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What forests can do for you is hard to overestimate, but this is mind-blowing! We are proud to share this episode from Seven Sharp featuring Richard Margesson – our team leader in the Environmental Control Division on Waiheke Island.

Richard  is a seriously interesting man. From a British Army Infantry Officer, trained counsellor, psychotherapist, and clinical hypnotherapist to a man who spent four months walking from the top of New Zealand to the bottom, Richard is now the field team leader for the Environmental Control Division on Waiheke Island and a guide at November’s Waiheke Walking Festival. Read our Q&A with Richard on our blog – he’ll inspire you!

Q. Tell us about your role at Treescape.

I’m the field team leader in the Environmental Control Division on Waiheke Island. Under the Auckland Council Ecology contract we do pest and plant control in 41 nature reserves and run 35 stoat traps on Waiheke Island as part of the predator-free programme.

Q. What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Pretty much everything! It’s a really, really good job because we’re making a huge difference to both the people and nature on Waiheke Island. I’ve got a small crew of four and we’re really tight-knit and supportive of each other. We feel lucky to do what we do: protect paradise. We all live here and love where we live and what we do.

Q. You have a really interesting career, starting with serving as a British Army Infantry Officer for just under 20 years and in three major conflicts…

Yes, I left the military in 2001 with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. This really limits your life and what you think you’re capable of. That experience actually turned out to be quite an advantage – in the course of my recovery I became fascinated with psychology. I figure you have one life so make the most of it and set your own standards so I trained for two years as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

I worked for a very large not-for-profit in Australia, and set up and ran a programme for men and families experiencing power and control issues – really gritty domestic violence type stuff. Guys faced with prison or coming out of prison, guys with turbulent childhoods, addiction issues – it was about building that confidence in themselves and teaching them emotional skills and really practical coping skills.

I did that for about two years before leaving and training as a clinical hypnotherapist. Became an independent practitioner and set up two clinical practices in Australia. I specialised a lot in relieving fears, phobias and traumatic memories – converting it into something useful people can use to their advantage. But I was still struggling with my own wartime experiences.

I got really interested in anthropology and why it is there’s so few clinical mental health symptoms in indigenous people who live close to the land – those living the stone age lifestyle – so I decided to experiment on myself. I closed down my clinics and took a four-month sabbatical.

Q. And you had a Forrest Gump moment, walking from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island!

I did. I immersed myself in nature and recreated what it would be like to be a hunter gatherer, as best as I could in 21st century. There were no skins or feathers – I was a middle-aged man clothed in Lycra – but I slept on forest floors, passed through snowy mountain passes, walked through icy rivers. I started to feel I was making a difference six weeks into it, when my brain rewired – I got mentally and physically fit. I was walking 12-14 hours a day by the end. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. By the end it felt like I’d lost a lot of emotional damage.

Q. And now you’re a big proponent of walking to heal yourself?

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about events like the Waiheke Walking Festival is that anybody can learn about the benefits of spending regular time in nature and anyone can learn the really simple tools and techniques to build a skillset and take that back to daily life.

Q. How did your walk affect the work you do now?

I fell in love with this country – the people, the unique bio-diversity here. The walk also lifted the lid on the clean and green myth and that’s one of the reasons I’m working for Treescape – to try and help NZ and its people get a greater appreciation of what they have and to try to inspire them to look after it better.

Q. Where else has your motto of living one life well led you?

My wife and I moved to the US for a year and Mexico for nine months. I wrote and recorded an album. I tried – and failed – to write a book.

Q. This year you’ll be guiding walkers at the Waiheke Walking Festival. How long have you been helping as a guide?

This will be my second year. My walk last year was voted one of the top 10 mini walks over the festival’s nine-year history – I couldn’t believe it! I love that the festival is a celebration as well of just how creative people are when it comes to one of the most fundamental activities: walking. There’s a silent disco on the beach at sunset. Forest bathing. A haiku walk where they’ll create a poem. A 100 km walk over five days. The walks will help people understand how climate, fresh water, land, marine climate, and unique Kiwi diversity all sit together and how important we humans are to all of that.

Richard will be leading the Treescape Northern Coastal Reserves Exploration walk at the Waiheke Walking Festival, November 15-24, 2019. The walk from Palm Beach to Oneroa explores and celebrates the diverse environments of Waiheke’s northern beaches, wetlands and coastal cliffs. Find full information on the event at https://www.waihekewalkingfestival.org/