Valuing Nature, Valuing People

Arriving at Business Impact School 2017, I was delighted to be hosted in the heart of the City of London. Over the next two days we heard from prominent members of the business and public sectors about the importance of valuing nature, with many speakers focusing on the concept of “Natural Capital”.  A highlight for me was a talk from Ruth Barden of Wessex Water, who described a project to fund link workers who liaise with the National Health Service and NGOs to provide natural solutions to health problems.  If a patient is identified as being likely to benefit from time spent in the natural environment, such as working in a park or community garden, they are referred to the link worker, who arranges a placement.  I had heard of such “green prescriptions” while pursuing my own research on the connections between people and nature in urban settings, but the potential benefit for Wessex Water from this arrangement is a reduction in pharmaceutical residues in river water, due to reduced prescriptions of medicines.  A true win-win arrangement, and an inspiring concept!

An ancient oak at Windsor Great Park

On our third and final day together, a visit to Windsor Great Park was arranged, where we were privileged to be shown round by the park’s Conservation Adviser, Ted Green, MBE. Ted’s boundless enthusiasm for trees, soil and vital microorganisms, and his vast and varied experience in nature conservation, made for a truly stimulating and inspiring morning.  He told of his struggle to persuade park managers to preserve old trees and keep non-living wood in situ, rather than tidying it all away.  Ted suggests that the modern human desire to make everything tidy and orderly is at odds with nature’s way of making use of every bit of organic material to enrich soil and support flourishing life. This message resonated with me. Many of us live in towns and cities, and I believe that it’s important to make the most of the somewhat limited green spaces available to us. We all view nature differently, however. Some of us like to see wild things growing, where others would see only weeds.  I think Ted would contend that if we are to take care of our soil, and the hugely important micro-organisms within it, we need to stop trying to kill off “weeds” and start valuing them for their contributions to complex ecosystems.

As we set off on our separate journeys home, I reflected that perhaps the most valuable resource of all those provided by the Business Impact School was contact with other researchers, working in areas which were similar, but also in many ways very different to my own.  I met people researching epigenetics, space weather and virtual reality, to name but a few, but the common thread was a desire to care for our planet and its people.  Thank you all for a truly positive experience. I look forward to seeing where our varied paths lead us.