As regular nine to five work life resumes, it’s a challenge many of us are facing. But before buzzing back to our concrete hives, conservationist and wilderness expert Ray Mears suggests we take a hybrid approach to indoor/outdoor work/life balance.
“Too many of our policy makers are sat indoors in buildings, with artificial light and air conditioning,” he complains. “In Tokyo, the businessmen rent spaces under cherry trees during the cherry blossom season. I love the fact that they take the time to discuss the merits of the blossoms.”
Recently, London’s workforce had an opportunity to follow the example of those Japanese trailblazers when one of the capital’s busiest areas was transformed into a wild garden.
Around 6,000 shrubs, flowers and trees were placed temporarily beneath Admiral Nelson’s toes, as Trafalgar Square – a spot favoured for protests and rallies – was transformed into a natural paradise to raise awareness of our planet’s urgent need for improved biodiversity.
“It’s going to turn a few heads,” chuckles Mears, who partnered with Innocent drinks for the one-day extravaganza, kickstarting the company’s Big Rewild campaign, to protect and preserve two million hectares of land.
But beyond the spectacle of emerald-green lions and tritons dressed in petals, there’s a bigger message Mears is keen to communicate. People need to wake up to the value of green spaces – and soon.
Years of wildlife filmmaking and various expeditions have helped deepen the 58-year-old’s appreciation for the importance of biodiversity – especially pertinent in the UK, where almost 50% of our biodiversity has been lost, making us one of the worst offenders in in Europe.
“The whole world depends on a complex infrastructure of ecosystems, everything’s interconnected,” he explains. “If you lose one thing, it normally has a knock-on effect somewhere else down the line.”
Restoring wild spaces undoubtedly benefits flora and fauna, but there are positive implications for humans, too. The rewards of green spaces extend much further than forest fences and park boundaries, insists Mears.
“A green space encourages us to use intuitive parts of our brain, which is very good for our psychological health. It makes us sharper, it reduces anxiety, it makes us feel good.
“Nature’s very good at repairing herself if we give her a start. And that’s what it’s all about. And I think she will help to repair us too.” Big or small, there are many ways we can help to make a difference.
As part of the Big Rewild campaign, three million plantable seed papers from The Orchard Project will be handed out to help the public start their own rewilding journey.
Mears, who lives in Sussex, champions the value of wildflowers in gardens – such as cowslips and primroses, which attract pollinating bees. Herbaceous borders are really important, he says.
Politically, we should also be putting pressure on governments to invest in green spaces. Mears cites the example of an area in South London where he grew up, which has since been sacrificed to Croydon’s urban sprawl.
“I think greed is one of the problems. We need to think about making the world a nicer place to live in. And that’s what greenery does for us. It does improve our lives.”
One way to engage the public with nature is by encouraging people to connect with their environments – no matter how built up or developed they might be.
Even though the UK lacks the megafauna of Africa or Asia, Mears insists there are still incredible species to discover on our doorsteps – an ant that takes a ride on the back of a bee, nightingales trilling above the noise of traffic to perform a symphonic dawn chorus. “The more closely you monitor nature, the more wonders you discover,” insists Mears, confessing, “there’s no magic in watching things on television.”
One of his greatest joys, he enthuses, is following the tracks of a roe deer through the forest. “To share that moment, to feel the breeze on your face, to understand the temperature and the humidity that are all connected with that event. In terms of wildlife filmmaking, we’re all doomed to failure, because there is nothing that will ever replace that feeling.”
Of course, tuning into finer details and learning to appreciate the subtleties of nature requires patience. But according to Mears, that’s exactly the point.
“You have to take time to watch nature. And that’s really good. Because in a strange way, the moment you give up your time to observe nature, you’re rejecting all those other things that were stealing your time. And that gives you a wonderful sense of relief.”