“Perhaps more teachers could recognise nature not just as something which is taught, but as a teacher in its own right.”
The first ever BBC Countryfile on cities started with a segment on the movement to make London a National Park City. It was wonderful to meet Countryfile presenter Anita Rani on Parkland Walk to chat with her about the campaign.
“Fundamentally this is about improving the health of all Londoners, no matter how wild they are..”
Watch from 01:50 on BBC iPlayer.
“With 8m trees and 14,000 species of wildlife, the capital should be recognised as an ecological as well as a financial centre, say campaigners — and the mayor agrees”
Read this feature by Simon Usborne on my 563km big walk around London on the Financial Times website.
Photo by Tom Jamieson.
Once a year National Geographic Explorers come together for the annual National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington DC. This year, over 140 explorers came gathered to collaborate and share their work. As ever, this year was truly inspirational.
For the first time ever you can watch the presentations online. The full schedule of all the speakers can be found here.
The “Exploration in Progress” session is a quick-fire update from over 30 explorers. Each explorer is given just 3 minutes to share their current work.
Here’s my short update.
My keynote talk for ESRI UK’s Annual Conference attended by around 3,000 people.
“What is a park? For most of us, a park is a place apart – a reserve of nature in a world increasingly dominated by human activities and arranged to fulfill human needs and desires. But a park is also for people – a place of refuge for the human soul, which tends to wither when long separated from green and growing things.
John Muir, the great naturalist, captured this dual purpose at the dawn of the national parks movement. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity,” Muir wrote in 1901. Our concept of parks, especially in North America, Europe, and Australia, has remained largely unchanged since.
Daniel Raven-Ellison, a self-described “guerrilla geographer” and National Geographic explorer, would like to change it.”
Photo: Luke Massey
A few weeks ago I went for a hike to Wandsworth’s highest point with Rick Pearson from London’s Peaks, a new podcast.
“The premise of the podcast is simple: each episode, one notable resident of one of the twelve inner-city boroughs will lead us on a walk to the highest point within that borough. Along the way, we’ll talk fondest memories, hopes for the future and, crucially, what that area of London means to them.”
You can listen to all the podcasts here.
From an early age I had the freedom to go exploring. Along with my brothers and friends, I would play well-organised games of ‘hide and seek’, ‘forty-forty’ or ‘capture the flag’ over large areas of woodland. I was good at it, too. While some of my friends would hide behind a log wearing bright clothing, I would camouflage myself with soil and old branches and position myself in the one place hardly anyone looks, on a branch high up in the trees. I would imagine myself as a lynx, a shadow in the woodland’s canopy, quietly watching as people passed below without noticing me. In the heat and excitement of the games, I used these quiet moments to tune into the wild around me. I might watch a woodlouse navigate an archipelago of moss, a woodpecker feeding its young, a family of deer observing my friends trying to find me.
We should not see childhood just as a period of time; we should see it as a place
At the age of 10, we made the most incredible camps. Once, taking advantage of a fallen tree…
Continue reading on the Centre for London’s London Essays website.
First posted on NationalGeographic.com/Cisco
Back in June, I started my walk across all of the UK’s national parks and cities in St David’s, Britain’s smallest city. Since then, I’ve spent 338 hours taking 2,443,845 steps and walking 1,686km. To put that into perspective, equivalent to walking the length of the country and then some.
During all that time, I wore an an Emotiv EEG headset which collected data over 5 million times during the expedition: taking a 3D snapshot of activity inside my brain, transferring the reading from my headset to my smartphone, using an algorithm to work out my emotions and then sharing the data through the cloud for geotagging, analysis, visualisation and storage. I’m now working with neuroscientists and a range of experts to crunch and analyse the data. I hope to have some findings to share later this year.
What has become clear to me is the enormous power of this kind of technology to improve our lives. I really felt that wearing the headset influenced my behaviour. Much like how other wearable devices (such as activity trackers) influence how far I walk and how many steps I take, the brainware put me more in touch with my feelings. On a very personal and practical level, I feel that is has not only helped me to avoid stress but also actively search for interest in everyday places.
The opportunity is for technologies like these to become more affordable, used by far more people and connected through the internet of everything. We already know that data is being used to in many areas to improve health and social care, save energy and preserve the environment and help commuters travel with increased efficiency.Data revealing how thousands or millions of people feel about specific or different kinds of places could directly influence how they are designed. I hope that big data from a crowd of brains will add to the growing evidence for why we should make cities greener, wilder, less polluted and more healthy.
Influenced by wearing the headset, I had many thoughts and ideas about how we could make cities better. My lasting impression is that the UK is a wonderful country, but it’s also bursting with potential and opportunities to make it even more so. Here are just a few ideas of things I think would make the UK better.
Be more inviting
We should strive to make our cities more inviting and accessible to all by growing habitat for wildlife, having benches outside our houses, prioritising streets for children and animals instead of cars, hanging swings on street corners and offsetting every negative “no” sign with a positive “do” sign.
Be more interesting
We could increase visual interest in our cityscapes by erecting sculptures on roundabouts, curating exhibitions on household window sills, designing streets to boost bird populations and amplify their songs, chalking poetry onto paths and encouraging or making in mandatory for retail parks to have as much green as possible and make climbing or art walls on the side of their buildings.
Be more invested
We should be more invested in places by not just protecting nature and heritage but actually creating it, allowing culture and life to thrive wherever possible. We should walk more, engage with each other more and invest in making places more inviting and more interesting.
Be more connected
We should be better connected by ensuring everyone can always get a decent data connection, (unless they are deep inside a cave), using sensors and displays to reveal and visualise current levels of air pollution, monitoring flood risks at a hyper-local level and live screen nearby wildlife in city centres.
Many of the above ideas are personal, local and low tech. Increased connectivity will help us share, engage and evaluate these actions and many more to work towards, more liveable, healthier and wilder cities.
The next part of my journey is to use all of my Wild Cities expedition experiences, ideas and findings to further my work to make London a successful National Park City. To find out when the final Wild Cities results are published and how the London National Park City campaign is going you can follow me on Twitter at @DanRavenEllison.
Urban areas cover approximately three per cent of the world as a whole, and seven per cent of the UK. They are a distinct habitat that, in the case of large cities, can stretch across entire landscapes. As you’d expect, our largest, most diverse, most complex and influential of these habitats is to be found in London. Covering around 1,600km it’s larger in area than the Peak District, and it’s not just home to 8.6 million Homo sapiens.
It doesn’t matter how often I see a red fox, my heart skips a beat every time. I see them all the time where I live in Hanwell…
The this article in BBC Wildlife Magazine.