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How long is your long term vision?

Future planning is important. What are we going to eat this week? How will we emerge well from the Covid pandemic? What are we doing to meet our 2050 emissions targets (hopefully before 2050)? As individuals and communities, businesses and governments, if we don't think about what a positive future looks like we are unlikely to reach it.

But what if we looked hundreds of years in the future, well beyond our own lifetimes and any immediate goals we might have? What impact would that have on our behaviour now?

Burnham Beeches is one of my favourite places. An area of ancient woodland near where I live in South Bucks, its a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation. Within its 400 hectares you can find rare, ancient 'pollarded' trees, many 4-500 years old, alongside other equally rare habitats include heathland, wetland and mire, woodland ponds, ancient coppice and grassland.

And though all of this is on the doorstep of Slough and not far from London, if feels entirely 'other' in place and time.

Wild(ish) Exmoor ponies at Burnham Beeches
Wild(ish) Exmoor ponies at Burnham Beeches

But this urban proximity means Burnham Beeches needs some serious management by the City Of London Corporation, who acquired the land in 1880 as part of the City of London’s Open Spaces Act (1878). Which is why they have a detailed 10 year management plan.

(And despite being over 80 pages long, it's a surprisingly engaging and interesting read.)

Now, in our rapidly changing world, 10 years might seem like a long time. It's already far longer than many organisations consider, where the time frame will be much shorter and more tactical. But a decade is a blink of the eye to the natural world. Which is why there isn't just a 10 year vision for Burnham Beeches. There's a 500 year one as well.

500 years! That's a brain meltingly long time. But as the management plan says

A 500 year vision seems a long way in the future but is a single generation for the ancient trees.

To be fair, this vision is only one page in the plan, and necessarily sketchy. It comes in early though, and before the detail of the next 10 years. Which is important. Whilst the timeframe, and what can be envisioned for it, is meaningless in some ways being so far ahead, it's a radical statement of intent.

It requires a headset that assumes a positive continued existence well beyond multiple lifetimes, focusing the mind on what matters now to ensure this future is realised. A recognition that short term tactical wins are less important than the longer term and bigger picture...something all activities must reflect.

And what's true for Burnham Beeches, scales to be true for our whole planet: our current actions should be because of and working with a positive vision for generations (and generations) to come. Because the world is not ours, we just happen to be living on it for a few years. And prioritising short-term goals, whilst hoping for the best where the future is concerned, will only ever leave us pointing in the wrong direction.

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