Ecologist Jean-Philippe Beau-Douëzy joined the Foundation at the very start, working with Jacques Rocher to co-found the Plant for the Planet programme. He also runs an eco-centre in Sologne, where he offers permaculture courses and seminars.
What does it mean to be an ecologist in today’s world?
Put simply, ecologists study nature. We study ecosystems and how they work, and the various interactions that exist between all their components, whether plants, animals or humans.
How did you get to where you are today?
I became involved in nature conservation, and animal conservation in particular, when I was 15. I took classes at the Fédération des Jeunes pour la Nature, which was France’s biggest conservation organisation in the 1970s. We were lucky enough to be mentored by people like Cousteau, Tazieff and Bombard. In those days, the disappearance of biodiversity was already being discussed, as was the overexploitation of species and resources, and air and ocean pollution.
I’ve always wanted to work to safeguard nature. And so I became a field ecologist
What led you to become a ‘field ecologist’, as you describe yourself?
Cousteau said something I’ve always remembered: “You cannot protect what you don’t love, and you can’t love what you don’t know”. That’s what inspired me to become a natural scientist, meaning somebody who studies nature in general. I’ve always been a doer, and I wanted to take action to protect the environment. So I became a field ecologist, working with organisations like Europe Conservation, the CEDREB and the IUCN.
You then set up the F.E.R.M.E du Bouchot in 2002.
After 35 years of working in nature conservation, I met my partner and we bought a farm. Initially, I wanted to run training sessions in natural science there.
I used to work in conservation but now, through permaculture, I’m all about reconstruction.
Is that when you first started developing an interest in permaculture?
Yes, I started to change tack. I said to myself: Okay. We haven’t saved the whales, we haven’t saved the Amazon. And even worse than that, we’ve destroyed a lot of natural environments, particularly the soil, which has been significantly eroded. And when I was first introduced to permaculture in the 2000s, I discovered it was something that I had already started doing: restoring natural environments. I used to work in conservation but now, through permaculture, I’m all about reconstruction.
Is that what permaculture is?
That’s right. Permaculture is about recreating sustainable, productive ecosystems. Naturally, there’s the productive agricultural component, but permaculture takes it further: it’s a comprehensive, sustainable approach to humans living in their environment, encompassing energy, water, waste and so on.
At Le Bouchot, we reconnect people to the land and to themselves.
Going back to the F.E.R.M.E*du Bouchot, what exactly do you do there?
Le Bouchot is an eco-centre where three things happen. Firstly, visitors come to stay with us. We run a guest house, gite and camp site accredited by the Accueil Paysan label. It’s a place for experimenting, too, as it’s where we develop our Edible Forest Gardens. And finally, it’s a place of learning, where knowledge is shared: we host groups, individuals and companies, providing training in observing and studying nature and permaculture. We run activities to reconnect people to the land and to themselves. It’s a place that’s constantly buzzing.
*Faire Ensemble dans le Respect Mutuel avec la permaculturE [Working Together in Mutual Respect via Permaculture]
I got involved from the very start. I met Yves and Jacques Rocher a very long time ago, because Yves Rocher was one of the first companies to sponsor the Fédération des Jeunes pour la Nature. In 1990, I was asked to help establish the Foundation by working with Jacques to set up the very first fruit-tree-planting scheme in the Amazon. In 2007, Jacques asked me to help him co-develop the Plant for the Planet programme. Today, I identify new projects and support the programmes on the ground, while keeping a close eye on my carbon footprint. On site, we organise meetings with planters in other regions, so that we can pool our knowledge and practices.
What do you hope to pass on to future generations?
“The future belongs to the humans who plant fruit trees.” That’s a quote from a Native American medicine man, whose teachings I followed. I’ve never forgotten that sentence. Everybody should seek inspiration from those words.
Planting trees today means caring for humanity.
Why is tree-planting so essential?
Planting trees is the number-one thing we can do to repair the soil. Trees play a crucial role in fighting global warming, preserving water resources and building humus, which supports so much life. Our soils have deteriorated to such an extent and humans are suffering the consequences so badly that replanting is now absolutely essential. By planting nitrogen-fixing trees, we’re also relieving farmers of the heavy cost of fertilisers, which yield paltry results while damaging the ecosystem even further. Tree-planting is about so much more than just planting trees. Planting trees today means caring for humanity.
People should spend fifteen minutes a day with their hands in the soil.
Today, it’s not always clear what action we can take to help protect biodiversity. What’s youradvice?
Head out to your nearest natural setting and reconnect with nature. This is an absolute priority. Many human illnesses today could be avoided if people maintained regular contact with nature. The second thing is something everyone can do: plant a small tree, or a little plant. Dig your hands into the soil, and soak up that special deep, feminine energy. People should spend fifteen minutes a day with their hands in the soil. Initiatives such as communal gardens or Incredible Edible should be encouraged. Recycling waste is good, eating local produce is good… Any positive changes citizens can make are a good thing.