Creating inclusion through Nature Freedom

By Jennifer McMillan 15 February 2021

Mathew Townsend lost hearing in both ears when he was 18 months old and found himself isolated from the social world around him. His love of nature and the outdoors led him to start Nature Freedom, a social enterprise with the goal of inspiring, connecting and empowering young people living with disabilities.

Nature Freedom activities include bushwalking, kayaking, nature workshops, canoeing, environmental craft and tree planting. In 2019, the Nature Freedom team organised a National Tree Day planting event in Brisbane and planted over 500 seedlings. Inclusion was a big focus of Nature Freedom’s National Tree Day event, “As a community, we need to understand the effects inclusion, or lack of [inclusion], has on people of all abilities and backgrounds,” Mr Townsend said.

The planting area was carefully selected ensuring everyone could attend. One participant, Belinda, lives with cerebral palsy and finds it hard to plant on a slope with her wheelchair, “It’s all about where you plant and making sure you give everyone the opportunity,” Mr Townsend said.  

Photo credit: Andy Radice

Since its inception Nature Freedom has had over 200 participants, “With more people of a range of abilities attending these social events, they will hopefully feel more included within and connected to their community,” he says. It’s about breaking down the barriers, inclusion, encouragement and connecting with nature.  

Mr Townsend and the Nature Freedom team are looking forward to a big National Tree Day event this year. Their goal is to plant over 1,000 trees, make connections with nature and friends, and leave with a smile.  

To register a National Tree Day event click here.

Jennifer McMillan
Jen worked as a vet nurse while studying environmental science and completing her master's degree in Journalism. She loves bushwalking, storytelling, caring for baby animals, Australian birds and river red gums. Jen works on the National Tree Day campaign and Planet Ark's Seedling Bank.