I’ve always loved wild places.

To explore, or merely to be. Alone, with friends, or with a dog.

My favourite colours can neatly be summed up as those which dominate the landscape of heather moorland. Especially when the sky is stormy-but-bright.

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[Image description: Photo of Exmoor, looking from one hill covered in bracken and late flowering heather across a combe and over to another hill. The further away hill has gorse and wind-stunted hawthorn trees on. The sky above is dark with clouds, but with bright sunlight shining through.]
But the UK is currently experiencing a sharp decline in those natural places, as more and more land is required to be turned over to housing, transport, and increasingly less sustainable food production.  Indeed many parts of the UK that people may perceive as wild (as I endlessly corrected my geography teacher at school, sorry Dr Twinn) are in fact environments heavily managed by humans with very little scope for native biodiversity.

Yes, including my ever favourite moors. Where are all the trees?

At university I studied geography, with learning in geology, biology, and archaeology thrown in (hurrah for the Scottish university system). The modules I picked for honours and my dissertation were heavily angled towards ethnobotany, geobotany, and phytogeography (people, plants, and the environment, and how they each in turn affect and limit the others).

For the past 20 years I’ve been involved on and off in conservation volunteering. Helping to manage landscapes, both small and large, to be more sustainable and benefit the species that would naturally call those places home. But the downside of projects like this is that progress is slow if you’re doing them in an ecologically sensitive manner. Change is small year on year; it’s only when taking a step back to look at the bigger picture across multiple if not 10s of years, that you can appreciate the growth.

We here in Britain are seeing biodiversity loss happening at breakneck speed. A few years ago it was quoted that 1 in 10 of our native species are under threat from extinction.

One of the biggest problems to overcome is that of fractured landscapes. It’s all very well if the overall percentage of land which fits xyz brief has increased, but life in a vacuum is not sustainable. These patches of land need to be connected to enable life to flourish.

Often as an individual, one can feel powerless to help.

All is not lost. There’s one truly unparalleled way we can help; gardens. Be that a rural garden, a small urban patch, a balcony, just a few hanging baskets or pots. Outside space that is our own. It may be only very limited space, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that thinking that with such a small space you can’t achieve much. Like using your feet as a consumer, lots of people acting individually can have a big impact.

But it’s more than that.

Your small dot of space is a stone’s throw from someone else’s small dot of space ad infinitum. It may not be an official sanctioned green corridor, but for our plants and wildlife living in this oh so very human world, it can be the most sustainable option. Especially for insects and the plants they pollinate.

You don’t need to turn all of your outside space over to nature. Whatever is doable for you is better than nothing. Your patch might be what makes or break the chain.

In autumn 2018 I moved to live in a rural village in Northern England. I went from a small concrete back yard with falling down raised beds filled with butterfly-friendly plants, to this expanse. I knew from the start that I wanted to do my bit. Create my own dot.

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[Image description: Photo of a small, narrow, and rather messy back yard. The ground is concrete blocks, and there’s falling down narrow brick raised beds on the right and along the back. The further bed has recently had spreading ivy cut back, and insect-friendly plants put into the new space.]
However, it is important that you take a step back and consider what would be native to where you live. What might be a more natural area in one place, may well be completely the opposite for yours. It can be beneficial to take a step back and just… observe.

With this in mind, over my first year of living here I have mostly just stood back and let the natural plant and animal life do their thing with the seasons. Before making any changes to the environment, it’s important to see what’s already here. Do I need to make big changes for a kickstart? Or do I merely need to nurture and encourage, shifting the priorities? Unsurprisingly, the answer is a bit of both.

Hopefully I’ve taken some of the guesswork out of the details.

Now I am more informed, I can plan.

And then do.

[Image description: Top shelf in my non-fiction bookcase. Predominantly science-based books on animals, covering dogs, cats, rats, and sheep. Also on-theme folklore. There are small carved wooden and rock animals in front of the books.]
[Image description: Middle shelf in my non-fiction bookcase. Predominantly books covering British landscapes, plants, trees and animals. Plus etymology and camera books, and university-level stream hydrology textbook. Also two tall hardback children’s picture books thrown in for good measure that don’t fit on shelves elsewhere. There are a couple of wooden ornaments in front of the books, including a spalted birch owl.]
[Image description: Bottom shelf of my non-fiction bookcase. There are two giant sideways books at the base of the shelf that weigh a tonne; one on global wilderness, one with photographs of horses. On top of them is a university geography textbook, a short version of Flora Britannica (to compliment the big one on the shelf above?!), a book about bees, and then multiple plant ID and foraging books. Also four more childrens books and a carved pear tree made out of pear wood acting as a bookend.]
My non-fiction books. No guesses as to my long term special interests.