Robin Hanbury-Tenison is a world-changing environmentalist and explorer. Robin had more than a brush with Covid-19, which has inspired his latest campaign. Ed Smit of Carrick Road Studios got in touch about one of the most amazing coronavirus stories they have come across to date.
Wellies on, jackets zipped and camera in hand we walked. Robin Hanbury-Tenison, walking stick in hand, led us across fields, through woods and to the top of a forested granite tor. We sat there together for a while, soaking in the ancient woodland, a place that Robin thought he may never see again.
Just three months ago he required a ventilator to breathe, tubes came and went from holes in his skin and he lay motionless under an induced coma. His family were told three times to prepare for the worst. He describes a moment during a dream where he had the choice to make the world go dark, he realises now that this was a choice to live, or to die. Robin was never one to give up, and it’s clear now what choice he made.
There is something deeply moving about the day we spent with Robin. As we walked across his land he showed us projects that he and his son Merlin are working on some of which are the ongoing result of half a century of hard work. We saw fields ready for reforestation and deep woodland being left to its own accord.
Finally, we arrived at an enclosure no bigger than a football pitch. A small stream flowed across round boulders and exposed roots. It was to be home to a pair of beavers. Together Robin and his son have a dream of converting this old Cornish farm to a rewilded paradise, a place where nature can restore and breath. As he spoke about his joy in seeing these projects develop it was hard not to see that as the land heals so does Robin.
Robin puts so much of his improving health down to the restoration he finds in nature. After five weeks in a coma it was the moment he was wheeled into an intensive care healing garden at Derriford Hospital, the only hospital in the UK with such a garden, that he first became conscious. Surrounded by tubes, breathing apparatus and care workers he looked out over a little piece of captive wilderness. He was alive and it was in the garden that he found strength.
Before the virus, Robin had worked tirelessly in setting up Survival International*, inspiring the Rainforest Movement* and authoring more than twenty books. Over the last 60 years he’s met over 100 tribes in some of the most remote places on earth and launched expeditions of more than 120 scientists strong to work out exactly why our wild places and indigenous peoples are important.
Over rapid succession pristine forests, untamed wildlands and the indigenous knowledge that were found among them have disappeared in front of his eyes. Robin has never stopped fighting for these people and places, whether the rewilding of his own lands or raising £80,000 on his eightieth birthday for Survival International; he lives and breathes what he believes.
Robin arrived home just before his 84th birthday, just in time to see the arrival of his grandchild. Bed bound he thought about his gratitude to the NHS and those first lucid moments amongst the healing garden.
Leaving hospital he was told he would never properly walk again and that for every week he spent in intensive care he would need a month at home to rebuild. Five weeks would equal five months, it was decided. Robin marked October the 3rd in the diary, exactly five months after his return home. His gratitude would be repaid and he would not just simply sit at home and ‘get better’.
At 84 robin has decided to undertake his greatest challenge yet, to climb to the highest point in Cornwall, over moor and up rock, through marsh and across scree and he would raise £100,000 to build a healing garden for his home hospital in Cornwall so others might benefit from the healing benefits that he himself had experienced.
This was the reason we were here, to make a film about his endeavour and to document the journey along the way.
* The Rainforest Movement is a term to describe the shift on people’s attention towards their importance.