Portraits of Place: a Series on Humans and Nature

Welcome to my series on the relationship between humans and nature. In this series I explore the in-between spaces, the places where cities spill over into the nature around them, and where nature spills right back into the cities, shaping and influencing them. These places are not wild; they are heavily influenced by humans, through the construction of roads and buildings, the introduction of new species, and the negative impacts of pollution; but equally they are surprisingly rich ecosystems, bastions of nature occupying human spaces. It is these spaces that often host some of the most interesting ecosystems, crazy ecological mishmashes of native and introduced species, which establish themselves amidst pavements and skyscrapers, and which don’t just survive, but in fact thrive within these constraints.

These places are a space to watch in future, to study how nature will be able to coexist and even thrive in a heavily human-influenced world. One of the books that has really inspired me to this series is The New Wild by Fred Pearce, which explores the role of non-native species in shaping the ecosystems of the future. 

Since cities are so often a vector for introduced species and ecosystem change (roads and buildings cut through ecosystems, modifying how animals move around the landscape, how plant seeds are distributed, and where water flows; the conglomeration of concrete buildings can create a heat bubble that has impacts on local climate; household pets and escaped petshop animals change the makeup of local ecosystems, as do introduced garden plants whose seeds fly over garden fences and whose roots grow under them), this series will focus primarily on urban areas. But as it goes on I will also delve into natural spaces experiencing human influence, including issues of tourism, pollution, development, and resource extraction. There are just so many fascinating areas where collisions between humans and nature occur, and I hope to shed some light on them through this series.