John Thackara | Essays

A ‘Wild Mirror’ For Desk-Bound Workers

A new scheme in England connects office workers with living systems by means of a ‘wild mirror’: each workspace is twinned with an equivalent area of ecosystem regeneration.

The restoration of degraded ecosystems — or creating new ones — is gathering pace in different parts of the world. According to Richard Coniff, China is planting 90 million acres of forest in a swath across its northern provinces. In North America, too: restoration projects costing $70 billion are under way to restore or re-create more than seven million acres of marsh, peatland, floodplain, mangrove, and other wetlands.

These large-scale, government-led efforts are conceived as green infrastructure by governments in response to such practical issues as flood control. This ecosystem regeneration is tremendously important as one part of the transformation from an ecocidal economy. Another part is the emotional and cultural re-engagement of people with the living world on a personal level.

A new social enterprise in the UK, Hummingtree, reconnects office-bound city people with living systems desk-by-desk – by means of a ‘wild mirror’. For workers in small offices, who are entitled by law to 4.6m2 (400 square feet) of office space, a subscription of 60 pounds ($100) per desk supports the creation of biodiversity hotspots on land that has suffered ecological damage as a result of intensive agriculture or other forms of habitat destruction.

Hummingtree’s first site - a seven acre wild reserve in South Devon – was once an ancient woodland. When misguided investors cleared away the old growth to make way for a pine plantation, it failed within a couple of years. What was once pristine woodland fell into disuse.

Hummingtree’s mission is to recreate and enlarge natural habitats on such biodiversity-poor sites. Its team of landscape designers and ecologists work on smallish patches, close to each other, that develop as a necklace or archepelago of thriving spaces connected by corridors. Their whole-ecosystem approach involves planting native trees, including traditional orchards; sowing wildflower meadows; re-establishing wild beekeeping; and establishing specific habitats for vulnerable species.

Hummingtree does not manage the site aggressively – for example, by clearing it from scratch to start again. Rather, it clears space for flora to take hold and then lets nature lead the way in a slow return to what it calls ‘balanced wild states’

The idea is that office workers connect physically with ‘their’ regeneration sites – not just pay the subscription. To this end, office workers are encouraged to get involved personally on get-hands-dirty nature days. Plans are also in the pipeline for ecological internships.

Hummingtree’s Biodiversity for Business scheme is not-for-profit; the proceeds from offsetting desks go directly to the creation, management and expansion of wild reserves. And it is not in the mitigation business. It will not offer developers the chance to offset land cleared for housing by paying for regeneration somewhere else.

Posted in: Business, Ecology, Social Good

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