Since moving to Brighton I’ve got involved with helping to lead the Rewilding Sussex community group – a really energetic group of people who want to see more wild places, relax the tight human control over much of the British countryside and hopefully restore some of the species and ecological processes we’ve lost.
For most of the winter we were meeting in the pub every couple of weeks, to brainstorm urban rewilding ideas, plan stalls for science festivals and update each other on exciting places to see or wildlife news. As the days have got longer and warmer we’ve been able to go outside more, to try and find the wilder places and species near to where we live. Trips have gone to the Knepp Estate, a wild safari park with deer, horses and cattle recreating lost ecosystems, and Brede High woods, to find the wild boar that live there.
I have a strong interest in how science and art can be combined, and visual art was already something Rewilding Sussex had embraced. So at the end of last year I suggested that we contact ONCA (One Network for Conservation and the Arts) to host a rewilding exhibition. The idea was greeted very warmly and our plan to put together an exhibition to “Reimagine British Nature” has expanded to become a full programme of activities uniting the skills and enthusiasm of young ecologists and young artists and designers.
We are planning to have the full exhibition in September – but Chris Sandom (who founded Rewilding Sussex and generally loves all things wild) saw an opportunity to have an early trial run of the process. Four keen students from the Design Futures course at the University of Brighton took on the challenge of visualising how a wilder urban space could work. After a series of workshops, and expert guidance from their course coordinator, Carlos Peralta, they put together individual presentations for us, as the “client”, to see.
The work was really brilliant. Each student had taken a wonderfully unique approach to creating a wilder space, considering not only the physical spaces that people would move through, but how that experience would make them feel and behave. The discussion of their work became an exploration not just of biodiversity conservation issues, but of much wider social problems that rewilding will need to face and hopefully, in some places, solve.
Here is a taste of what the students really impressed us with:
Francesca’s idea to put pedestrians up in the trees. The gardens would be a wild space, with no human access. Instead, people would interact with it via canopy walkways and remote controlled drones operated from above the tree tops.
Marco’s green roof revolution. In a community driven movement, the rooftops of Brighton become a network of grasslands, interconnected with bridges and ropeways to maintain native populations and provide habitat to bring more species into urban areas.
Chloe’s wild homes for all. The gardens at the centre of Brighton are transformed into a more complex habitat, with banks of trees, caves and waterways. In amongst this, shelter and facilities are provided for the homeless.
Keenan’s new rewilding traditions. Focussing on the importance of community centres and shared practices, new wild temples will provide the space for people to learn about native wild species, plant trees to mark life events, and be part of a group placing a high value on nature and natural processes.
I am really excited to see what is developed for the full exhibition!