthrestorationservice.org), a charity which works with hundreds of schools across the UK and overseas to restore their own local communities. In the UK, ERS works mainly with planting new woodlands and wildflower meadow creations. He also started the Positive Handprint Campaign, backed by actress Joanna Lumley, which offers individuals and organisation the ability to focus on their “handprints” for biodiversity – an accounting method similar to the “footprint” but with more proactive and positive commitments to biodiversity. He co-founded The Life Cairn (a memorial for extinct species) with Rev. Peter Owen Jones after many discussions on the expressions of grief, and how vital this is for the environmental movement.
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A group of us on top of Mount Caburn, East Sussex have started a Life Cairn – a memorial for species rendered extinct at human hands. The inauguration was held on the 22nd May, 2011. About a hundred of us gathered, resembling broken-hearted scarecrows on the mountain top. We laid our stones and said farewell. We paid tribute to the Baiji River Dolphin, the Javan Tiger, the Golden Frog, the Pyrenean Ibex, the Cape Elephant, and the Great Auk – to mention only a few amongst the thousands of species which go extinct every year; the list is too endless to spell out.
Since then, over three thousand stones have been laid, each one symbolising an animal gone from the tree of life, never to give birth again. The tragedy of man-made extinctions – which are occurring at a faster rate than any natural cycle – is their silence: barely a whisper is heard in the media. How did we allow the rhino of West Africa to be declared extinct in October last year without even marking their passing? Or the river dolphin of the Yangtze? – she was revered as a Goddess of the River in the ancient past, and now she is only a cold statistic on an IUCN Red list. There was no grief from humanity, no songs, and no-one paid tribute – after millions of years of evolution. Why?
Recently, I met an elderly man who had walked up to Mount Caburn. He still remembered the Cape elephant; he laid his stone for this magnificent but forgotten creature, and we had a moment of silence together. Other times when I have visited the Life Cairn, I have seen bundles laid for extinct animals, such as an ant in Namibia, or feathers blown by the winds as a memory for the Emperor woodpecker.
The Life Cairn project is growing, and it is my hope that we can build more Life Cairns world-wide to fight this amnesia for the natural world and to have meaningful gatherings to reflect upon what we are doing and what it means to be human in this story of extinctions.
We have denied the animals their sentience, their consciousness, their soul.
May our tears transform to pearls when every stone of remembrance laid is for you, the Earth, and your lost family. When laying our stones, may we recognise our own rare songbird in our chests – our naturally wild soul – unheard and forgotten amidst the clamour of the everyday industrial drone.
Andreas Kornevall, The Life Cairn