More Nature

Continuing Sketching Weakly’s ongoing mission to Rule the World. This post is continuing from Less Carbon Dioxide, and If Sketching Weakly Ruled the World....

Nature is our climate crash mat. Nature, in so many ways, can help buffer the world against climate change. From forests producing rainfall and sequestering moisture to urban trees cooling and shading their local area, to flood prevention, to pollination, to minibeasts controlling pests on crops, nature can increase our climate-change resilience. And boosting nature is always a WIN-WIN – because you get the flood prevention/rainfall/shade/habitat/etc PLUS the cascades of animal life and beauty that humans love, and the resilience of having more biodiversity to adapt to a changing world..

Climate change is going to hit nature – there will be moving temperature zones, changing habitats – so if animals can’t move, they’ll die out in that area. So we need connected habitat everywhere for our nature to move around to where it needs to be.

Our relationship with nature has changed. Back in 1532 Henry VIII’s Preservation of Grain Act made it compulsory for every man, woman and child to kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of ‘vermin’. Virtually all wild animals were on the list: otters, beavers, hedgehogs – even kingfishers. That kind of wildlife massacre would be unthinkable now.

So why does nature still get wallopped?

The main culprits are generally agricultural practices and land-use change. Wild habitat gets converted into farmland. And intensive farming practices leave no space for wild habitat. Roads fragment habitat. Housing developments often feature more car parking space than habitat.

An example of a rather tarmac-heavy devopment: OK, so where are the trees going to grow here?

I’d suggest three changes to help create more space for nature. These changes all involve

A National Planning Policy Framework that puts habitat-protection and creation at the heart of planning developments.

An Agriculture Bill that fosters farming practicies that are wildlife-friendly.

A Packaging Revolution that makes it easy to buy products that have been produced in a biodiversity-friendly way.

1. The National Planning Policy Framework: the way we build things

At present, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has, at its heart,“a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking.” But sustainable development is a slippery concept; in my opinion development is ‘sustainable’ if it can continue for ever at that level with no loss of biodiversity. But if you are gradually increasing the amount of built over land – the end result must be gradual loss of nature. I’d propose a change of emphasis, from a golden thread to a green thread: I propose we build for biodiversity: we put nature at the heart of planning. Established habitat should have extremely high value; destroying ancient woodland and green belt land should be an unthinkably expensive thing to do. We should plan for as little tarmac as possible – cars can be parked on all sorts of surfaces. Developments should conserve established habitat and build around established trees and hedgerows. After all, somebody already lives there. Green belt land should not be converted into built developments: green belt land is exactly the kind of green space most treasured by people as it is close to where settlements of people live. It’s not ours to nibble away at and pave over – it is our gift to future people so they can live close to nature too. It’s ever-tempting to develop green belt land because it’s cheap to convert and will be the type of place that people will like to live – but that takes something we all share and converts it into a one-off profit that is now out of the shared commons – so it is a robbery from all of us and from people of the future.

The present NPPF requires that councils set aside land for building new housing upon for the next 5 years. This just isn’t sustainable UNLESS the land set aside is land that has been built upon already. We need to become the first animal ever to voluntarily limit our own effects on the world, and tread more lightly and imaginatively on our planet.

Biodiversity is our Green Infrastructure – it can buffer us egainst extremes of flooding and heat. It is so valuable, but it’s not factored properly into economic decisions – it’s a classic market failure situation. To address this – we need legislation. So I would propose a NPPF with boosting biodiversity at its heart, with a mandate to measure biodiversity and land-use change.

2. The Agriculture Bill: the way we farm animals

Some things happen because it’s free to do them. There are some ways of farming that are absolute planet wreckers. Here are some:

Intensive animal farming: if we saw it we wouldn’t like it. It’s only allowed to happen because it’s invisible. Animals are kept indoors or on feed lots in huge numbers, living miserable lives. These type of industrial ‘farms’ are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. And they’re not just in other countries: we have them in the UK. These animals are fed planet-wrecking foodstuff like soy grown on deforested land. The animal density makes them a hotspot for disease and the overuse of antibiotics. They’re unpleasant to live near to, and generate huge quantities of animal sewage which has to go somewhere. This is total madness, and just plain cruel. And it’s so we can have cheap food. But this cheap meat has a massive real price-tag in animal suffering, disease and destruction of habitat. I’d include trawling and other intensive fishing practices in this destructive intensive farming group, as well as fish-farming of predator fish like salmon.

We can’t afford to farming these ways any more, it’s time to move to properly sustainable farming practices.

We can can make UK agriculture a model for planet-friedly farming to be really proud of – farmers are already trying to do this, and the UK landscape is incredibly suitable to animal-friendly farming.

So what do we want more of?

Things like:

In the sea: the marine farming of kelp, mussels and oysters that creates habitat for other sea live to thrive.

Farming with biodiversity as its friend, leaving field margins wild and leaving some waste around to feed farmland birds; using natural predators to help control unwanted pests, farming to boost soil health, farming animals where they can live a natural life in the landscape, allowing trees to grow to boost biodiversity and help manage water in the landscape.

Farmers often try to do these things anyway – but they also often have to compete on a level playing field with others who farm intensively to produce food more cheaply.

There’s a new Agriculture Bill travelling through parliament at the moment. Our new agriculture bill needs to reward farming for biodiversity and reward growing our green infrastructure to be our climate change crash mat – and it looks like it broadly will do that, with a ‘payment for public goods’ ethos rather than the EU CAP payment by quantity of land held. But we also have to use the same standards to measure farmed imports that enter our country too, or UK farming will be fatally undermined.

And we can reward nature-friendly farming practices another way at the same time by making it easy to buy planet-friendly products, with….

3. A Packaging Revolution: make ethical buying choices easy to do


I am a hasty impatient shopper who doesn’t have the time and diligence to check out the supply chains for all the products I buy. I want to be able to wander into a supermarket and instantly be able to choose the products that are good for the planet.

Government action stepped in and revolutionised the packaging of cigarettes. We can all agree that cigarettes are pretty bad for human health. Now cigarette packets look so grim, it’s impossible to buy them without being aware of what you’re buying into. But intensive agricultural practices are killing our planet’s biodiversity. It’s another robbery.

Packaging is hugely influential. There’s been an enormous success in egg-packaging: legislation to require clearly stating the conditions hens were raised in has really boosted demand for free range and barn-raised eggs.

At the moment there are certain symbols you can look for on farmed products: there’s the Soil Association mark, RSPCA-acccreditation, the Red Tractor mark and the Lion Brand symbol. The first two do ensure environmentally-friendly or animal friendly farming. The second two ensure a moderately basic amount of animal welfare and ensure the origin is British. Compassion in World Farming is calling for much more explicit animal-product packaging that really shows the conditions the animals lived in.

But the buyer still has to do a lot of fine-print reading, plus the labelling only applies to animal-products, and I want to buy into farming for biodiversity too.

What if there was a symbol – say an Ethical Earth symbol, that could be put on all packaging?

Maybe something like this?

The ethical farming practices to earn the Ethical Earth Symbol would need to be agreed upon by a panel which would need to be unpartisan and have the interests of the planet and its future at heart, and also the interests of the animals farmed. Practices might include: nature-friendly farming with biodiversity as its friend; farming where animals live in a natural way in a natural habitat; farming that boosts biodiversity and creates more habitats on land and at sea. Achieving organic status is very difficult; Ethical Earth status could be less ‘all or nothing’, it could be more ‘every little helps’, with a broad menu of biodiversity friendly farming practices to choose from that would add to gaining Ethical Earth status, without having to tick every box.

And just as importantly, there have to be certain farming practices that disqualify you from achieving the Ethical Earth symbol. These would have to be agreed, but I’d suggest: animals stocking densities beyond a certain level, animals living in conditions where they are unable to express their natural behaviour, animals fed on products that have caused deforestation.

So, if you farm in a nature-friendly way, that boosts habitat and biodiversity, and is not cruel to animals, I should be able to see that easily on your product on the supermarket shelves, and I might be prepare to pay more for it. Cheap food is often just food where the costs have been passed on to everyone and people of the future in degradation. This is possible because packaging hides the truth about where the food came from.

There’s amazing amounts of data available nowadays – it’s possible to track individual animals through supply chains; this could help in the earning of an Ethical Earth symbol. At the same time, to push change harder, there could be an Unethical Earth hazard symbol that you have to put on your packet if you haven’t achieved an Ethical Earth standard. It ought to be possible to request Ethical Earth-rated products only when you do your online shop. Having the Ethical Earth symbol or the symbol of not-having-achieved it could be mandatory on all food packaging, so you could buy Ethical Earth chocolate biscuits – if it’s possible to make such a thing. And that means with my buying choices I’m now supporting producers in other countries who are farming sustainably and not destroying rainforest habitat.

On the supermarket shelves, the world and its biodiversity is on sale. A Packaging Revolution could enable everything you buy to be a vote for what you want more of. When you choose the Ethical Earth symbol – you could be buying into a better planet.

Making it easrier to choose who to buy….?

We can’t wait for all the world to agree. We have to lead by example. We have to model how to be good citizens of the Earth – by making less CO2, and do our part in protecting and boosting the nature on these islands, and making it wilder and better. It requires enlighted policy-making by a government that is acting in the interests of Biodiversity and the future inhabitants of Earth.

If Sketching Weakly ruled the world…

…well, it would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? But every now and then, a bit like daydreaming about what one’s Desert Island Disc choices would be, it’s nice to imagine what one would do if unwisely left in charge of things. So here are Sketching Weakly’s ruminations….

Making the visible invisible, is the usual magic trick. But making the Invisible visible, is the magic trick we need.

What can we learn from lockdown? What have we discovered from this strange experience of imposed isolation? To me, two things have emerged:

People will step up to a Big Ask

If people are given a clear fair rule they will follow it, accept it and be prepared to make reasonable sacrifices.

People have been willing to completely change their way of living in order to prevent the Covid19 virus rampaging through the population.

People love Nature.

To most people, nature is really important and a source of joy and wonder.

People have been treasuring their daily walks, getting to know their local patches of nature, and watching the small changes as Spring 2020 has been coming in, and transforming into Summer.

Can we use these two lessons to tackle climate change?

It often seems like the issues the world faces are endless, and to address the world’s problems we have to change everything. But it can help to concentrate on the two biggest existential threats to life (as we know it) on Earth. Those two threats are: loss of biodiversity, and carbon dioxide.

CO2 is invisible. When we emit it, we can’t see it. We can see the plastic trail that we leave, but it’s impossible to grasp what size your own carbon dioxide emissions are. But carbon dioxide is key, because the blanket of greenhouse gases is making the Earth warm, melting the Arctic and Antarctic and pushing temperatures worldwide out of the range of recorded history, towards a new climate that none of us or other life-forms on Earth are adapted for.

But the good thing is, we CAN change this by shutting down the flood of CO2  leaking from humankind into the atmosphere.

Action on Climate Change for me boils down to two main asks:

Less CO2 and more nature.

Can we use the magic trick of making the INVISIBLE VISIBLE, to make less CO2 and more nature?

Yes we can and here’s how. I’m going to do carbon dioxide first. Then I’m going to do nature. You can do them in any order you like.


Lost in Picture Book Maps

This post first appeared on Picture Book Den’s Blogspot 01 Marina 01My First Maps
My first map-love as a child was my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World. 02 Readers DigestNow I own it, but I used to just visit it at my Grandpa’s house. It was really big, big enough for a small child to be lost in, and my grandpa Noel Grey had inscribed his initials NWG on all the places he had visited, prospecting for oil I suspect. Here he is at large around South America.

03 NWG
Here’s a photo he took of Ernest Hemingway with an enormous marlin – apparently they went fishing together. 04 HemingwayOn one map he has urgently written GOLD, somewhere along the Amazon, in Peru. 05 Gold!
There’s a bit of a diagram too.

06 GOLD here

I started writing this post before the fires in the Amazon had beome the terrifying news they are now. From this perspective my Grandfather’s charting of ‘GOLD’ is a bit bitterly ironic; anyone with any sense now knows that the most precious treasure to be found in the Amazon is the rainforest itself

 Maps of Discovery, Power and Plunder
07a pudding
A map is a place to roam about in the imagination. A map is a record of the discovered and the undiscovered – terra incognita. A map is a plan for plundering, or a diagram of how to carve the world up, a record of ownership.

Here is the Carta marina, a wallmap of Scandinavia, by Olaus Magnus. It is the first map of the Nordic countries to give details and place names, initially published in 1539.09 carta

It seems to be awash with splendid mythical beasts. Did the map-maker think they were real, or was drawing the map of the far-away giving them permission to invent the most bizarre creatures they could concoct? Creatures include a literal sea-cow and sea-unicorn, whales with flowing tresses, a sea-elephant or Rosmarus and a Polypus which looks like a giant lobster. But it looks like Magnus was trying to depict what was really there – the land animals are fairly realistic, and many of the sea-creatures could be reinventions of existing ones: the sea unicorn: a narwhal, the Rosmarus: a walrus, the Polypus perhaps an octopus. Because they’re water beasts they are hard to get the measure of without diving equipment. Here are a selection of map-beasts:

10b sea hog

Probably a whale but quite boar-like

10c sea scorpion

a Polypus, allegedly

10d it has everything

This has everything

10a whale

a Belena – whale – with an orca

You can explore the monsters here:

Mulling with a Map11 Hobbit

‘I wisely started with a map and made the story fit,’ JRR Tolkien once wrote.

In older children’s books, a map may well be the only illustration. The map is often a charting of the story journey.
When inventing the Hobbit story JRR Tolkein started with drawing Thror’s map.12a Thrors map
Drawing the map was part of the process of creating the story.

Here’s the map from Winnie the Pooh, drawn by Christopher Robin, with a bit of help from Ernest Shepard,14 Winnie the Pooh
and the map from the beginning of the Narnia book of the Horse and his Boy, mostly desert (by Pauline Baynes.)13a horse and boy

As it was sometimes the only picture in the book I would return to the map again and again, and trace my protagonist’s journey and mull over the places on the way.
And maps lend a touch of reality – a promise that the story may take you to real places.

When Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was published in 1726 it was a roaring success but some did not realise it was fantasy.
“It is full of improbable lies, and, for my part, I hardly believe a word of it” exclaimed an eminent bishop. The Duchess of Marlborough was said to be ‘in raptures at it; she says she can dream of nothing else since she read it.’ A tale circulated about one old gentleman who, after reading the book, was alleged to have gone immediately to his atlas to search for Lilliput.

Here’s my map for Money Go Round by Roger McGough – as this book is deep in Wind in the Willows territory I had to start with communing with EH Shepard’s Willows map.15 MGR02&03

Picture Book Story Maps21 Zoo Rules
Moving to more picture book territory, a map can be a journey or a map of characters or events.
Here’s Dixie O’Day’s Map from Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy.Dixie

It is used by Dixie in the story and we can find where every event happens in an extremely satisfying way

16 Dixie ODay

Very Little.From a map of events to a map of characters: here is the map from Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap – the places are the people.17 Very Little Map
I can’t resist putting in these fresh and lovely animated spreads of the poor wolf getting more than it can deal with from Very Little Red.18 Very Little 0119 Very Little 02

Cat who got carriedIn The Cat Who Got Carried Away by Allan Ahlberg and Katharine McEwen there are three very important maps.
Here’s the first one.20 Allan Ahlberg
And, oh, how delicious – we can see the cars and the characters and the shady old geezer with the suspicious pram and Horace the cat. This is a useful map of a particular moment, which shows exactly where the pram is, and white van skulduggery, and the impending fate of Horace the cat.

Jim CoverWhen I was making the book of Jim, the cautionary tale by Hilaire Belloc, I wanted to put in a map of the zoo where Jim meets his lion.22 Jim 0123 Jim 02
Jim has a yearning to run away, and when I was making the book there seemed to be more and more health and safety rules appearing everywhere and children seemed to be getting less and less freedom. So the Zoo Map is a map of the Safest Zoo in the World, one where everything is either shut or off-limits or prohibited.24 Jim 04
To make sure everything is completely safe, there are Zoo Rules on the back of the map.24a Jim 04

 Metaphorical Maps, Maps of the Soul25 Goth intro

DarktownHere is Jonny Hannah’s Dark Town map from Greetings from Dark Town – complete with leviathans, Island of Profound Quotes, Sea of Impossibilities and beasts and more beasts.26 Dark Town

The first metaphorical map may have been for Pilgrim’s Progress, which also may have been one of the first novels (fictional prose narrative) in English. (Interestingly, other early novels include Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, both map-centred-adventure territory.) In Pilgrim we encounter unforgettable fictional places: the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the House Beautiful, The Valley of the Shadow of Death.27 Pilgrims Progress

Here’s the Map of Ghastly Gorm Hall from Goth Girl, by Chris Riddell.Goth Girl
28 goth girl bigNote the Hall has an East Wing and a West Wing, but also a Broken Wing. As well as a Kitchen Garden, the Hall is complete with Bedroom Garden and Living Room Garden.29 Goth 01
I’m planning my garden improvement already.
One can meander round Metaphorical Smith’s Hobby-Horse Racecourse – with its Hill of Ambition, Gravel Path of Conceit, and Pond of Introspection.30 Goth 02

My Map BookIn Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book –we find a Map of my Heart, a Map of my Day.31 Fanelli Heart Map32 Fanelli Day Map

We’re wandering into maps that are states of mind, a map of how you feel, a map of time.
Little MouseOne of my absolutely favourite picture books is Emily Gravett’s Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. Mouse battles his terrors with the power of drawing. The book is extremely nibbled and so is Mouse’s pencil.34 Little Mouse Map closed35 Little Mouse Map open
Here is the Map of the Isle of Fright, where the visitor can travel from Twitching Whiskers to Loose Bottom.36 Little Mouse Map open

And now – Exclusive to Picture Book Den: 
Cut Out & Keep: Make Your Own Metaphorical Landscape Generator.  

Simply cut out, combine randomly from column A and B and use the places created to make your own Metaphorical Landscape.Generator

Impossible Maps 37a Space map

Making a map gives you freedom to map the impossible, to lose yourself in your scale of choice.
In A Boy & Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton – here’s a map of nowhere. It’s almost not a map at all.37 Boy and Bear 02

Here’s the map on the cover of the book (from the original hardback version)38 Boy&BearBig
No features at all. Except a mug ring. But then, look again….squinting closely– there are two black splots.

39 Boy&BearSplots
Focus in on one and it’s – yup, just a squashed fly.40 Boy and Bear fly
Then let’s pull right in on the other splot – I definitely see oars there.41 Boy and Bear boat

The scale of the bleak emptiness is immense, and I feel like I am falling through infinity.

SDPBsmallMy book Space Dog started with thinking about making a space map. My son Herbie had a brilliant rocket toy. It came from the Early Learning Centre.42 rocket

It was shaped a bit like a kettle with a handle, and you could fly it all round your home, exploring the Cistern System, the Pastaroid Belt and the Outer Spooniverse.
I wondered – what would space look like if the whole of the universe was actually everything in your house, in disguise. So here we have some Space Map Planetoids:40 Bo43 plantoids
FryUp42 with its ketchup volcanoes, the steamy planet of Bathtime 37 and Cornflake 5 and Bottleopolis which are in the Breakfast Cluster.43 Space Map Photo

The Space Map was Space Dog’s endpapers, but, alas, they only appeared in the hardback version.44 SD Space Map

Download your own space map bits here, and make your own Space Map.

Maps and the Imagination45 Haute Cuisine

Take some words, maybe these ones which are a list of some things you might forget:46 forgettables
Take a diagram of some islands, maybe these ones:47 Isles of Forgetfulness no text
Put them both together, and what have you got?
The Isles of Forgetfulness.48 Isles of Forgetfulness

This page comes from The Atlas of Experience by Louise van Swaaij and Jean Klare, which charts the human journey through life, with maps drawn in Subjective Projection and reproduced in Unimaginable Scale.

50 Atlas of Experience

Maps demonstrate the alchemy of words and pictures, that magic picture book double act. Words & Pictures and your imagination are doing the work of together creating a whole new thing. And because your imagination helped make it, it’s unique. So the map is words and pictures glued all together with a tremendous projection of imagination.

Falling into a Map, endless Maps51 tiny banner

My dream is to be able to actually fall into a map and find myself in another world that I can explore. Or to find a map that I can zoom into or out of forever…from the microscopic atomic scale to the intergalactic.

TinyIn Tiny by Korky Paul and Paul Rogers, Tiny is a flea on the back of a dog called Cleopatra living at No 72 Hilltop Road.52 Tiny house
Korky Paul’s marvellously detailed pictures pan out from hairs to streets to islands to planets.53 Tiny town.psd
But every time I can still spot the dog, find the house still recognisable at a smaller scale.54 Tiny island
I know if I zoom back in I’ll be able to find EVERYTHING there, every bird, fish, person, dog, insect, molecule. (I love that giant octopus.)

To end with I’m going to tell you about one of the very first picture book maps I ever made.55a Laputa Map

Heres the flying island of Laputa

It was for a student project, adapting Gulliver’s Travels.55b Laputa Map
The first page opens out to show Gulliver’s desk and his map.55c Laputa Map
In the map you can make out Gulliver abandoned in a rowing boat, and the flying Island of Laputa about to come over and pick him up.55d Laputa Map
What I really really wanted was for you to be able to zoom in enough to for you to be able to see the waves rippling the water, to smell a bit of spray and hear some seabirds. I did (sort of, badly) manage to do this when I animated my book and falling into the map 55 Laputa Mapbecame the beginning of Gulliver’s adventures on the crazy island of Laputa.

56 flying island

Here’s the flying island of Laputa

A map is a place to roam about in the imagination. A map is a record of the discovered and the undiscovered. A map is a plan for plundering, or a diagram of how to carve up the world. A map is a journey, a story, a cast of characters, a portal.

I’ve always been obsessed with the small world. Small worlds are where we are animators as children: the doll’s house, the micro city you made among tree roots, the box of plastic dinosaurs and farm animals ready to journey down the garden. A map is a model world, and in picture books maps can come alive, using the power of words and pictures and your imagination and mine, in yet another feat of picture book magic.

PS:  Interested in maps and in Oxford? There’s an wonderful exhibition – Talking Maps –  at the Bodleian Library you might like to visit. Details here.

The Last Wolf & Other Missing Animals

This post first appeared on Picture Book Den’s Blogspot.


01 Lost AnimalsA few years ago an announcement came out in the news. According to the WWF Living Planet Report, since the 1970s more than half of the wild vertebrate animals on Earth had quietly disappeared. Half of our animals are missing! – how could we have been so careless? And those were the big, visible animals. In a more recent study from Germany, 75% of flying insects – the insects on which everything else depends – were found to have vanished in 25 years. Things are quietly disappearing. Why are they disappearing?


The story of The Last Wolf started with Red Riding Hood. I wondered: what if, instead of taking that basket of goodies to Granny, Red is in the woods because she wants to catch a wolf. But could she actually find a wolf? In England, wolves were probably extinct by 1500, and the last wolf in Scotland may have been killed in 1680. There were once wolves, lynxes and bears, but we’ve lost all our big predators now and become a land of more Wind in the Willows-sized animals.

But walking in the woods can make you remember that the woods could once be dangerous places, where the unwary and unwise could get into trouble. It’s easy to be hidden in woods.02A Wytham treeSNear where I live in Oxford are the wonderful Wytham Woods, which have been studied for over 60 years and where you can walk around and see big old trees full of lumps and crevices, which are also fun to draw. When I was thinking about the story of the Last Wolf I liked walking in Wytham Woods and imagining a wolf was there, and drawing the big old trees.

Big old tree at Wytham Woods

Big old tree at Wytham Woods

I collected my favourite picture book trees – which started with these by Jenny Williams:05 Jenny WilliamsHere are more beautiful picture book trees. This is from John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk illustrated by Sara Ogilvy:06 midnightfolkand these wonderful wolfish woods are from Emma Chichester Clarke and Michael Morpurgo’s Pinocchio:07 pinocchioI kept these at hand for inspiration. Most of my previous picture books have been set indoors in the world of man-made things, so it was exciting to go venturing into the trees.

Here are some sketchbook pages from when I was working out the Last Wolf. I wasn’t sure how to end the story. I did want to begin and end the story with the Good Old Days forest at the beginning and the shrunken woods eaten into by houses at the end, but my wise editor Joe Marriott at Penguin Random House helped me to find a more hopeful ending.

08 Sketch09 sketch10 Sketch11 Sketch12 LW picHere’s the bit in the book where Red meets the Last Wolf.13 Wolf14 WolfAnd now to….


This is all that was last seen of Vaucanson’s Duck.15 duckIt is thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1879. The Duck was an extraordinarily lifelike automaton. It could quack and drink and eat duck-food, which it would then transform into duck-poo to the astonishment of everybody around. It looked like a living breathing bird. But the burnt remains of the Duck reveal the cogs and springs and cams which made this illusion of life happen.


In the usual human view of the world, it is divided into those that talk and those that don’t. This is very useful, because it means that those that talk can farm and eat those that don’t.

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes

It is Rene Descartes I blame for this.  Descartes (1596 – 1650) maintained that animals cannot reason and do not feel pain; animals are living organic creatures, but they are automata, like mechanical robots. Descartes held that only humans are conscious, have minds and souls, can learn and have language and therefore only humans are deserving of compassion.

He assumed animals were automata. But this is a big mix-up: automata – machines which create an illusion of inner life, but work by clockwork and cams – can only be made by humans. Only people make machines like this. Nature doesn’t work this way. In the animal world it seems feelings drive behaviour. Feelings give the impulse to act, and determine what that action might be. Feeling scared at a threat brings an impulse to run away. Feeling strong, brave or angry will make you act differently. If something behaves like it has an inner life – then, I argue – it probably does. If my dog behaves like it is scared, it is because it feels scared. If my dog is behaving like it is pleased to see me, then it must be because it feels pleased to see me (I hope!)  Rene Descartes drew up the drawbridge, made the world into Us and Them, human and non-human. The non-human can’t talk, so doesn’t have an inner life. And that means they can be owned, eaten and treated as slaves – all very economically useful. Only with the ideas of Charles Darwin did we start to see ourselves in the continuum of the tree of life, and take our place in the unfolding story of evolution.17 insectsPicture books are a fantastic direct line to empathy and imagination –– where else can you explore what it would feel like to be an egg or a biscuit or a spoon? 18 EmpathyBut also the great thing about picture books is they are an arena where you can make anything you want happen. And one thing I’ve always wanted is to meet is an animal that could talk. But talking animals only really happen in books. The world of children’s books is crammed with talking animals – from Alice in Wonderland to Narnia to Philip Pullman’s daemons to Piers Torday’s Last Wild  – talking animals are rife. Books are windows and doors into experiencing being someone else and that someone may be an animal.19 Lynx and deerThe legacy of Rene Descartes was to see animals as automata, giving an illusion of inner life, but not really having it. But automata are only possible because they are manmade – nothing in nature works this way. The inner lives of animals are worth imagining, what it must feel like to be them. Some animals end up being food. Would we be able to treat talking animals this way? It would seem a bit rude to eat someone who you could have a conversation with (see the Dish of the Day episode in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) But maybe it is even ruder to eat someone you don’t know at all. An anonymous meat could well have had a terrible life. Maybe it is worth asking the question: Meat – Who did it use to be? Packaging is powerful stuff. It would be useful if meat packets could tell us more about the life of whoever is in the packet, so we could choose the one who had a good life before they were meat.

MEAT: who did it use to be?

MEAT: who did it use to be?

MORE TREES PLEASE 21 more trees pleeseRed Riding Hood is a tale that came out of the terror of the forests – the ancient human struggle for survival against nature and predators. But things aren’t like this anymore – we’ve remade the landscape of our planet and its animals to support nearly 7 billion humans on Earth.  It could be time now to change our Us and Them thinking. It always used to have to be ‘Humans first’, because we were small and the Wild was vast. But now the vast majority – some say 98% –  of the mass of vertebrate land animals is us and our livestock. Could we give back a bit more space for the Rest of the World? We could include thinking about nature in everything we plan, and try putting a real value on our existing nature especially ancient woodlands. The amazing 4.6 billion year story of life on Earth – the complex long weaving of our life on Earth – is it OK to unravel and simplify this?

A Sunday Times headline: as it was (left) and as it could be (right)

A Sunday Times headline: as it was (left) and as it could be (right)

We can tackle this by framing everything we do in the context of nature, but also we have to step back a bit – leave more land unclaimed, leave the Antarctic Krill for the Antarctic animals. This needs regulation and legislation, otherwise a tragedy of the commons always happens. The National Planning Policy Statement of 2012 put ‘sustainable development’ (is that not an impossible thing?) at the heart of the planning system. Here’s my dictionary’s definition of ‘sustainable’:

Sustainable adj 1 able to be sustained. 2 able to be maintained at a fixed level without exhausting natural resources or damaging the environment: sustainable development.

So – sustainable development means development at a level which can be continued indefinitely without environmental degradation. If you systematically convert unbuilt-on land into built-on land so the overall balance of land-use changes – this is not sustainable if carried on indefinitely even at a low level.

There’s a new draft National Planning Policy Statement out for consultation right now. We should make sure that putting space for Nature is at the heart of everything we plan. Here’s how you can give feedback. (And also here.)24 Election Manifesto

Winter trees in Grosvenor Square, London

Winter trees in Grosvenor Square, London

Trees are multi-level, they make habitats more three dimensional.  Trees seem especially important in cities. The challenge is: can we create our buildings in sympathy with trees, plan around big trees, be generous and build with enough space for big trees? Can we value big old trees as special individual entities – to be valued like national treasures, like St Paul’s Cathedral? A big old tree gives vastly more to us than a young sapling. They are not interchangeable. We have to factor in time, put a value on time so it is not affordable to cut down a big tree. It seems that Sheffield City Council’s destruction of their street trees at the moment is demonstrating exactly how not to do things.

Plane tree in Grosvenor Square, London

Plane tree in Grosvenor Square, London

Chestnut tree near Iffley Lock, Oxford

Chestnut tree near Iffley Lock, Oxford


If you give animals space and habitat to live in they bounce back. Rewilding Yellowstone Park with wolves boosted the whole dimensions of biodiversity there, by returning a missing keystone species – changing the behaviour of their prey and enabling woodland to grow back. Pine martins, red kites, beavers are all coming back from the brink in the UK. Rewilding can make more for all of us by restoring a balance of predators and prey and a more complex natural world.

Every little bit of wilderness helps.28 Cut out & keep

Here’s a useful cut-out-and-keep Wild Verges Award – if you see a particularly lovely roadside verge of cow parsley and wild flowers later in the year you could award it to the council concerned. Or give it to your own garden.

Nice bit of Cow Parsley in Regent’s Park

Nice bit of Cow Parsley in Regent’s Park

PS: The Last Wolf is out now, published by Penguin Random House. Catch it if you can!30 LastWolf Cover

Mollusc Frenzy

It’s been raining and the molluscs are on the move, charging up the garden path, swarming up stalks and flinging themselves acrobatically from leaf to leaf as they circle in on Sketching Weakly’s prize Campanula Pendula. Which is now a sad-looking stalk.

Mollusc FrenzyThe flies have been busy too.

fliesSnails seem to really love tree climbing.

climbing snails

The Global Marshmallow Test

(Or: Can you eat your planet and have it too?…)

Global Marshmallow newHere’s a delicious planet, perfectly formed and heaving with life. We’ve had three billion years of pretty good weather, give or take an ice age and the odd mass extinction. But big changes have been happening in the last 10 000 years. The graph of wild animal numbers has gone into free fall. There’s been a huge change in land use to grow food for humans, and the Earth’s settings have been adjusted to new and experimental levels due to extra carbon dioxide in the atmospheric mix. Carbon dioxide is a Good Thing – we’d be too cold for life without it. But a little too much has a big effect on climate. The Earth is a huge old system and the more you find out about past climates the more you wonder what long wild ride is being unleashed right now.

We know we have to do something about this. But the Something we have to do has to be quite a big thing, to really make an impact. Maybe it means treating CO2 as if it is an amazingly expensive and rare resource, to be used very sparingly, as if we’re completely running out of the stuff. And maybe it involves setting some limits: setting aside some sea to be no fishing zones, setting aside our forest to stay forest, and realising that as a species we are the only one that can try to regulate our population to a level that our planet can accommodate. But all these things are givey-uppy things: someone has to not fish, someone has to find another living, someone has to decide to have less children than they might like. Nature is really messy and inconvenient and eats our crops and probably us too if we let it. We might decide to make carbon really expensive so we use it more carefully – but then someone has to find life is more expensive. Like you. And me.

Does a struggle have to happen – can Now-Us take a hit for Future-Us?

So that’s the Global Marshmallow Test facing us; do we have the power to imagine how extremely grateful future beings will be to us if we leave the wondrous carboniferous fossil fuels buried for now. (They might even need them in a few hundred years time if there’s an unexpected ice age.) And how grateful they might be to us for having put up with the inconvenience of animals and their habitats so they could inherit some of the bizarre treasure of the extraordinary beings that evolution has produced that share the world with us.

PS: Here’s the proper fabulous picture of the Plumb-Pudding in Danger by Gillray in case you were missing it:pudding-smallPPS: How? Here’s James Hansen on the idea of a Carbon Fee and Dividend (payable to all taxpayers) (on page 5)

Here’s Hansen’s Ted Talk.

PPPS: Here’s a brilliant lecture by Dr Scott Wing about how the climate of 55 million years ago can tell us a lot about now.

March of the Giant Insects

Sketching Weakly has been back at the Oxford Natural History Museum, & being a sucker for a nicely turned antenna couldn’t resist this mantis or this earwig:

mantisHere’s a jaunty mosquito. Drawing the larva caused problems.

mosquitoAnd here’s a skeletal reindeer.

reindeerPS: Will the CHEETAH come back some day? I hope it does.

OX NHM 04 LOST16 alive once