Personal Stories from COP26 and Kelburn Castle

During 1st -14th November, the UK and Italy hosted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 26th Conference of Parties (COP26). Outside the halls of government negotiations, the Scottish landscape held space for an even wider gathering.  It was the landscape that called Suzi Steer, Education and Alliances Manager for TreeSisters, to be present in support of the beings the term “climate” encompasses --these include the trees, clouds, winds, the Sun, and landscapes from all over the world and the myriad of peoples who came to represent them.

This article focuses on Suzi’s personal reflections of what came through in the time spent with Nature, listening to the delegations representing Original Peoples and Nations who were hosted at Kelburn Castle (for list see appendix) and connecting with the Yew Trees. We’ll keep you updated with how we’re integrating and evolving what we’ve heard and how the climate negotiations affect trees and communities through the newsletter in the new year.

A snapshot of the key themes from attending COP26:

  • Ultimately it’s not governments and corporations that are going to take care of the Earth. It’s all of us from wherever we are. Reclaiming and realising our power and what we bring is crucial. 
  • The Scottish landscape and islands know oppression and control.  They also whisper of courage, the fire of our own truth and nurturing seeds of sovereignty in our hearts.
  • The trees are really good at taking care of the Earth. Nature is supporting connections of love between those that are aligning themselves to the care for future generations of all beings.

What is going on at a COP?

During the COP, government negotiations on tackling climate change unfold and there are many events that take place both inside and outside the venue. The COP is a moment for representatives from civil society and Original Peoples to advocate, including through protests, as well as gather and build connections. What’s not really happening enough inside the COP is listening to Nature and the voices of those who listen to Nature. That may be because high level negotiations are so entrained to listening to the needs of corporate agendas. You could definitely argue Nature had a much better seat at the table this year with more investment to back commitments to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 and referencing Mother Earth in the preamble of the Glasgow Climate Pact. There is still a paradigm shift towards listening needed.  Scratching below the headlines and researching into climate solutions that come out of Climate Pact show real complications with how solutions are enacted on the ground. In many instances, if the truths from different landscapes were really heard, it would change how humanity worked together through developing our scientific understanding and our collective solutions.

Supporting Listening to the Earth

TreeSisters have been supporting Listening to the Earth in global conversations around climate and the environment.  During each day of the COP, we facilitated representatives from Original Nations to offer prayers for Mother Earth and center Nature in the negotiations. These were livestreamed in the Nature+ Pavilion inside the Blue Zone where negotiations were being held and Citizen Pavilions and can be viewed here. We also supported Nature4Climate in holding an opening of sacred space in the Blue Zone the day before the political leaders and delegations arrived. This powerful presencing of future generations of all beings was offered by Mindahi Bastida and Chief Ninawa.

Chief Ninawa, Roxana Borda Mamani and Mindahi Bastidas by James Lloyd

Channel 4 News coverage of Kelburn Castle captured on vimeo (4 mins)

Kelburn Castle and surrounding landscape

We are so grateful to the passionate hearts of many individuals and groups associated with the Wisdom Keepers, the Pilgrims for Nature and the Boyle Family and staff of Kelburn Castle for holding space for representatives of Original Peoples and Nations for the two weeks of the COP. Please see the appendix for a list of delegations. The excerpt from Channel 4 News above highlights some of the voices.

The opportunity to spend time hearing from people who are passionately and practically supporting their landscapes and communities was an enormous privilege. The following reflections are just the tip of the iceberg and in no way summarise the depth of what was shared.

Wisdom Beyond Space and Time and the Amazon

The way Yew trees help us to anchor in our own multidimensional wisdoms was beautifully demonstrated for me in the time spent with the two 1,500 year old Yew trees in the castle gardens with Belen Paez. Belen has been running the Amazon arm of the Pachamama Alliance for 20 years and coordinates the scientific section of the IPCC report on the Amazon, it’s tipping points, deforestation rates, fires and what brings health. She had become run down from the days in the Blue Zone so took some time out to resource herself.

We first approached the Yew who was predominantly presenting as male. The feeling of support given from the Yew to Belen was to set all she knows of insane deforestation rates, fires and tipping points of hydrological cycles to one side for a while. Then strongly came the feeling that Belen is working with the trees to take care of the Earth. 


Suzi & Belen by the Grandfather Yew with berries from his female branches.

The communication felt like a body knowing that we get to do this, we are the ones that are showing up to take care of the Earth and we will never give up. The trees never give up.  They regenerate even if they are razed to the ground, again and again they replant, regrow. We need to be like them and know we will take care of the Earth with them.

Many other beautiful things came through the trees that day, some very personal to Belen’s journey, some universal to our healing and alignment in Nature on an individual basis. At the end, Belen stood in the stunning low angle light of the bright Sun and received from the Sun into the Earth. In those moments, it was like everything changed. I mean everything. It was as though full wisdom of all she knows and is, from all her time in the Amazon and beyond, landed in the Scottish landscape.  To try and describe it it was like she resonated across the frequencies of the wider multidimensional selves of all the humans at the COP and amplified the places that know Nature’s wisdom in their beings. Hard to explain. Amazing to experience.

Belen Paez at She Changes Climate event by Suzi Steer

What was clear in that moment was the extraordinary light and wisdom for the Earth’s entire biosphere that each human brings through them is beyond measure. I could say so much more yet, it is personal to Belen. Suffice to say, she left the garden feeling resourced and the rest of her day included many powerful coincidences including an unplanned speaking opportunity and introductions to funding for Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative.


Belen sharing about the Amazon as part of Listening to the Earth moments TreeSisters supported to be shared in the Blue Zone’s Nature+ Pavillion and the People’s Pavillion online.

Please click on the image to watch the video.


Open Day at Kelburn Castle

On Sunday 8th November, an open day was hosted in the Castle grounds where delegates and reporters involved in negotiations could come and connect to Nature and hear the voices of those staying on the Castle grounds. Charlotte Pulver, an apothecary with a special calling to facilitate people’s connection to Yew trees, hosted a 2.5 hour session to learn about Yew lore where we tuned into our intentions, whispered prayers to the waters to then gift those waters to the two Yew trees before spend time with them.

Yew Tree Ceremony by Jeremy Whelehan

Callum & the Youth Activists

One example of the many experiences of that day was with Callum Grieve who had been spending the week chaperoning the Youth Activists such as Vanessa Nakate and Elizabeth Wathuti. By the yew, he shared the incredible weight in his heart of witnessing what the young activists are going through and how they are personally impacted by the responsibility and work they stand for. Aunty Ivy from New Zealand and Australia, who is personally called to support younger generations, stepped up to support Callum. Half an hour barefoot with Grandmother Yew gave Callum a space to release the enormous emotions he was holding. The next day Aunty Ivy went to support the Youth Delegates to get out of the Blue Zone, where they said they’d felt like robots, to go and spend time connecting to Nature in a park in Glasgow.

Aunty Ivy by Jeremy Whelehan

Placing the Children’s Fire at the heart of global decision making

On the evening of Sunday 8th November, Mac Macartney from Embercombe, UK held a Children’s Fire. His powerful words spoke of who we have been as tribes of the isles of the UK standing alongside the peoples of all landscapes. He explained how to honour our commitment to the Children’s Fire in all decision making:

  1. Hold the highest good for the future generations of all beings at the centre of all global decision making.
  2. Commit to the responsibility to speak out, even if you stand alone, if you hear decisions being made that do not take the future generations of all beings fully into account.

The Children’s Fire by Zak Avery

In Conclusion

There is so much left unsaid in this tiny selection of experiences.  I want to tell you about the extraordinary work of Jacinta Silakan in creating real change within Maasai cultural attitudes towards women and children with disabilities, the experiences of the Mongolian pastoralists of living with grasses with 20 meter deep roots, the gifts of the Seeds of Sovereignty received from the Pilgrimage for Nature in their deep listening to the English and Scottish landscapes, the power of the films created by indigenous youth activists through Futuras Indigenas and Insight Share, the game-changer that is witnessing Delegations from the Alliance for Mother Earth team up with the Ecocide lawyers, the incredible exchanges between the Scottish government and Climate Vulnerable Nations, the voices of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative. You can find information in the appendix below. Still, none of these explains the larger picture of outcomes of COP26. In addition, there are important concerns around the impacts of developing ‘clean’ renewable energy through mining in the world's most biologically and culturally diverse biomes or deeply questionable solutions like Solar Radiation Modification. 

What is being achieved through global collaboration is extraordinary and at the same time, those we call leaders are in no better position to listen to and act from a place of alignment to the needs of the Earth than we are. If anything, being in a leadership position makes listening harder because of the alluring solutions to climate change that perpetuate the old domination-over power structures. This is why listening into what we each bring is so important. TreeSisters will do our best to continue to listen to what is emergent for us to do and to continue to support the communities of people who are showing up to take care of the Earth together.  Let 2022 be the year we hold hands in bravery, letting go of the systems that cause harm and collaborate in care and love for the Earth.

It is with deep gratitude to all those that were present that I end with the speech before the Scottish House of Lords by Patrick Boyle, Earl of Glasgow. 

Footage from the Scottish House of Lords in Scotland on 18th November, 2021

Photos from COP26

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Dessima Williams, Lexi Boyle & Anges Leina

by Jeremy Whelehan  

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Sharing by the Fire

by Jeremy Whelehan  

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Pilgrim Jolie Booth and the Yew

by Jeremy Whelehan  

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Time to Connect

by Jeremy Whelehan  

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Jacinta Silakan

by Jeremy Whelehan

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Veronik, Belen Paez and Domingo Peas at the March

by Jeremy Whelehan

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Patrick, the Earl of Glasgow with Dessima Williams

by Jeremey Whelehan

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Rainbow over the Glen

by Jeremey Whelehan

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Thank you to Suzi Steer for attending the events around COP26 and bringing us these amazing stories!


Appendix of groups present at Kelburn Castle

Please contact TreeSisters to indicate who you would particularly like to hear more from so we can support creating those conversations. You can reach us at

Sacred Headwaters Initiative. An alliance of 30 indigenous peoples, nations and civil society organisations that have come together to permanently protect a binational corridor of 86 million acres of the Amazon in Peru and Ecuador.  

Example interview with Atossa Soltani and Domingo Peas 

Climate Justice and Resilience Fund and Partners who support climate justice solutions in the Bay of Bengal, East Africa and the Arctic.  It was through these incredible representatives we were able to learn so much more about what was really happening in the negotiations and on the ground.

Fahana Yamin on Climate Justice funding 

Example of issues facing Bangladesh and explaining why loss and damage was critical  

Futuras Indigenas is a mexican network that have come together to defend the territory, their way of being and existing creating incredible communications which they shared with us in an evening’s talk and sharing of their films.

Example of their films

World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples, which is an alliance of pastoralist communities and mobile indigenous peoples throughout the world.  A social movement of grassroots organisations of nomadic peoples and communities who share pastoralism as a livelihood strategy and also powerful tool for understanding of what it is to support conserving biological diversity on the move across landscapes.  These included representatives from Tamachek Tuareg from the Sahel in Africa, Jordan, Uganda, Mongola and Spain.

Write up of Pastorialists and climate change event

Insight Share, who use video to empower citizen, enhance research and drive innovation by giving the tools for telling stories into the hands of those who’s stories they are.

Channel 4 coverage of film recorded by groups in Southern Kenya with including interview with Helena Gualinga from Equador 

Listening to the Land Pilgrimage is a group of pilgrims who have walked from the Isle of Wight all the way up the ‘Spine of Albion’ it’s northernmost point on the Scottish Coast.

Listening to the Land performance in the Green Zone 

Letters to the Earth is a book, a series of letters and short videos written by people from all over the world some of which can be found on their social media.

Short video inviting you to write your letter to the Earth

Still Moving A series of art installations around Glasgow and on the Kelburn Castle grounds taking key phrases as important messages to bring to mind during the negotiations.

Flourishing Diversity has birthed out of Synchronicity Earth as an organisation in its own right.  They have been doing extraordinary work in bringing forwards voices of original peoples and Nations through a great many international events and networking constructively in ways that find solutions.

Write up of Flourishing Diversity event with Prince Charles

Powerful event Protecting Mother Earth, Sacred Guardianship and Ecocide Law

By Suzi Steer


Suzi Martineau (birth name Steer) is working on Education and Alliances within the TreeSisters Network and on developing TreeSisters strategy moving forwards into the UNEP Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2020-2030).  She is currently working on a number of different projects including supporting our education through the Nest, developing collaborative partnerships with reforestation and tree focused NGOs and grassroots projects, and extending our online database of global reforestation projects, planting methods, legal strategies, education and media networks with a team of fabulous TreeSisters volunteers.

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