Rewilding The City

How are different groups taking active steps to make cities wilder? By elucidating the meanings and practices of rewilding in the city, this project asks how rewilding is refracted by the urban, and how the urban is refracted by rewilding. It investigates the role of cities in nature recovery more broadly and centres the importance of maintenance and repair in the production of urban wilds, bringing together contemporary literatures in political economy, posthuman geographies, and urban ecologies.

To this end, several case studies are harnessed to conceptualise urban wilds. Currently, these include: beaver reintroductions in the UK and Germany; forms of “low maintenance” gardening in Newcastle; and peregrine falcons. Further work will be conducted on less charismatic creatures and processes obscured from the rewilding discourse.

Jonny is currently conducting fieldwork on beaver reintroduction sites in Enfield and Ealing, London in collaboration with Dr Thomas Fry and Professor Jamie Lorimer. Alongside a series of illustrative journal articles, this research is designed to inform a monograph on rewilding cities.

Rethinking the role of state institutions in nature recovery

The English government (environmental policy is largely devolved) has ambitious plans for nature recovery, but its proposed strategy positions the government as a relatively passive player whose job is to create compliance markets and de-risk private investments in nature to ensure they deliver appealing returns. However, there are whole host of risks and negative unintended ecological and social consequences that could arise (Chausson et al. 2023). There is a strong case for states to take a more proactive, mission-driven approach to guiding nature recovery (Mazzucato 2021; Kedward et al. 2022). We are running a workshop with senior figures from government, eNGOs, finance and academic to explore the public policy programme that would underpin a mission-driven approach to driving nature recovery.

PIs on this project:

Dr Sophus zu Ermgassen (Department of Biology, Oxford).

Katie Kedward (Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UCL)

Professor Erik Gomez-Baggethun (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)

Equitable distribution of nature-rich accessible green space: An Oxfordshire case study

There are well known links between health and spending time in green spaces[1], as shown by the increased interest in social prescribing[2]. However, there is evidence that the most deprived communities have least access to green space, that more deprived communities receive greater benefits from green space1, and that not all green spaces have similar impacts, with more biodiverse areas providing greater benefits[3]. Oxfordshire’s Local Nature Partnership wishes to understand the equality of access to green space, in terms of quantity and quality, across the county to help prioritise effort and funding.

Working in collaboration with LCNR health, ecology, and society work packages, the Oxford Martin School’s Agile Initiative and Oxfordshire’s Local Nature Partnership, the project will investigate the distribution and biodiversity characteristics of accessible green space in relation to socio-economic factors in Oxfordshire, a LCNR case study area.

The end product will be a report on county-wide priorities for provision of nature-rich accessible green space, produced in consultation with a stakeholder group identified by the Local Nature Partnership and collaborators to ensure that report recommendations are relevant and achievable.

[1] Smith et al. 2023. Agile Initiative Research Brief: Embedding nature recovery in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
[2] Sandhu et al., 2022. 3Aerts et al., 2018.

Extension service provision facilitating landscape-scale nature recovery

Context and rationale

Different landscapes present a series of varying physical and social challenges to nature recovery, resulting in efforts requiring localised and targeted approaches. The UK Government Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) initiative represents one such approach for providing strategic catchment-scale farm advice. The initiative predominantly focuses on mitigating agricultural water pollution but there is overlooked potential to expand the CSF’s remit to facilitate farmer collaborations and deliver further landscape-scale nature recovery. With the Government’s Landscape Recovery Scheme due to roll-out in 2024 (Defra, 2023), this project will contribute crucial evidence to inform effective policy by answering the following research questions:

1.    What are the current niches of different organisations providing farm advice (also known as extension services) in facilitating landscape-scale nature recovery? What and where do gaps exist in advice provision?

2.    What is the potential of the CSF initiative to facilitate broader landscape-scale nature recovery?


Planned activities and outputs

We plan to conduct qualitative and statistical analysis of data collected through semi-structured interviews gathered during winter 2022/23 from 140 farm advisors across government, industry and non-profit organisations in England.

The two project outputs will be:

  1. An analytical framework to examine existing advice provision at different spatial scales
  2. A policy briefing summarising results from applying the analytical framework to our interview data at the regional and national scale, comparing advisory niches of different sector organisations for nature recovery. The briefing will identify gaps in advice provision and highlight potential opportunities for organisations, such as CSF, to expand their remit and provide advice on landscape-scale nature recovery.


The Good Natured Conservation Optimism Short Film Festival

The Good Natured Conservation Optimism short film festival, now in its fifth year, shares hopeful stories of nature’s recovery and people’s stewardship of it from all over the world. From its inception, this annual event has been held in collaboration with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (with the exception of the pandemic in 2020). Over the past four years, the film festival has seen 479 submissions from 56 countries. Its virtual editions (see here for 2022) have been viewed on YouTube approximately 1,000 times each. The in-person event at the Oxford Museum of Natural History is usually attended by approximately 150 visitors, with consistently positive feedback from audience members and the top three words being used to describe the festival in 2022 as “fun”, “interesting” and “hope”.

For our 2023 edition, we are excited to partner with the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery. This includes the addition of a “Nature Recovery” category for the film festival, as well as an accompanying reception and art exhibition based on the prompt “What does nature recovery mean to you?” We will deliver a workshop on positive communication and stop motion animation, giving researchers at the LCNR the opportunity to make mini stop-motion animations and equipping them with skills to frame their work in new and creative ways.

More information here

We will be showing the Film Festival in the School of Geography on October 13th at 4.15pm.

More info and to book here


The landscape aesthetics of nature recovery

Ambitions for nature recovery in the UK involve profound changes to land use that will shift the ecological composition and appearance of different landscapes. Recovery commonly involves a transition from worked, agricultural landscapes towards those in which natural processes are given more autonomy. It aims to move from landscapes characterised by low biological abundance and diversity, linear landscape features, and tightly controlled processes towards those marked by biological abundance and diversity, complex landscape features, and unpredictable landscape dynamics.

Some British citizens care deeply about the appearance of the landscape and resist radical changes to land use and landscape composition. Although the rural landscape has undergone radical transformation in the last few centuries, there are powerful, conservative cultural ideals of the countryside as a timeless source of aesthetic, moral and political value that is threatened by change. Imagined archetypes with ecological and cultural baselines in a desired past persist into the present. These archetypes have been central to the history of the conservation of cultural landscapes in the UK.

The lowland English countryside and the Scottish Highlands offer two important examples of these archetypes. The first is exemplary of the English Pastoral and second of the Romantic Scottish Sublime. We anticipate that these two aesthetic ideals help frame the landscape preferences of key players in our two case study regions – rural Oxfordshire and the Scottish Cairngorms. They create the popular and powerful archetypes that are both shared and contested by many farmers, foresters, traditional conservationists, tourists, stalkers, and other rural publics. We expect that there is a good chance that they may both configure and restrict the ambitions of those planning and implementing nature recovery projects across the UK. They shape perceptions of responsible land management and of mess and messiness.

This project aims to test this hypothesis to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the common aesthetics of UK nature recovery?
  • How do they contrast with the pastoral and sublime, as expressed in Oxfordshire and the Cairngorms?
  • How might different publics and stakeholders be engaged in deliberating the aesthetics of nature recovery?
  • Is there are middle ground between the aesthetics of recovery and the aesthetics of pastoral and the sublime – for example in the aesthetics of regenerative agriculture?

Why study aesthetics?

Aesthetics involves the study of perception and the generally pleasant experience of a sight, sound and smell or taste. There is much debate about the degree to which aesthetics are socially constructed or innate. But research shows that aesthetics underpins both environmental ethics and politics. Aesthetics shape the emotional attachments people form with species and landscapes. It propels relations of curiosity, care, and protection, as well as dislike and disgust. Landscape aesthetics also reflects the predominant social order. They express powerful ways of seeing that may serve to naturalise the status quo. These ways of seeing are contextual and contingent and are thus contested. As a consequence, past and current debates about what is natural and right for the UK countryside are strongly shaped by aesthetic, as well as ecological and economic considerations.