Ellie Jackson’s experience with a personal tragedy inspired her to start a charity Plan B that focuses on promoting the safety of adventurers, and how to avoid experiencing any life threatening situations when outdoors. Having a plan to avoid any tragic scenarios is exactly what Ellie wishes all adventurers to have. Here she shares her with Love Her Wild how to avoid danger, what she loves about the outdoors, and how books can teach young children about protecting the environment.
Tell us about the biggest adventure that you have been on? Where was it and what did you do?
From a very young age my parents always took us camping and hiking come rain or shine and I remember being able to read a map before reading a book! This love of adventure continued when I met my husband and we headed off 20 years ago, into the outback of Australia to do some serious 4×4 trails – something I would never have done if I wasn’t sure about our safety. I remember we chose a Personal Locator Beacon for our trip and we were pleased that it narrowed down our search area to 50 sq km – now a PLB can pinpoint you to within a metre! We ventured up into Cape York in Far Northern Queensland and found the most isolated and perfect beaches, lined with palm trees. I remember how unbearably hot it was and yet we were too afraid to go swimming in the water holes or in the sea for fear of saltwater crocodiles – I am sure we saw their tracks! We went completely off grid for about 2 months, travelling around Australia in this beaten up and worn out old 4×4 with a top speed of 40mph, which constantly broke down but was always patched up and resurrected, ready to take us on another adventure.
Looking back we both learnt so many lessons about ourselves and our capabilities as you might not see another car all day and had to be completely self reliant. We had to wash in the rivers, forage for food and overcome our fear of creepy crawlies as we slept under the stars. After this trip we were always going to find it hard to settle down – we ended up living on sailing boats for the next 7 years before finally moving into a house when our eldest child was 1. Four children later and we still dream of the day when we can take our children out of school and sail off into the sunset for a year of two – it might take us a while but we hope we get there!
Did you go on many adventures with your family when growing up?
Since becoming a parent it is only now that I realise how much effort my parents went to, to take us all away almost every school holiday. We had incredible adventures as a family which must have taken so much effort and planning and yet it all seemed effortless to me! We used to go on walking holidays along the South West Coast Path every October or May half term. Right from a young age we would carry our own rucksack and hike 10-12 miles a day every day for a week, wild camping as we went. We also went camping every summer and my parents would drive around until they found a field they liked before asking the farmer’s permission. This meant camping with no one else around, always next to a river to wash in with no facilities – rough camping at it’s finest!
You and your family and friends created a charity called Plan B. What is the aim of the charity?
The aim of Plan B is to encourage people to think about their back up plan or Plan B – what would they do if something happens whilst they are out on their adventures. We want people to include safety in their plan for their adventures and pay attention to simple things like logging in and out with someone, making sure you always carry a means for calling for help, basic checks on weather or tides, have they got the right gear, what would they do in certain situations etc. The peace of mind this can bring friends and family as well as to yourself is immeasurable yet so many people are underprepared and overconfident – especially with thinking it won’t happen to them.
What inspired you to start the charity Plan B?
Sadly my brother Dom Jackson drowned in a sea kayak accident in February 2017. Dom was an experienced and fit outdoor adventurer who loved the wilds of Scotland and he was first reported missing in freezing conditions after setting out for a short kayaking trip.
As with many accidents it was a series of events which led to his tragic death. A friend who changed plans at the last minute left Dom deciding to head out alone. A poor choice to protect his phone by storing it in a difficult to access rear hatch and then rapidly changing weather conditions which caught him unawares. When the worst happened and Dom found himself in trouble he didn’t stand a chance of gaining access to his phone. Freezing cold and alone, being pushed further out to sea, Dom’s final actions would have been resourceful to the end and he would have done everything he could to resist the inevitable.
Hope is what carried my family through the 5 days of searching with the RNLI, Police and HM Coastguard along treacherous cliffs and impossible coastline. Hope is what kept me going while coordinating a massive facebook and media campaign from Australia where I was living at the time, helping to organise hundreds of volunteers and relaying Dom’s story to millions of people around the country. Hope which gave way to a mixture of sheer relief and utter desolation when finally they found him and we could bring him home. By setting up this charity I feel that the tragic loss of my brother has a meaning and I can find a purpose in helping reach other people with Dom’s story and message of safety, ultimately helping in saving lives which feels really good!
Do you believe that the outdoors and adventure can help deal with bereavement?
I think being outdoors can help with almost all of life’s ups and downs. When you are surrounded by nature there is an immediate sense of being made humble and small in the grand scheme of things. Problems and upsets that might seem overwhelming at home or work can instantly be put into perspective when you realise the beauty that surrounds you. Sometimes in the midst of grief when you can’t see anything positive ahead of you, there is a feeling that right now is tough but things can get better. I found that in the early weeks and months after losing my brother I didn’t want to do anything that felt like fun as it seemed like a betrayal – how could I possibly have fun when something so devastating had happened? However, I realised that by continuing in my adventures and doing something I know my brother would have enjoyed then I was able to feel like he was there with me coming along for the ride. As soon as I allowed that feeling in I was able to embrace each new adventure as time to remember my brother in a positive way.
What is your advice for adventurers to stay safe and avoid any life threatening situations?
I have been in several adventure situations where I have felt very lucky to get back home safely and each time I have learnt valuable lessons from it. I have run out of air whilst scuba diving, witnessed a shark attack, been dismasted in a sailing yacht whilst drifting onto rocks in a Force 7, suffered equipment failure whilst diving at 43 metres and been bitten by a spider in the Australian outback. Some of these happened because of risks I took that I wouldn’t dream of doing now, partly because I didn’t fully understand the dangers. Having learnt what I know now after losing my brother in this way, the pain of his loss was far greater for us as a family because we knew he didn’t have to die that day. Had he made different decisions, he could still be with us and that knowledge is something we have to live with every day. I realised that as someone who enjoys the outdoors and accepts the risks, if I know in my heart that I have done everything I can to keep myself safe and taken all reasonable precautions then I can enjoy myself fully knowing I am prepared for most situations. It is the underprepared and the under-skilled who are most at risk as they are also some of the most overconfident.
Why do you believe that a Personal Locator Beacon is essential when kayaking?
A Personal Locator Beacon is absolutely essential when you are out not only whilst kayaking but for any water or land based adventure. It is a small wearable device that when activated will alert emergency teams who can then pinpoint your location to within a metre. A PLB is specifically designed for emergency situations and is fully waterproof, shockproof etc and does not need a mobile phone signal to work. In an emergency, you raise an antenna and press a button which connects directly to the emergency services via satellite. They will then alert the nearest RNLI, Coastguard, Police, Mountain Rescue who can track your location as they work to get to you. Out on the water especially time is of the essence in an emergency and knowing that your rescuers have your exact position means you stand the highest chance of being safely rescued. Whilst a mobile phone and VHF are undoubtedly extremely useful, a PLB can be relied upon to work in all circumstances and situations. At a cost of just under £30 a year for the 7 year life of the battery, this is a very small price to pay for peace of mind for you and your friends and family.
How can members of Love Her Wild and others help support your charity?
I see lots of posts from women who want to feel safer on their adventures – whether it is because they would like to do more solo hikes, wild camping, try a new watersport or head off as part of a group. There is so much inspiration from within the Love Her Wild community that if Plan B can help raise awareness of how women can safely take part in more adventures throughout their lives then that would be fantastic. By learning from others and by passing those messages on we will have a much safer community of adventurous women. So please, like our page, share our posts and talk to your friends and family about what your plans are, how you are keeping yourself safe and how they can too. We trusted that my brother knew what he was doing – if we had had proper conversations with him beforehand we would have realised he needed more skills or equipment before heading our safely.
You wrote a series of children’s books called ‘Wild Tribe Heroes’ that follows the journey of wild animals and the environment. Looks fantastic! What do you hope that these books will teach children?
My brother and I dreamt up these books together and I am so pleased that they are having such an impact on children around the world. All of the books are based on true stories of animals who have been affected by global environmental issues and are aimed at primary and preschool children. They have so far reached over a million children inspiring them to tackle issues such as ocean plastic, balloon releases, ghost fishing nets, palm oil and climate change within their homes, schools and communities.
In your books you feature a Sea Turtle, a Puffin, a Whale, an Orangutan and a Polar Bear. Which one is your favourite?
My favourite will always be a turtle simply because I saw what happened in this story with my own eyes. My young children and I were lucky enough to live on a tropical island in the Great Barrier Reef and we saw a turtle being released into the sea after she had been rescued after eating too much plastic. As soon as my four year old daughter had made the link between the turtle being released and the plastic she saw on the beaches she wanted to help clean up all the rubbish. With every piece she collected she felt like she was saving a turtle’s life. It was such a simple message and yet had such a powerful impact. All of these beautiful creatures need our help if they are to continue to survive.
There are such beautiful and stunning places to kayak in the UK. Do you have a favourite place to kayak?
After unexpectedly moving back to the UK from Australia after my brother’s funeral we ended up living in Looe in Cornwall . The sea can be very sheltered and protected here and we have a beautiful island to kayak around with seals and seabirds in abundance as well as the most incredible river estuary bordered by ancient woodland which feels as if you are paddling down the Amazon. I cannot wait to teach my 4 young children how to kayak and look forward to some amazing family adventures in this stunning part of the UK.
If you would like to find out more information about the charity Plan B, please visit their Facebook and see the amazing work that Ellie and the team do. For more information about ‘The Wild Tribe’ children’s books, please visit their website and Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.
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