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  • Writer's pictureRae Turpin

“Nature Fights Back”: Post-industrial emergences


Coiled wire set against plants on a woodland floor
Credit: Jenny Reekie (https://flyingunderground.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/banner.jpg)

Yesterday I participated in an Antiuniversity event hosted by Jenny Reekie, called “Nature Fights Back”. It was on the theme of post-industrial spaces, what has become of them after the demise and demolition of old sites of industrial activities in the UK.


Although we were a small group, we had rich conversations, comparing our experiences and explorations of post-industrial spaces we’ve come to know and love. Particularly exciting were our reflections on these wastelands as unique spaces for biodiversity: creating coverage and crevasses for vulnerable wildlife, “poor” soil quality giving opportunities for certain plants to flourish where grass would usually dominate, and similarly how the remains of human technologies and materials impact create particular soil conditions.


What really struck me throughout our discussions were the points we would touch upon the “categorisations” and “quality assessments” of nature. What is nature? Where does human “culture” end and “natural” spaces begin? I think we were all of the consensus that those type of binaries don’t work at all, in any domain. But how exciting it is to find the wastelands in the intersection, challenging these dominant assumptions of nature/culture!


I had the opportunity to share my own project at Millers Pond Local Nature Reserve (“Becoming-Pond”), speaking of the practices of mutual reciprocity and the ongoing work to create a sense of belonging and community ownership in urban wild spaces. I’ve recently discovered the high likelihood that my own home is in fact constructed from bricks made on, and extracted from, the earth at the site. The same earth that now is a fledgling woodland, giving life and shelter to a whole other range of species. The poetic symmetry of it all, in all the cycles, has captivated me immensely.


Part of the conversation too was how community participation can contribute to both the thriving and awareness of the spaces. Primarily through community conversation, engagement and educational activities of the likes we have going on at Millers Pond, but also through the participation in citizen science projects to monitor and survey the diversity of wildlife. Jenny walked us through iNaturalist as a great platform and resource for such citizen science activities – highly recommended. She has also set up a community group based on this project of exploring post-industrial wastelands across the UK (link at the end).


Coming away from the event, I came away with a few big questions beyond the subject of multispecies thriving. I found myself thinking about the wider context of post-industrial sites in the UK. There are many of us that love them, have and will continue to fight for them as spaces for nature to flourish, but what are the wider political implications of this? Where are the bricks that were once made at the old Millers Pond Brickyard made now? The paper from Jenny’s Papermill? What gives us the right to nature reserves today whilst the industrial is palmed off overseas? It’s a provocative reminder of the colonialism that still structures many of our everyday experiences.


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