The arrival of spring

How the arts and humanities can make sense of human relationships with the natural world

This week the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is partnering with the National Trust to mark the official arrival of spring. The partnership project aims to capture the start of the season by calling on people to document their observations of wildlife, the weather and what spring means to them via social media. The commentaries will then be woven into a new poem.

This project, which has been running for the past three years, follows a long tradition in nature writing of celebrating spring’s arrival. It also complements a much wider body of arts and humanities research exploring human relationships with the natural world. This is something which is a high priority for the AHRC in the year of the UN’s climate change conference, COP 26, and beyond.

In this blog post we shine a light on three research projects about nature, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which demonstrate how this interdisciplinary approach can help us better understand human relationships with the Earth.

Land Lines: British Nature Writing

Led by Professor Graham Huggan, Land Lines began as a collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Leeds, Sussex and St Andrews working on a sustained study of modern British nature writing, from Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne (1789) to 2020. The project included a collaborative campaign with AHRC, BBC and Wildlife Trust to find the UK’s favourite nature book which garnered national media coverage, and really got the UK thinking about how we as a nation talk, read, and write about nature.

Land Lines’ current project, ‘Tipping Points’ focuses on people’s relationship with landscape. All of the materials for their recent series of nature writing and visual art workshops will be made freely available via the Land Lines website on March 26th.

Red River: Listening to a Polluted River

Led by Dr John Wedgwood Clarke of the University of Exeter, Red River: Listening to a Polluted River, is an 18-month research project that explores how creative writing can transform our relationship to a polluted, post-industrial river through listening to the human and non-human voices that have shaped, and continue to shape, its course.

Working with schools, community action groups, artists, scientists, curators, geographers – anyone interested in either the Red River or creative writing – the project plans to enhance our sense of the complex impact of human activity on the ecology of this small post-industrial river through a series of creative workshops and events, and by making new work in a variety of art-forms that respond to what it tells us.

Women in the Hills

The Women in The Hills (WITH) research network highlights how women constitute a distinct community of land-users, whose experiences and representations of landscape, and whose values and beliefs regarding the natural world, frequently differ from those of men. The project focuses on the experiences of female walkers, runners, and climbers in upland wildernesses in the United Kingdom, from 1800 to the present day.

The network intends to explore the numerous factors that shape, hinder and enhance women’s engagements with landscape and the natural world. Bringing together academics, creative practitioners and stakeholders across a wide range of disciplines and sectors, the project aims to identify and evaluate barriers and catalysts to, and benefits derived from, women’s participation in leisure activities in the hills.

People can take part in the Spring Nature Diary by posting a comment on the National Trust’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages from Saturday 20 March. More information about getting involved can be found on the National Trust website.

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