ReDiscover – thanks to everyone involved

Following a vast amount of work from all of the Rewilding Sussex team, our friends and superb collaborators, we have now come to the end of a very very successful show at ONCA.

We thought we would share some of the highlights with you here! And don’t worry if you missed it, we are going to be producing a short publication with all the best bits of the show and the workshops, on its way to you soon!

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ONCA gallery, opening night (photo: Lianne A Williams)

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Blockbuilders oculus rift takes visitors into a virtual rewilded Brighton (photos: Lianne A Williams, Claudia Gray)

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Seed-dispersing frisbees, part of a new Wild Games – a tournament that, through being played, can rewild and restore abandoned land (Photo: Claudia Gray)

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Trash Fox Sculpture highlights the role foxes play in recycling our waste. Pine marten and Squirrel head pieces from the Wild Games, designed to teach participants about how the native pine marten would predate on grey squirrels and could help the red squirrel recover (photos: Lianne A Williams)

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Posters illustrated by the talented Dan Locke, with text written by the students, explain every idea (Photos, Lianne A Williams, Claudia Gray)

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Nature viewing bench encourages you to sit and look at parts of the environment you might not have noticed before, with QR tags to tell you what you are looking at (Photo: Lianne A Williams)

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Beautifully crafted foraging basket you can use to collect tasty wild species (Photo: Lianne A Williams)

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Picnic Blanket depicting a range of natural species to the UK (Photo: Lianne A Williams)

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Thought wall – full of the students’ sketches and thoughts left behind by visitors to the gallery. Feel free to add more as a comment on this post!

We are incredibly thankful to:

All the Ecology and Design Students – Katie Barton, Tom Blackburn, Tara Cox, Theo Dyer, Evan Reinhold, Syd Foster, Naomi Gann, Tylor Garrett, Alice Gray, Karolina Gurjazkaite, Bethan Hall, Jake Hardiman, Megan Holm, Emma James, Charlotte Kay, Tim Kay, Maria, Max Pannett, Marco Parin, Claire Reboah, Joshua Rodrigues, Indigo Rumbelow, Jack Scott, Piotr Szota, Harri Tan, Vega Tankun, Kate Vogiatzis, Alice Weatherll-Toms, and Max Withey – who came to our design workshops and/or spent their summer developing wonderful ideas and making some brilliant creations.
The team at Onca, Lauren, Perse, Laura, Alice, Aurelie and all the volunteers, who welcomed the idea from the very beginning with such warm enthusiasm, provided so much support and advice and have made the exhibition stunning and professional.
The team from Brighton University, Nick Gant, Stefano Santilli and Jim Wilson, who have hosted us, guided the development of the projects and hung the exhibition.
Carlos Peralta and the Design Futures students – Marco Parin, Francesca Kirkland, Chloe Mills and Keenan Casey. Thank you for getting the project off to a brilliant start by spearheading the interdisciplinary collaboration.
Josh & Jake for doing a great job designing the posters on top of being part of a design team.
Jim Mayor and Rich Howorth for their support during the workshops and throughout the project.
Joe and Megan at Block Builders for running the minecraft session during the workshops and providing the Oculus Rift so people can see a virtual reality rewilded Valley Gardens using minecraft in the exhibition.
Tom Wood for running the bioblitz and sharing his wealth of knowledge
Mark ATM for painting the beaver that has been a superb attention-grabbing star of the show
Will Hill at Long Run Works for getting us widespread press coverage
Robert Fallon and Joanna Gilar for running superb workshops on fire-crafting and wild word-play.
The Heritage Lottery Fund for providing the finances to make this ambitious project a reality. They’ve been really supportive, helpful and enouraging, especially with this project being focused on young people.
Harri Tan and Piotr Szota for incredible enthusiasm bringing together the ecology and design teams, bringing the pieces to life, hanging the show, making the games wild, and for ongoing passion to rewild Sussex.
Dan Ingram, for helping develop the whole idea, editing all the text to go on the posters, and helping to organise and make the workshops run smoothly.
Dan Locke, for boundless positivity, for turning a pub-chat into a “we can do this, get money for it, and make it a massive success”, and for creating all the stunning cartoons depicting the students’ ideas.
And of course all of you for your support of Rewilding Sussex!
We couldn’t be happier with how it has worked out and are looking forward to the next one!
Chris and Claudia

I Found a Spot and Sat in It and Thought About Rewilding

‘The Land’, Cowden, Kent, July 2015, 7-8PM, by Dora Clouttick, Rewilding Sussex

I find a spot on the land in the long grass and I sit. Road behind me, river in front. Breezes from the southeast carry the sounds of cows lowing, the setting sun warms my right side from the west. Sky overhead and earth below me and grass as high as my eyeline.

We acquired this land two months ago with funds given to us by those that love us, both living and now passed. Our intention is to invite back the wild. Learn, listen and watch here, love, laugh and cry, dance, write, grow, think, eat and dream. We scarcely know what we are doing. Buoyed up by things we have read, people we have talked to, ideas shared and whispers in our hearts. Spurred into actuation. I for one am hoping life on and in the land will show us the way.

There’s wildness here already, even in an overly managed and manicured field in a corner of Kent, spitting distance from Sussex. It’s dampened and you have to look for it. Rabbits, at least two separate warrens, can be found in the woods and down by the stream. They nibble on the short grass by the footpath at dawn and dusk. Woodpeckers live high in the oak tree that must be at least 200 years old. How wild was it when that tree first pushed its cotyledons up through the damp earth? I’ve seen the woodpecker’s holes and heard them at work and I’m wondering how to negotiate shared space in that tree for our tree house!

Last time we camped overnight I smelt what I thought was fox. As the night drew in we heard loud noises coming from the woodland corridor between the road and us. We approached torch in hand, heart in mouth. Two eyes glowed back, low to the ground. The tracker amongst us instantly retreated to find where a crossing might be. A quiet 20 minutes later he reappeared to report, badgers, one big and one baby. Perhaps it was badger I smelt not fox.

The sun is low now, making the grass fluorescents glow and hundreds of tiny insects (gnats?) are swarming in the 2 meters above the meadow. Their torsos are picked out glittering in the light looking for all the world like I am in the midst of a fairy rave in full swing.

We want to help the wild return. We want to help this place find its own balance again. We want to invite species to return by making space for them and re-introducing them where we can.

The field certainly looks wilder since we have taken over its guardianship. We stopped the early summer cut for silage and compared to the trimmed fields on both sides this spot certainly looks more naturally diverse. We just wanted to see what was here first, grasses mainly it turns out unsurprisingly. But when they are long like this dozens of butterflies flit through their canopy awakening my inner lepidopterist and making me reach for a net on a stick!

The longer grass reveals other secrets too about the visitors here, backed up by our inquisitively placed camera traps. The deer come through here. It looks like they lie down in the long grass, flattening it in areas and hiding out. They are not the only ones. At night the owls call and by day the pigeons flop by while the swifts dive and swoop. I almost stepped on a pheasant last week and the whole place is screaming out for a good game of hide and seeks!

How many generations of rodents have already taken advantage of this season’s unexpected long grass? Protected from the keen eyes and sharp claws of owls for once in their short lives.

We know there are wild boars near here. Will they ever roam again in numbers large enough to periodically feast on and learn from? Will there be enough again to regenerate the forests that have been felled with their grass destroying foraging? Or would we kill them all again first?

“Why have you bought a piece of expensive land in Kent?” asked the farmer’s wife down the road who kindly let us fill our water containers.

“We want to rewild it” I said.

She looked at me doubtfully but there was a wild glint in her eye!

What can I do? How can I help? What do you need? I ask the land silently with my heart. A tree creaks in the woods. A cricket trills in the grass. The canopy rustles. I wonder.

My science brain says I must be mad, talking to the intangible, ‘talking’ with my heart. But how else are we to reconnect with the wild if we don’t use our hearts?

And if it did come back, how much ‘wild’ could we take until we are scared and threatened and tame it all into submission until again we miss it so much our souls are unsatisfied and we don’t know why? Or, will it be a different story this time?

At minimum it is wonderful to just sit in a field and watch and listen and think. Slow down and notice. Try to understand the land and the other organisms we share it with.

The oak tree has light green new leaves at its branch tips. The ash is already heavy with hanging bunches of seed.

The ladybirds are hanging upside down from the grass tips. I can see at least five in the meter semi circle in front of me.

The sun is making a fire-cloud in the west and I’m off to meet my lover.

Rediscovering Nature Exhibition Workshops

by Harri Tan

As part of the lead up to the 2015 Rediscovering Nature exhibition young conservationists from Rewilding Sussex teamed up with Art, Craft and Design Students from the University of Brighton to hold a series of 3 workshops to discuss the many issues relating to Rewilding the Valley Gardens and Brighton Biosphere.

This post will summarise the events of these workshops which were held to stimulate the development of projects and installations to be held at the exhibition.

Day 1:

Initially focused around a ‘meet and greet’ format to get all participating individuals to familiarise themselves with one another, it was exciting to see how quickly people settled in and started to spin ambitious ideas.

We began with opening talks from Jim Mayor of the Valley Gardens, Rich Howorth of the Brighton Biosphere and Chris Sandom Project Manager and founder of Rewilding Sussex. Their talks were highly inspiring and it was great to learn about the history and future plans for each of these organizations.

We coordinated the lunch break in the most creative manner, one which I would highly recommend in the future. Having been supplied the ‘raw materials’ of loaves of bread, vegetables, humus, cheese and other condiments we organised ourselves into teams which focused on particular elements of the ‘sandwich making’ process. One team formed to create paper cups and plates following the design of Stefano Santilli, another to slice the bread, and another to cut the veg (I use the word cut in the most liberal of manners 😉 ).

All in all it made for a messy, hectic, yet invigorating and strangely rewarding experience. I wonder what the effects are of living in the era of fast food and ‘grab and go’ sandwiches. Food preparation and cooking would have once been a highly social event with each member of the ‘social group’ participating in this highly organised ritual. Many people now live so detached from this process I don’t doubt that some children would be surprised to associate a cow to cheese or a chicken to a chicken… maybe.

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We finished off the day’s session by forming into small groups to start discussing particular challenges relating to the concept of ‘Rewilding’. For example, how can you justify Rewilding large areas of land which could otherwise be used in agriculture and food production? By cutting down on the amount of food we produce as a nation would we not simply be putting an increased pressure on international produce markets. This may in turn lead to the destruction of pristine ‘wild’ ecosystems such as tropical rainforest which is perhaps counter intuitive to the ethos of Rewilding.

Day 2:

We began Day 2 by picking up where we left off in Day 1. We organised ourselves into small groups set with the task of identifying broad, overarching ‘themes’ for which we could frame ideas for design projects around.

A number of interesting themes came up such as habitat restoration and rural sports or activities. We then each put our name towards the theme which we found the most inspiring. There were some winners and some losers, however by the end of it we had organised ourselves into teams of ‘like minded’ and similarly inspired individuals. We were now tasked with developing feasible project ideas which could be created for the exhibition. After an intense series of discussions we began to realise that some ideas were more feasible than others, unfortunately creating a life size replica of a Straight Tusked Elephant from steel would be unachievable given time constraints…

We finished the day with a walk through the Valley Gardens themselves and a tour of the exhibition space at the ONCA Gallery by Lauren the centre manager for the space. It was surprisingly inspiring to see how each space within the gallery could be utilized and encouraging to see people already getting excited about how to make the most out of each area (Watch out for the dark cave at the back of the gallery, it has a few major thrills being planned for it).

Day 3:

In the final day of workshops we found ourselves starting off with a gaming session playing ‘MineCraft’ courtesy of Joe and Megan from ‘BlockBuilders’. For the purpose of this exhibition Joe and Megan had created the full extent of the Valley Gardens within MineCraft and we were setup with laptops and developing tools to ‘Rewild’ this space. After a few short introductory games to familiarise everybody with the controls we were set loose.

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Some of us escaped to distant areas to peacefully sculpt species and dig ponds. Others engaged in the chaos which unfolded in front of Brighton University; Wolves were being spawned in every corner of the gardens as well as Horses, Big Cats and Blue Whales… what?. Soon huge numbers of whales began pouring from the skies as trigger happy 18+ year olds had fun with a game targeted at 8-12 year olds. The server had to soon be reset due to the mass number of animals occupying the space. Luckily the TNT was disabled…

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Eventually most of us became relatively productive; Brighton Uni was undergoing a ‘green revolution’ kitted out with green roofs and a number of huge elephant sculptures appeared in the area. I only wish we had more time as it made for an extremely engaging session. Many thanks to BlockBuilders for organising this, and I hope there is some way of displaying these events during the exhibition itself.

After a much needed lunch break we then reorganised ourselves back into the teams of Day 2. Each team continued to flesh out project ideas and focus in on issues we were each particular inspired to address.

One example would be the ‘Eco Structures’ team. The idea here is to create a series of public use structures which were inspired or could illustrate particular themes within Rewilding. One of the central themes around ecosystem Rewilding is the reintroduction of keystone species. This group came up with the idea to create a bench or series of benches inspired by the form of keystone species which could be reintroduced (such as the Beaver) as well as keystone species which have become extinct (such as the Auroch).

Another example is the ‘Wild Games’ team. To address the issue of our ever declining association to nature this group decided to develop a series of ‘games’ which could be played to facilitate particular ecosystem services such as seed dispersal as well as inform people on issues relating to a decline in wild spaces. They were in part inspired by the origins of the Olympic Games which were at origin predominating comprised of proxies to skills involved within battle and hunting such as the javelin and archery.

These workshops were extremely engaging and I hope to participate in similar projects in the future. I can’t wait to get practical and start building the ideas we have been dreaming up and seeing what each team comes up with for the exhibition in a few months time.

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Wildness outside the window?

By Harri Tan

I was getting ready for bed and had my window open when I heard a series of strange noises coming from the garden. Something animal like was stumbling around across the neighbours decking and then somehow it fumbled its way onto mine. I couldn’t see it in the dark but I could tell where it was from the sound that it was making on the wooden surface.

If I didn’t know better I would say it sounded pig like. Not so much piggy than huffy though. It was strange and by the time I had thought to record the noise it had quietened down or disappeared off in the night. Logic says that it was not a wild boar but when I visualise it in my head it will stay that way. (Sussex currently hosts a nationally significant “wild” boar population).

Definitely a mammal so… mabye it was a cat? Although those chances are still not that likely, it didn’t sound like a cat at all. It seemed to be quite heavy from the sounds it was making as it walked; although that is probably just my imagination getting carried away. In fact I just had a quick look at ‘Wild Boar Sounds’ on YouTube and now part of me is convinced it was… somehow… I live in a suburban area of Brighton who’s private green space is relatively enclosed due to semi detached housing ‘strips’. Something like an acre or two of cumulative green space, although I’m terrible at estimating that sort of thing. Not exactly pristine boar country.

The sensible side of me thinks that it was an old or dieing fox, maybe a dog ‘on the run’. There is a lot of wildlife interaction related media spinning around at the moment and not all of it is positive. The idea of foxes being poisoned has worried me in the past and earlier this year there were a few articles in the local news and social media feed, of dog’s being poisoned by laced sausages.

A friend of mine who lives in a more rural region of the country told me that where she was from you would hear stories about landowners shooting foxes and leaving their carcasses by roadways to mimic a road traffic accident. On my route to work I have noticed a fair few “squashed” pigeons and seagulls over the course of the last year. Strange.

The fox hunting debate is still smoking up parliament and recently I have seen stories popping up about seagull ‘incidents’. In fact a seagull stole half my sandwich last week.

It is so strange that more often than not the automatic topic for debate is “should we cull them?”. I this attitude to wildlife is a bizarre by product of British culture. That perhaps we live in as a result of being secluded on an island which would have once and continues to allow us to exert much more efficient control over the landscape which we inhabit.

I hope it wasn’t a fox. Mabye it was a cat coughing up a fur ball.

Rewilding Britain launched and in the news

Rewilding Britain was launched on Wednesday the 15th of July http://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk

Rewilding Britain aims to reintroduce keystone species such as the wolf, lynx and beaver and rewild a million hectare of land and 30% of British waters.

They are a group seeking to support other organisations to achieve these goals. A wild4good network of local rewilding community groups, like Rewilding Sussex, would provide the infrastructure to give local rewilders a voice in the community. Please get in touch to either join Rewilding Sussex or to get help setting up a local Rewilding group of your own.

If you want to find out more about what is going on in the rewilding world, here are links to all the news reports I’ve found about rewilding over the last few days. If you want to discuss anything you read here please start a discussion on Rewilding Sussex’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RewildingSussex

Business Green.com: Should businesses take a walk on the rewilding side

Digital Journal: Should iconic species be reintroduced to Britain

Farming life: Rod & Gun: We must spread truth about environment and its wildlife

Fginsight: Rewilding Britain launch sparks debate on upland farming

Strathspey-herald: Highlands need re-wilding says Packham

The Scottish Farmer: Crofters slam rewilding proposals

Grough: TV presenter Chris Packham backs new Rewilding Britain group

The Conversation: Rewilding isn’t about nostalgia exciting new worlds are possible

The Guardian: Farmers sheep Lake District preserve environmentalists

The Guardian: Rewilding Britain launches with the aim of restoring UK’s lost wildlife and habitats

Herald Scotland: Green and public bodies unite to bring back wolves, lynx and sturgeon

Grough: New group Rewilding Britain wants to see wolves and bison back in country

BBC: Campaign group calls reintroduction wolves, lynx and wild boar UK forests

National Geographic: Rewilding

Scotsman: Campaign bids to reintroduce wild animals to UK

STV: Rewilding Britain wants to bring wolves, lynx, boar and beavers to Scotland

Deadline News: Pelicans, sturgeon and bison on Scottish reintroduction list

Horse talk: Wild idea horses returned historic rangelands

BBC: Rewilding Scotland

DW: Global ideas biodiversity rewilding conservation Europe

Tech Times: Rewilding Britain Lynx Wolves and Boars may soon be reintroduced in scotland

The News Hub: Rewilding Britain

The Scotsman: farmer alarm at scots rewilding species campaign

The National: Shooting estates of the rich should belong to the wolf

Independent: Nature studies centuries of decline in the uks wildlife can be halted if we start now

Rewilding Sussex wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

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Rewilding Sussex is happy to announce that it has received £20,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to Re-discover Nature in the heart of the city of Brighton and Hove, and within the surrounding Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere. Led by students from the Universities of Brighton and Sussex, the project will bring young ecologists and designers together to create new visions of nature, past and future. The project begins in earnest on the 16th of June with all the contributing parties (student ecologists, designers and Rewilding Sussex) taking part in three design workshops exploring the natural heritage of the Valley Gardens and Biosphere. Collaborative groups will then work over the summer and their designs and visions will be exhibited at the ONCA Gallery (www.onca.org.uk) from the 29th September to the 17th October 2015. This unique, energetic fusion of science and art will get more people in touch with their wild side and provide inspiration for how nature in the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere can be enhanced for all.

The project will give ecology students the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills, and give designers the chance to showcase their work to a wide audience in a unique setting. The young ecologists will guide their teammates through a journey of the natural heritage within the Valley Gardens and wider Biosphere. They will discuss what used to live here, what irreplaceable species need to be protected, and what lost nature might be brought back, drawing on the idea of rewilding. Rewilding is the process of restoring nature so that it can look after itself and people more effectively. Rewilders seek to gain inspiration from the past and develop environments that are viable and beneficial to people and wildlife in the present and the future. The designers will then respond to this journey by producing work that imaginatively captures the sights, sounds and experience of a wilder Brighton and Biosphere.

By focusing on the Valley Gardens and Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere, areas that have a rich ecological and cultural history, the exhibition will be more vivid and accessible to local audiences. Thousands of years ago, the region was home to elephants and lions, animals that would be here today if not for people. More recently, the Valley Gardens have been wetlands, an area to mend fishing nets, pasture for grazing cattle and leisure parks. The area is about to undergo redevelopment and suitable ideas developed by our project will be trialled to find out how nature can entice people to get outside, learn about the natural history and maintain their health at the same time. Rewilding Sussex is an organisation that seeks to engage young people in designing natural solutions to big social challenges. A current social challenge is the increase in obesity and mental illness, linked to a lack of access to green spaces and a rise in sedentary lifestyles involving screen-based activity. Our project will deliver engaging visions and and ideas for a wilder urban landscape to inspire children and their parents to get outside, be active and enjoy nature more regularly. It will build the capacity of the young adults leading the project to involve their generation with environmental issues and alternative ways of enjoying natural heritage.

Commenting on the award, Harri Tan, lead young ecologist said: “As young people it is extremely exciting that our ambitions are being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and I hope that many others seek to take such opportunities.  We believe that ‘Rewilding’ is a way we can reengage with our natural heritage and I can’t wait to see how the project unfolds.”