DISCOVER Reading – Nature, Environment and Humans

So I know what I’m interested in, and there are probably 1000 ways I could take this project. Feels a bit much to try and narrow it down. I’ve been wondering what the point of it should be?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I mean by ‘nature’. People often think if it as ‘areas untouched by people’ but there isn’t really anywhere on the planet that doesn’t get impacted by humans, and actually some of our most treasured environments require careful management by us to thrive (not to mention that wilderness is a colonial construct and doesn’t really exist). 

Environmental writer Emma Marris argues that a much more helpful definition is:

“…anywhere where life thrives, anywhere where there are multiple species together, anywhere that’s green and blue and thriving and filled with life and growing.”

Through this lens there is nature all around us, both in and outside of our homes. How do we build a better relationship with it, and how do we draw attention to it? I think that if we take more notice of our surroundings, we will start to take better care of them. Feeling some ownership can be a good thing. Noticing specific plants or animals that were in abundance before and are now missing can help show real impact that things like global warming and pollution are having on the world.

I really don’t want to come out of this with just some pretty pictures and graphics of nature. One aspect I really find interesting is the idea of humans having a beneficial effect on their environment. We’re going to have some kind of impact (it’s impossible for any living things to have no impact) but when does that become a positive thing?

“It turned out that when you cut many trees to the base or cut off branches at a height sufficient to keep the sprouts away from browsing herds—processes that in English came to be called coppice and pollard—they simply sprouted again, creating more new trees, more new branches than you had when you started. It may be that the wonderful hazel—whose nut was the staple of Mesolithic Europe and which naturally grew in a multi-stem, repeatedly sprouting form—inspired this learning.

Thus began around the world a practice not of extraction and imposition but of grateful exchange. Together, people and trees made a new kind of woodland, full of specimens like the ancient Gloucestershire lime tree. The trees that had been cut lived not a shorter but a longer time, often a far longer time.”

(William Bryant Logan, 2020)

Are there other forms of positive intervention humans could be making?

Also, while I am most definitely not a Vogue reader, I was really interested to see that the August edition of Vogue is about ‘nature as a steadying force amid the chaos’ (Edward Enninful, 2020) – now feels like a good time to be exploring this topic. They commissioned images of nature from several artists, photographers and designers, as well as an accompanying essay.

“In its continuity and obliviousness to our human affairs, nature has always felt a safe refuge from emotional difficulty. But our re-engagement with nature in the Covid era has many facets. Many of us have mostly loved the natural world from a distance, as something seen through a window or on a television screen. But lockdown has radically enforced that separation, and has renewed our desire for wild places. Perhaps you have sat in isolation dreaming of a place of natural beauty: a view from a hill three counties away, the hot scent of gorse next to the cold and glittering sea. We have long presumed that, provided one has enough money and time, the whole world is open for us to visit. Covid is forcing us to recognise not only that this notion was unsustainable, but that you can connect with the natural world much closer to home.”

(Helen Macdonald, 2020)


William Bryant Logan (2020) Woods Work, Emergence Magazine. Available at: (Accessed: 22 July 2020).

Edward Enninful (2020) ‘Edward Enninful Unveils 14 Special Covers For Vogue’s August Issue’, VOGUE, August, p. 94.

Helen Macdonald (2020) ‘All across the land’, VOGUE, August, p. 94.