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Winter Sun

Paul Powlesland, founder of Lawyers for Nature and once-frequent winter sun-seeker, shares his experience of spending winter in the UK

FlightFree UK
23 Dec 2019 3 min read

“In previous winters I’ve needed to get away somewhere in the sun. I tend to get quite depressed in the winter."

"But last winter is the first time in a long time when I haven’t flown. I just wanted to spend more time experiencing what winter is really like in the UK. And I actually felt happier.”

For many, getting away by plane is a common response to the short days and sparse sun of the UK winter. Our work lives are hectic, even when our natural rhythms mean that our productivity slumps. We arrive at work and leave in the dark. It’s a naturally depressive time for many of us, and a clinical diagnosis for some: SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

"Last winter is the first time in a long time when I haven’t flown. And I actually felt happier."

So we book our flights and spend two weeks on a beach before returning to the same cold, dark and wet routine, with only our memories, our jet lag and an unseasonal tan.

It’s easy to justify the carbon output because sun makes us happy. But is all this jet-setting just contributing to the problem?

It’s a conversation we had with Paul Powlesland, a barrister at Ely Place Chambers and the founder of Lawyers for Nature. He had been a regular winter sun-seeker, and while he knew this was adding a huge amount to his carbon footprint, he’d always felt that need to get away somewhere warm.

Picture shows Paul wearing a shirt, waistcoat and tie, sitting on decking next to his narrow boat on a canal. There are shrubs in the background and he is looking pensively away from the camera.
Paul Powlesland with his narrow boat on the River Roding

But last winter, Paul remained in the UK. He owns a stretch of river bank on the Medway in Kent and needed to get some tree planting done to shore up the bank. Winter came and went in the satisfaction of labour and graft. The sun even shone on those crisp, cool days, so it was a t-shirt most of the time, and he got his tan.

It’s easy to dismiss winter as a time of dearth and sparsity, where there is nothing to enjoy. But far from being ugly, the trees along the river had a unique beauty. Things weren’t bare, they were just different. The variety of plants and animals changes in the winter, and there were so many new layers to discover. On the night of the solstice Paul invited some friends round and they watched the sun slide behind the trees, the same sun that he would watch in the summer, but at a different point on the horizon, giving a wholly new experience. And it was a really happy time.

“I realised that by constantly trying to be ‘somewhere else’ I was just covering up any sadness and depression, I wasn’t dealing with it. I’ve spent past winters lying on Thai beaches, trying to get close to nature, but if you go away there’s that pressure to do things, to be part of the tourist trap. Finding nature in Thailand just didn’t feel right somehow. What I really needed was just to stay still.”

"Finding nature in Thailand just didn’t feel right somehow. What I really needed was just to stay still.”

Picture shows Paul taking a selfie with some newly planted trees. He is wearing a light blue anorak, and you can see the canal and trees in the background.
New trees for planting

In constantly fluttering around and seeking ‘the other’ we miss so much. We all need to get away from life’s busyness, and we could all do with some extra sunshine in the winter, but that doesn’t have to mean flying halfway round the world. There is incredible nature to be found in the forests and rivers of London. The beauty of western Scotland is even more stark in winter. Even the shores of the Mediterranean are easily accessible by train, so winter warmth doesn’t have to be half a world away.

"In constantly fluttering around and seeking ‘the other’ we miss so much."

Paul has signed our Flight Free 2020 pledge and urges others to do the same. “Try to see it less as a sacrifice, and more of an opportunity. A chance to see things you wouldn’t otherwise see and do things you wouldn’t otherwise do."

"By slowing things down you re-connect with place and become more grounded. So I haven’t wanted to fly this winter, and actually, it was the easiest winter for me in a long time. I definitely felt happier.”

Watch the video here.

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