Photography: Warren Draper
In his groundbreaking book Biophilia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), Edward O. Wilson proposed that humans are innately predisposed to seek out connections with nature and other lifeforms. Failure to connect with nature and non-human life leads to depression, anxiety and neurosis. Subsequent studies have shown the power of natural connections, even the view of a single tree from a hospital window will speed a patient’s recovery… imagine what a view of a rewilded forest would do.
And yet our culture is almost void of wildness. Our art and architecture rarely embraces — and is sometimes even detrimental to… — non-human life. Sci-fi (arguably our modern Utopias) almost never includes reference to existing non-human lifeforms and make-believe non-human ‘life’ (be it aliens or robots) are portrayed as an enemy in much the same way that persecuted non-humans (species such as wolves, bears and sharks) are already treated by the ecologically illiterate (Jaws anyone?). Even our advertising is a hideously sterile environment filled with bleach-white walls and antibacterials. No wonder modern humans are so sickly, disconnected and prone to allergies.
Working at Bentley Urban Farm (BUF), I have seen the dramatic changes which take place when people are engaged with growing and exposed to the natural world. BUF is part upcycled market garden (we use reclaimed materials to repair and maintain a former horticultural training centre so that we can teach people how to grow fresh and healthy food), part permaculture inspired rewilding project. We grow food in ways which also aids the development of non-human beings such as bees, dragonflies and frogs. It isn’t for everyone, but it is surprising how many people feel a genuine change when they engage with the process of growing and/or rewilding.
Every town should have a garden. Somewhere where people can just come together for no other reason than to enjoy the non-human in a wild or semi-wild environment. Studies in biophilia have shown that it is as important to human wellbeing as clean air and water… although we know only too well that even these are not always seen as a priority. Everybody knows we need more trees, but we are are still actively removing (killing) them in urban areas… 5G is the latest reason for wilful destruction of our biophilic wealth — God forbid that a tree gets in the way of your fridge’s ability to order your milk.
Every home needs a garden or shared growing space. Every school should have a market garden. Every university a farm. Every farm field requires wildlife-friendly edges to act as wildlife corridors to re-connect our natural heritage (stunningly, two fifths of modern farm fields don’t even have earthworms… the basic requirement for healthy soil). And every existing nature reserve, greenbelt and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) should be protected — both with stricter legal protection and expanded wild buffer zones — to create a wilder world for future generations.
Thankfully, in response to the climate and biodiversity emergency, Doncaster is currently taking the first steps in building a brighter, braver, more biophilic future. There will be opportunities for everyone to get directly involved with rewilding our borough and ensuring that we all have access to the healing power of the natural world. We’ll be reporting on this in more detail in a future Doncopolitan. In the meantime… go wild!