“Nature is not an inconvenience or an other; it is not a luxury or frivolity – nature is a human right.”
I was delighted when campaigner Ellen Miles asked me to contribute a chapter to Nature is a Human Right, her new anthology. I love the sentence above by Ellen which sums the book up.
My chapter asks… What if your city was a national park?
The book is a manifesto for a healthier, happier, more equal future and features original writing from world-leading scientists, activists, artists and more – digging into why green spaces are so vital to our welfare, the injustices that prevent many people from accessing them, and how we can create a nature-abundant future for all.
Each captivating piece in the collection explores why nature-contact should be recognised as a human right through its own unique lens – including mental health, creativity, anti-racism and climate action – in an international, intergenerational call for change.
Ellen is an environmental justice activist from London and founder of Nature is a Human Right, the campaign to make access to green space a right for all. She’s also the founder of Dream Green, a social enterprise that educates and equips people to become guerrilla gardeners. In her spare time, she is a guerrilla gardener, and runs a local action group in Hackney.
“An exhilarating new film by National Geographic Explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison takes the high road to visual variety – and scientific insight – in tribute to the country’s wildest places.
In a period when even local travel is in woefully short supply, a nostalgia for both spectacle and variety is understandable. But to Daniel Raven-Ellison, the National Geographic Explorer behind UK National Parks in 100 Seconds, there is a deeper rationale at play behind his new film.
“I’m really interested in the gap between what we think the UK looks like and the reality on the ground,” Raven-Ellison tells National Geographic. “Back in 2018 I ran a poll with Friends of the Earth and we found that nearly 1 in 3 people think that over half of the UK is built on. Depending on how you measure it, the reality is closer to 5%.”
“That gap in people’s geographical imaginations is a big issue,” he adds, “as people are forming opinions and making decisions based on a misunderstanding of what makes up our country. That matters because people are voting, consuming and acting on issues such as migration, housing and making space for nature based on it.” Simon Ingram
Two years ago, Jack Smith and I made a short film called The UK in 100 Seconds. Made in collaboration with Friends of the Earth and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, the purpose of the film was to show how we’re using land in the UK.
The idea was simple. To go on a 100 metre walk to make a 100 second film with each second representing 1% of what the UK looks like from above.
In the UK we have 15 beautiful, distinctive and important National Parks. From the New Forest to the Cairngorms and Pembrokeshire to the Broads, our National Parks include a diverse range of landscapes, habitats and uses. The overall picture is complex, hard to imagine and difficult to get a proper sense of proportion.
When they are all added together… how much of our National Parks are covered in woodlands, crops, pastures, quarries or urban areas?
The film will be both beautiful and challenging. It will help us to better imagine what our National Parks look like and what they could be like in the future.
According to the United Nations, 1 million of the world’s 8 million species are at risk of extinction. Research by the WWF has found that the population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians have experienced a decline of an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. Here in the UK, work by the Mammal Society has revealed that 1 in 4 native mammals are now at risk of extinction in Britain.
In addition, The Committee on Climate Change, an independent, statutory body established to advise UK and devolved governments has said that “the UK’s net-zero target will not be met without changes in how we use our land”.
I am a geographer and I make these films to challenge myself and others to think differently about how we are using land. I am driven by the knowledge that we can make much more space for nature and I want more of us to see that.
My role is developing, directing, producing and sharing the films. I get the pleasure of being the walker in them too.
The project is brought to life by Jack Smith who is our highly talented Director of Photography and drone operator. I write the scripts in collaboration with Rob Bushby and the voice over artist. We then work with a team that includes a geographic information specialist, sound editor, voice over artist, video colourist and video editor. The whole project is managed through Topolocus, my geography innovation business.
We will be making a single film to represent all of the UK’s National Parks combined into one. This will mean travelling to a diverse range of National Parks, but we will not visit them all. We will likely keep the National Parks we do visit anonymous.
We will likely use Copernicus CORINE Land Cover Data to inform the kinds of land we film and in what proportions. Copernicus is a European system for monitoring the Earth. Data is collected by different sources, including Earth observation satellites. This is the same dataset that we used for the UK and Netherlands films.
This will mean us working to film:
The number of classifications of land we film will depend on how well the project is funded, weather conditions and any travel restrictions.
After filming in all of the locations the footage is edited to accurately reflect the data in its correct proportions.
This is a rapid crowdfunding campaign that will only be open for two weeks. National conditions allowing, we plan to shoot the film this autumn while there is so much colour on the trees. If the Government introduces restrictions that prevent filming or if the weather is continually bad, we will move the filming to spring 2021.
“Once you’re allowed to visit family or friends around the UK, why not ditch the car or train and go on foot instead? That’s what the creators of Slow Ways want to encourage. It’s an ambitious new project to create a network of walking routes between all of Great Britain’s towns and cities, as well as thousands of villages.
The brainchild of geographer and explorer Dan Raven-Ellison, and supported by Ordnance Survey, the idea is to get people walking between locations they might otherwise drive or take public transport to – via existing off-road paths and bridleways – and to promote slower types of travel.” Jane Dunford
“Walkers, your country needs you – and the inability to walk very far at the moment needn’t be a barrier.
An ambitious new project led by a National Geographic Explorer is recruiting an army of 500 volunteers to create the most comprehensive network of walking routes in Great Britain – linking every village, town and city via the nation’s intricate web of public rights of way.
The Slow Ways project is the brainchild of geographer and explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison, who is seeking to find a silver lining to the cloud of coronavirus lockdown. With the population confined to home, his intrepid routes-without-boots scheme requires nothing more than a computer, map-reading skills and a galvanised public spirit. His goal is to plot more than 4,000 walking routes on an online map, using the 200,000km of footpaths and bridleways that trace their way between village, town and city.”
“The National Park City idea is all about making cities greener, healthier, and wilder, says Daniel Raven-Ellison, a geographer and National Geographic explorer who originated the concept six years ago.
“What an amazing moment for London. Celebrating, honouring and recognising the biodiversity and greenness of this great city,” said Jayne Miller, Chair of World Urban Parks. It’s a challenge to cities around the world to venerate, protect, and increase the green spaces, Miller said in a statement.”
“As part of our United Kingdom of Solutions focus, we meet Daniel Raven-Ellison. The former geography teacher has spearheaded the movement for London to become the world’s first national park city – and it’s happening later this month.
“I feel proud, excited and most of all, really hopeful.” After six years of campaigning, Daniel Raven-Ellison has his sights firmly fixed on 22 July: the day when London will officially become the world’s first national park city. This former geography teacher – the driving force behind the movement to make the capital greener, healthier and wilder – has proved a natural at enthusing people to join his imaginative leap about how and what cities can be.”
Cities: Nature’s New Wild is a brilliant new wildlife series from the BBC. Looking at the relationship between wildlife, people and cities around the world, the final episode finishes with Beth Collier and Wild in the City, Friend’s of the Earth’s 10xGreener project and the London National Park City.
Watch the whole episode on iPlayer here and skip to 52 minutes for “Tales from the Wild Side” that focuses on London.