Growing a Greener Henley – January 2023

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“We’ve been brought up in a degraded environment so we assume that’s the way it should be” Alastair Driver

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much good at keeping New Year resolutions. Perhaps it’s the wrong time of year to pressure ourselves to change? Instead, we could make January the month for hibernation – a quiet time to think, but without a resolution in sight.

I’ve been thinking about a comment made by Alastair Driver, Director of Rewilding Britain and a resident of Sonning, at the ‘Rewilding the Mind’ Symposium last summer. He said we are so used to our nature-depleted environment that we accept it as the norm. That’s quite a worrying thought. Is there something we can we do to bring more wild nature to our gardens and to our town? Learning more about the rewilding conversation could be a good place to start.

Large scale rewilding. How much do we know about it?

There’s been some controversy about the concept of rewilding and the large-scale restoration of ecosystems. Alastair says that rewilding 5% of the UK would be enough to make a difference without impacting food production. I’m using some of my January hibernation to learn more about the work of Rewilding Britain and Knepp . I’m also reading Jake Fienne’s book ‘Land Healer’. Perhaps you heard him speak at the 2022 Henley Literary Festival?

Rewilding our thinking

We could all start to make a difference if we followed the advice of Dr Gemma Jerome, Director of Building with Nature . She encourages us to see the wild nature in our gardens and the green areas in our town as “the home and food source of our fellow creatures, rather than as an inconvenience”. While this makes a lot of sense to many of us, not everyone is comfortable with it – yet.

Information can help

As Gemma goes on to say, it’s important to provide people with information. If keeping green spaces in a ‘degraded state’ is the norm, then allowing them to flourish without any explanation can seem close to neglect. Or ‘laziness’ – as I overheard someone say last summer! In Stroud, the council puts a wooden heart-shaped sign in areas where things are being left to grow. Henley’s wonderful Badgemore Primary School takes a similar approach with explanatory signs on its verges. If we plan to increase ‘wild nature’ perhaps we’ll need to up the information too – at least for a while.

Learning from a new generation of gardeners and food growers

We can learn a lot from other people too. In my quiet hibernation, I’m enjoying finding out more about a new generation of gardeners and food growers. Poppy Okotcha and Sid Hill are two of my current favourites. They both keep nature firmly at the centre of their thinking and growing. Tried and tested old favourites are Charles Dowding and Ian Tolhurst. Plenty of inspiration for my allotment plans as they begin to surface. Happy hibernation!

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