Putting your local on the map

One of the impacts of the enforced state of confinement during a state of lockdown across the country is the way that our attention has been brought more keenly to the local. While there are many people whose jobs have become more demanding, there’s a huge swathe of the population that has been put into a kind of holding pattern. What is local – life on the doorstep – has been brought into sharp relief. What’s special about your local patch? What do you love about it, or what are your concerns? If you head over to the map here, you can add your thoughts, and find out what others are saying.

Listening to the skylarks on Docker Fell, a three mile walk from our home.
Loving outdoor spaces …

Around the country, and particularly in cities, people have been noticing birdsong more than usual, and sharing their pleasure in watching flowers emerge, trees come into leaf, tadpoles hatch, and birds fledge. In the early weeks of the pandemic, and even more so since the recent easing of lockdown, beaches, parks, woodlands and open spaces have become a magnet: somewhere to feel the wind and the sun, to relax and to be surrounded by sky, trees and plants, instead of walls. Has this been the case for you?

To define a single place is never a simple thing. A park, a hillside, a grove of trees, a field, even a lone tree on the end of the street – each one of these can mean different things to different people. The many views that have been shared through the Sense of Here map have shown us that a love for these places can run deep, and they really matter: not just that they’re here now, but that they will be here in the future.

… and caring for them

Being in touch with the natural world is key to health, and for so many people it brings solace. When things get tough, time in nature can certainly help. But thriving natural spaces are also valuable in and of themselves for their biodiversity – for all the other, non-human lives, that depend on them.

When people flock to a beautiful place to have fun and feel rejuvenated, that’s a good thing. But when people treat a space with apparent disregard for any other life – leaving litter, including human excrement, and at worst starting fires through careless use of barbeques – there’s an awful paradox: loving a place, but not caring for it. This is what happened in national parks and beauty spots all over the country last weekend, and it was a shock.

It’s as if there’s a complacency grounded in an assumption that nature will always be there, and it will always be OK. Not so. As humans, we’re part of nature, and every act we make has repercussions in the world around us. Some acts can make a place more resilient, more beautiful and more biodiverse; others can harm it.

Covid-19 is a game-changer. Social and economic systems around the world have been shaken up and the challenge of moving forwards with resilience is huge. It seems that the eyes of the media, though, rest largely on issues of healthcare, employment, business and political leaders (the good, the bad and the terrible). All of these are hugely important, but where is consideration of the environment in the headlines? What is the value of the national parks that mean so much to so many, and what are the plans for caring for these places and the people that live there?

The Data of the Heart map – what do ‘green’ spaces mean for you?
Hope is a powerful driver – let’s keep the conversation going

The survey that has been feeding into the Data of the Heart map includes questions about hope – and this is perhaps the crux of the matter. What we hope for, and the actions we take or ask for, begin to pave the path for change. In architecture there’s a phrase that’s commonly used to describe what can influence designs: ‘desire lines’ refers to the way the design of a park, a garden or any outdoor space is allowed to reflect what people want. You observe how people choose to walk from place to place, and then build the footpaths to accommodate this. It’s a neat example of how what people want can actually shape what they get. So how might desire and hope shape the future of places where nature has breathing space, places that offer a natural health service for humans, and also offer habitats to many other species?

Sense of Here starts from the premise that each small place – each local ‘here’ – matters, and all are connected: the nearby is always connected to the faraway, and the same issues can resonate on macro and micro levels.

What future do you imagine for the local or for the distant natural and open spaces that you love? What are your hopes, what changes would you like to see ? We’d love to know … and the more voices that come together in asking for change, in setting a path forward, the better. Please head over to the questionnaire and add your thoughts.

We’ll be using the feedback from the survey to inform the work we’ll be sharing through the exhibition and the book; we’ll also be sharing it with the Lake District National Park Partnership and the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas; and thanks to analysts at Lancaster University we’ll be getting insights into patterns that will help to distil the information and present it clearly. The map has become a hybrid art-and-research project, as well as a conversation starter, and for many people who have filled it in, the survey has offered a chance to voice what matters to them about the special places that are deeply loved and, more broadly, about the natural world.

We want to keep the conversation flowing. Now is most certainly a time to reflect on what we value in the natural environment, and to speak up for its future: not just in national parks and protected areas, but everywhere. If you have anything to share, just open up the map and browse through the questions, and answer any that appeal. We’re based in the Lake District National Park so some of the questions are about this national park, which is a wonderful example of a special, well-loved area that also needs a great deal of care to thrive in the future; but it’s not the only place. Wherever your ‘here’ is, we’d love to hear from you.

Please add your voice …    

A note on our own ‘local’, our own hopes, and how lockdown has changed our focus:

Placing an electric fence around a curlew’s nest with the farmer and local conservationists. Sadly this preventative measure failed as two weeks later the eggs were taken, probably by a crow.

For us, living through lockdown has certainly changed the way we relate to our most local places. We feel lucky, living in the countryside, where we’re able to be outside a lot, and we’ve reflected on the way it feels to closely observe the ‘detail of here’ in a recent blog. But there’s been an even more profound shift. Noticing what is around us hasn’t all been about our own personal pleasure and fulfilment – yes it’s lovely, and it’s refreshing, but that’s not the whole story. We’ve also become drawn in to the details of life for the curlews around us: these birds are facing the threat of extinction. We’re fortunate to have many pairs around us but their presence and the joy that brings does not reveal the underlying truth that the survival of their chicks is highly unlikely. Our lens has focused ever more closely into their world, what they need, and our hopes and fears for them. Through tracking nests and birds, we’ve become connected with local farmers who have birds nesting in their fields, with ornithologists and with conservationists. Together we’re talking about not just what we want for these birds now (at its most basic level, that’s a future for the chicks) but also what we hope for in terms of practical actions that improve their chances in the future. Without lockdown, we’d never have learnt so much, and we’d never have formed these relationships, and the desire lines that are going to shape the paths ahead of us would never have begun to form.

A curlew guarding chicks in the field next to our house.

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