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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Colin Skelly, A Regenerative Horticulturist at The Eden Project

I would like to persuade you, in the 2 or 3 minutes you take to read this, that there is a lot hanging on the way we think about nature. There is widespread agreement that being immersed in nature from time to time is good for us. But the very sense in which nature is understood here implies that humans exist outside of nature. I want to persuade you that, when you think of nature in future, you should include humans in it – that humans and our activities are not separate from but are an intrinsic part of the great complex set of interactions of all living things on earth.
Our lives are integrated, intertwined, interwoven within the biosphere of a planet spinning around a star that provides the energy source for life’s existence. The strange modern way of thinking of humans as separate from nature arose from the industrial revolution and urbanisation. This placed much of lived human experience in environments shaped by human activity, in contrast to the wilder landscapes where human control was yet to appear paramount.
Yet we are rediscovering through the science of ecology, that there is no such separation. Everything that is synthesised by humans derives from rock, water, air or other living organisms. Plastics and fossil fuels – to name a couple of contemporary environmentally damaging products – derive from the human manipulation and use of the remains of life on earth 300-350 million years ago, namely oil and coal. Even the boundary between human and non-human in our bodies isn’t clear cut, our health depending on the microbes that live on and in us.
We need to return, from a modern perspective, to an understanding of nature that includes humans within in it but with an ecological sensibility that puts the relationships and complex interactions between all living organisms and their external environment at its heart.
Likewise, the relationship between humans needs to become more ecological, bringing sociology, cultural studies and environmental science together. This social ecology at its most basic is an awareness that our actions have consequences that shape human society, and that this shapes our relationships with the land, water, air and other living things upon which we depend for our existence. In short, without a more equally balanced relationship with each other, a restorative relationship between humans, other living things and the earth’s resources is unlikely to be possible.
What, you may ask, has all of this got to do with gardening? Well, gardening is a microcosm of the relationships I have been talking about, the human relationship with plants, birds, insects and your friends, neighbours and community. When you are gardening, think about how you are impacting your fellow living things, the earth’s resources and your social relationships. If we aim to gain in all these areas and to avoid losses, then we not only move beyond being sustainable (making things no worse) to genuinely regenerating our patch of earth. I will leave you to consider the wider possibilities and opportunities. All I ask is that next time you hear or use the word nature you make sure that you include us humans as part of the picture, not separate from it.

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