A couple of years ago the United Nations announced that for the first time in human history more people now live in urban environments than rural ones. I’ve gone the other way.
I was very much an urbanite, living in cities for most of my life – growing-up in Birmingham, studying in Swansea and Ghent, and working in London, Brighton and Reading, before moving with my family to the fantastic Forest of Dean seven years ago.
Before moving to the Forest my daily contact with nature was generally limited to spying a few birds in the garden, perhaps the occasional hungry squirrel and very occasional glimpses of the odd urban fox. Not any more ! Over the last few years in my garden alone I’ve had swallows, a pheasant, grass snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, jays, woodpeckers, hedgehogs, slow worms, buzzards, foxes, bats and sheep (which roam wild in the Forest), and while out walking in the woods I’ve seen deer, badgers, goshawks and wild boar. Only a few nights ago we awoke to find a long-eared bat flying around the bedroom !
To my mind, there’s something very special about living in and amongst the natural world in this way, and in particular the larger animals. It’s very easy in the middle of a big city to forget that our man-made environments of concrete, tarmac, steel and glass are not all there is on the planet. The continued presence of natural environments helps remind us of the undeveloped landscapes of generations ago, and that human beings form only part of the complex interconnected web of life on Earth. Ultimately our future still depends on healthy, sustainable ecosystems, and perhaps we might want to be a bit more aware of those around us ?
But the truth is that in many parts of the developed world, including the UK, there is very little original habitat left. In the UK at least this isn’t a new phenomena – people have been radically changing the landscape for thousands of years; the Surrey heathlands were once forests which were cut down by neolithic man, and many of what we consider the typically British tree species comprising our forests are not in fact native, having been introduced since the middle ages, including horse chestnuts, sycamores, walnuts, firs, poplars, larch and even the ‘English’ Elm.
Despite the pressures of development and sprawl, there is an increasing movement to deliberately re-create natural wilderness areas and landscapes – including reintroducing many of the large animal species that were hunted to extinction, or lost through habitat destruction. This ‘rewilding’ aims both to create and conserve habitat and species for it’s own sake, enhancing and preserving biodiversity, but importantly also to re-establish our relationship with the natural world, perhaps leading us to afford it more value, status and respect.
If you’re interesting in supporting conservation biology and rewilding in a small way you might consider planting a wildlife area in your garden, something I’ll be working on in my own garden next year.
If you think on longer term timescales then you might want to plant a prehistoric tree !
The Wollemi Pine is a species of tree once known only through the fossil record from 50 million years ago. But in 1994 a few trees were found growing happily in a valley not far from Sydney, Australia – now designated as the Wollemi National Park. To help conserve this living fossil, conservationists are promoting the idea of growing the trees in domestic settings throughout the world – and thanks to my brother-in-law, we now have one in our garden . . .
Not quite Jurassic Park, but you get the idea !
RELATED ARTICLES – Not Just the Plants That Grow
Photo by Schristia, via Flickr