The East London Garden Society

Losing Touch with the Natural World


Research suggests that British people are becoming increasingly detached from wildlife, the countryside and nature. Seven out of ten people in a survey by Jordans Cereals admitted they felt they were losing touch with the natural world, while a third said they did not know enough about the subject to teach their own children. One in three people could not identify an oak tree. This detachment has negative consequences for conservation since people can’t and won’t rally round to save something of which they are not aware. A previous major report warned that Britain is among the ‘most nature‐depleted’ countries in the world.

This is urban alienation at its most literal. Humans have intervened so decisively in the processes that create life on Earth that we are increasingly aware only of our own interventions, and not of the vast ecosystems that make them possible. Nature reminds us that we are a small part of something vast, complex, ever‐evolving and infinitely precious. It reminds us that, as part of this system, we are precious, too.

Yet all around us is self‐destruction. Senior doctors and health charities warn that heavy drinking will kill 65,000 people over the next five years, at a cost to the NHS of £16.74bn. They are asking for an urgent crackdown on cheap alcohol and further restrictions on the advertising of booze, to at least help to avert the problem. Many people are trying to escape from themselves and their lives. To an extent the measures work, simply making it harder for people to purchase their poison. But it’s a strategy that makes a difference only after so many other aspects of a life have already gone wrong.

The number of ‘self‐exclusions’ from gambling websites have reached one million, this being a process whereby people with problematic gambling habits apply themselves to be banned from the sites that feed their addiction most. It is incredible that so many people are powerless in the face of their addiction, and have to find the impetus themselves to engage with the bureaucracy that places temptation out of reach.

These human problems are not going to be solved by a chart that identifies the top ten British garden birds. But it’s hard to resist the idea that people are losing their place in the world, in a profound sense. Alienation from nature makes it easier for nature to be destroyed, on the planet or in a single human body. Conservationists are right to be worried, about loss of habitat, and about our vast loss of knowledge and respect for the system that sustains us.

(From an article by Deborah Orr ‐ 2017)