What’s your story and how did you end up on this path? What’s your background…
I have always had a passion for the environment and being outdoors, and managed to find a course at the University of Cumbria where I could do both. I studied a Bachelor Arts in Wildlife and Media and managed to learn how to make films about all the things I loved. I am currently writing this after a beautiful walk above Ambleside in the Lake District, where our university was based. Like many outdoorsy people, I was lucky and had parents who made us go outside no matter what the weather, and to come home in time for supper. My path now leads me to shares stories about the great outdoors for those who didn’t, or don’t, have parents who may not have the confidence to take their children out into green spaces. I want to encourage and inspire a love of our natural surroundings, as without this connection, the future of our planet is at risk.
Your recent piece, “Enjoying the Meadows,” had us wanting to frolic in fields, where does your inspiration come from for articles like this?
Normally my brain is ready to write once I have been on a walk, I think it’s something about the fresh air which opens up pathways in my mind, along with a cup of tea, then I am ready to write whatever flows.
You’ve clearly been captivated by the travel bug. How does it shape your writing and your views on our big, beautiful planet?
I love learning about new cultures and picking up at least the basics of every country I travel. I think everyone should at least know, hello, please, thank you and cheers in the country’s native language. It also allows you to meet locals and to create a more in depth understanding of that country. For example, in Albania — Vanlife in Albania by making a little effort I then found out so much more about the country and what is happening behind that scenes that the tourists don’t get told about!
Give us a tale from your travels that really rattled you. How did it change your outlook?
The dogs being poisoned in Albania really hit home. There is a stray dog situation (I don’t like the use of the word problem) in the whole of the Balkans which I never really knew about before as we are not really exposed to it here on our island. Wherever we went we took dog food and fed the strays as we left, as to not get attached to them by feeding upon arrival, and break all our hearts. However, that lasted only so long, we soon adopted Alba, from Albania! You can read that story here. Adopting a dog in Albania
But it really hit home because I just cannot fathom how someone can poison a dog and be okay with it. I found a charity, Animals Need Me, and they have a shelter but with limited funding and space, they focus a lot on Neuter and Release Programmes, where they sterilise the dogs and the healthy ones get put back in their territory where they were found. This, alongside educating the next generation are their main aims and ambitions and I take it upon myself to raise awareness of all the hard work their volunteers do to help with the welfare of the dogs and cats of Albania, Shkodër in particular. IG: @animalsneedme
How do you weave your eco-commitment into your daily routine?
Since building our van, we have gone over a year flight free with the aim to increase this. Our trips away this year have been mainly to Wales and the Lake District. After seeing the high amount of litter throughout countries such as Italy, Albania, Turkey and Bosnia, it is hard to make sure you recycle absolutely everything as you feel like it is not making an inkling of difference, however we still persevere. We try to buy less organic, single use plastic in the first place, I gave up those little yogurt pots many years ago! Since being based back in the UK I have a mini, organic, allotment and it has been a great season for salad and vegetables (so many courgettes!). I am also going to be trying to preserve many of the items from the allotment; something I have never tried before, so hopefully it will work, we shall see!
Living the alternative lifestyle isn’t easy… what hurdles have you had to leap over, and how did you stick the landing?
There are many people, many millennials, who I believe are now skipping a step in the conventional ladder and are going straight back to homegrown, and using local produce, a lot like their grandparents would have done. Social media has played a huge part in this, and from what I see, it’s actually benefitting people’s lives; inspiring them to create food from scratch. Living in a van means you only have on you those items which are useful, or important in day-to-day life, I have been very lucky in the locations we have travelled, and the people we have met, everyone has been very kind and welcoming. However, again on social media, there are the negative stories you see of people leaving litter, emptying toilets and having a general lack of respect for the environment, it is things like that which give ‘vanners’ a bad name and reputation. But you can say that in many areas of life, there are a few, who ruin it for the many.
Your work exudes positivity, how do you maintain this outlook, especially when the environmental news can be so depressing?
I think my brain is just wired in such a way which my go to emotion is positivity. I think I got that from my dad. He always, always, inspired us to have ideas, share them, and make them happen. He was my inspiration. He still is, even if he is not with us in person anymore. He is with me in spirit. But with strong positivity, comes heavy emotions with regards to things like animal abuse, I break down when it comes to those items in the news. It’s not that I block them out when writing, but I think what can I do to help make a change, and that is one of the reasons I mention the ongoing charity work with the strays in Albania.
What role do you believe storytelling plays in promoting environmental awareness and action?
I have always loved storytelling, from a very early age I remember making mini books for my Barbie dolls (out of After Eight casings!) I believe that some animals in particular have a tough time of it, as they have been represented in the past in a negative light, for example, snakes. Ever since the story of Adam and Eve, and being brought up with Disney and the Jungle Book, snakes have not had the best of time. However I spoke to my cousin, Chris, in my podcast about this, he is a Herpetologist, Wildlife Conservation Enthusiast and Animal Management Teacher and we discussed the importance of adders in Britain, the portrayal of snakes and what action we can take to protect them (Episode 3: Through the Trees Podcast
I believe it is down to the bigger companies, government and commercial entities to go out and find committed and enthusiast people, like Chris, to raise awareness, in particular with the next generation about environmental subjects.
What’s next for Holly Brega’s world? Any exciting escapades or projects on the horizon?
What’s next… Well, that is currently being thought about, I have a lot of ideas (no surprise there). I have a trip to Yorkshire planned, but the next project is to create a Hobbit inspired feast to celebrate Mabon, the Autumn Equinox. Then we do have a few ideas for a van trip for 2024, but nothing we can announce yet!
And lastly, what nugget of wisdom or advice can you offer?
When I taught bushcraft to children, someone gave me a book, it is a book which has played a huge part in my life, by focusing my energy on those things which are important in life. I would recommend it to everyone, from all walks of life. It’s called Last Child in the Wood, by Richard Louv. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book… “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”