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Sentinels: Seeking Connection within a Rights of Nature framework

What does it mean to ‘seek connection’ especially in relation to our relationship to the natural environment? The film 'Sentinels', explores what connectedness means within the Rights of Nature movement and the issues it raises.

On display from 1 – 25 June, the King’s pavilion entitled 'Seeking Connection' as part of the Eureka exhibition for the 2023 London Design Biennale, asks visitors to consider their relationship with ‘the smallest cell to the vastness of the universe’.

‘Seeking Connection’ is the theme for the King’s exhibits and visitors are encouraged to consider what connectedness means with the world around them.

 To tackle and approach what ‘seeking connection’ means, Dr Emily Barritt from the Dickson Poon School of Law and Actor and Theatre Maker Mark Knightley of Crowded Room Theatre Company, are presenting 'Sentinels' a short film which asks what it means to be connected to your environment.  

'Sentinels' tells the true story of a group of young Colombians who took action to prevent deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and tackle climate change. Their case is successful when the judge orders a halt to deforestation and grants legal rights to the Amazon.  

The judgment Future Generations v Minister for the Environment (Demanda Generaciones Futuras v. Minambiente given on 5 April 2018 declared that the ‘Colombian Amazon accordingly was entitled to protection, conservation, maintenance, and restoration. The Court ordered the government to formulate and implement action plans to address deforestation in the Amazon’ 

This judgment was significant as the judge granted legal rights to the Amazon Rainforest, and represented a watershed moment linking climate change litigation and the Rights of Nature movement.  

Legal frameworks that adopt Rights of Nature, have been gaining momentum nationally and internationally. At its core, the concept grants rights akin to human rights to natural entities and seeks to elevate and give legal parity to nature. It repudiates a human-centric approach in favour of an eco-centric one and prioritises the inherent rights of nature and the connectedness between humanity and the natural world.  

There has been growing momentum and implementation of the Rights of Nature approach across many jurisdictions to attempt to remedy environmental and ecological damage.  We are widely considered to be at an environmental tipping point and innovative approaches to environmental law may need to be considered.  

Jurisdictions across the globe are increasingly acknowledging a Rights of Nature approach, most notably Ecuador, Boliva and New Zealand. But elsewhere around the world, the idea is gaining traction, including the UK. 

However, a Rights of Nature approach is not a simple fix for complex environmental problems, and this is a theme that Sentinels grapples with. Once the judge granted rights to the Amazon and ordered a halt deforestation, the Colombian government seized the opportunity to forcibly evict vulnerable, subsistence farmers from the forest. 

A Rights of Nature approach requires careful thought and significant collaboration and consultation with all those impacted by the decision to grant a natural being legal rights.

Dr Emily Barritt argues that if thoughtfully adopted, the Rights of Nature movement can be a powerful tool to protect the natural world. They can also serve as a decolonizing force because they help to restore Indigenous communities’ relationship to the land. In New Zealand for example, the recognition of the special relationship the Māori had with natural beings such as Te Urewera and the Whanganui River, through a Rights of Nature approach, represented a small step towards redressing the colonial harms done to them.   


Rights of Nature are powerful and important tools for the protection of nature and for recognising and valuing Indigenous communities’ relationship to their environment. But they are not a simple fix, they need consultation and collaboration with communities to work well, to protect natural begins and respect Indigenous peoples.     – Dr Emily Barritt, Co-Director of the Transnational Law Institute

Dr Emily Barritt has already written about applying the possibilities of the Rights of Nature legal framework towards the governance of oceans in ‘The Myth of Mermaids and Stewardship of the Seas’. She is also working on further projects and research which considers the impact of the sacred in environmental law and the space it inhabits.  

Mark Knightley initially approached Dr Emily Barritt via social media to produce the film.  Once they settled on the Future Generations case, he interviewed various claimants in the case and used their testimonies to write the script. This is a form of theatre making Mark has employed before, in La Lucha a work focused on Latin American cleaners in London. In Sentinels, the claimants (played by one actress) tell their story to a tree in an English forest. It plays on the idea that trees can communicate with each other, and that sentinel species are those that function as a warning for others. 

The screening of ‘Sentinels’ will be screened Thursday 8 June 2023, 3pm-4pm at the  Somerset House screening room. 

In this story

Emily Barritt

Emily Barritt

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law

Seeking Connection

Research from across King’s features in Eureka, the exhibition of design-led research taking place across UK universities, as part of the 2023 London Design Biennale. On display from 1 – 25…

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