Why I don’t want life to go back to normal

Projects like this one by The Redbridge Nature Conservation Team and volunteers to plant an area und

Projects like this one by The Redbridge Nature Conservation Team and volunteers to plant an area under the A12 with wildflowers and fruit trees should be part of how we redesign cities in future - Credit: citizenside.com

Like many wildlife expert Bob Gilbert has enjoyed connecting with nature during lockdown - and hopes we will carry our enthusiasm forward in redesigning our cities

Bob got huge pleasure from spotting a wood mouse in his garden like this one captured by John Smith

Bob got huge pleasure from spotting a wood mouse in his garden like this one captured by John Smith Picture: JOHN SMITH - Credit: JOHN SMITH

I have, like many others, spent a lot more time sitting in my garden over the past weeks and I daily give thanks for the fact that I have one, in an area where so many families are confined to an indoor space.

Spending time there, and living more slowly, I have become even more aware of the detailed daily comings and goings of the wildlife; the restless flight of the holly blue butterflies, the starlings and sparrows bringing their new broods to the feeders, the blackcap singing somewhere in the street beyond and the white campion flowers that come on to smell each evening.

But there is something more than this going on, which is almost in the form of a new relationship. The birds now go about their business almost oblivious of my presence. The female blackbird comes, when I am still, and pecks about the woodchip path almost at my feet. And last week, when I put my cup of coffee on the ground beside me, a wood mouse wandered from beneath a clump of plants and came up nosily to sniff it. I can’t tell you how happy it made me.

I don’t think I am alone in experiencing this new relationship.

We have heard from many how they are more aware of bird song, how they have felt ‘closer to nature’ or how much more they are appreciating being outdoors.

And it’s got me thinking about the future. I hope that Coronavirus goes away soon.

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But I do not wish for us to ‘get back to normal’. I hope that a great many things will change; among them a new regard for the importance of community over capital, a continuing appreciation of the value of quieter streets, and a re-evaluation of the role of some of the most disregarded in our society -the road sweepers, bin collectors, bus drivers and care workers. And as well as all this, there is something about a new appreciation of nature -and the way it relates to the design of our cities.

If I walk in one direction from my house I get to a place of high glass and steel blocks, a place where nothing can nest, where nothing can feed and where any naturalness would be managed out of existence.

It is the place, in short, where the wild things aren’t.

If I walk in the other direction I get to another new development where swift nesting holes have been incorporated into buildings and where sustainable drainage features are sown with wild flowers. The first represents our long prevalent attitude towards the city and the pursuit of a deliberate induced sterility, one that sees nature as a nuisance at best and, at worst, as a public enemy.

The other, I hope, represents the growth of a new sensibility.

This is what I long for; the development of a biodiverse city where human beings and other species live alongside each other to their mutual benefit.

It is not a new science. We have the tools to achieve it already. They vary from low-tech actions like simply leaving parts of our parks uncut through to new building solutions like living walls, green rooves, swales and reimagined road spaces. Internationally there are wonderful examples, like the Bosco verticale in Milan, a tower block that literally bristles with trees at every level; and even whole city approaches, like that of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The potential benefits would take several more articles to expound but they include flood relief, temperature regulation, energy savings, reductions in noise and air pollution and gains in both physical and mental health.

But most of all, they represent to me, an increase in human happiness.

There is a wonderful passage in the Biblical book of Isaiah envisaging a world in which ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ….and a little child shall lead them’.

I realise, of course, that it won’t quite be like that, and that death and predation are a part of the natural order of things. But it serves as an inspirational vision of ‘the peaceable kingdom’, rather than what we have been pleased to characterise for several generations as our ‘war against nature’.

And while I’m holding out for the new and more natural city, it goes without saying that it will include more gardens and public spaces where people can sit and watch the wood mice, and think these same thoughts for themselves.