So, what is the underwild? What does it mean? Where has it come from?
Well, in simple terms it’s simply a word that's fallen out of my head, created from a lifetime of interest in wildlife and 20 years of filming our British Wildlife for the like of Springwatch, Countryfile and The One Show. But why “underwild” what is it about British Wildlife that forged this term in my mind?
Primarily I think the seeds first started back in my youth. I lived in a town called Deal in Kent, and I still do. My parents let me have a certain degree of input to our garden and I built ponds, put up bird tables and bird boxes. I wandered along the beach and watched the gulls around the fishing boats and I’d sit in the high street looking at pigeons. Occasionally a grey squirrel would visit the garden and I’d tempt it into the house with peanuts.
None of these are spectacular wildlife encounters on an Attenborough level that I would see on telly. In that respect my wildlife felt like second-class citizens, but I loved it all anyway – because it was mine.
So the idea of there being a lower tier of wildlife, a wildlife class system I guess, started forming very early on.
Then as I got older and particularly when I started making telly I became more and more aware of the need to conserve wildlife, to fight for its rights in a world that seemed to push all wildlife to the back of the queue behind people and most importantly – money and business. A growing sense of unfairness spread into my consciousness. Not just my wildlife but all wildlife was rated below our human world.
Of course, we have got better at conserving wildlife over the course of my life time, but so have we also got better at exploiting the planet as global trade sees ever more destruction of habitats for material human gain. But there are many, many good nature reserves where wildlife is wrapped up and protected from the outside world in hope that, come a brighter future, it can be there to re-populate the denuded ecosystems around it.
I visit these nature reserves and revel in their species, but in constant awareness that they are a luxury afford by our ability to be charitable and give money to protect them. Nature reserves scare me in this way; they need to much protection to survive.
If there is anything that gives me hope then, it is the wildlife that survives in our human world. Living forgotten amongst the concrete and the car parks. This is the wildlife fighting to survive in the world we have created. Of course, it is sad that the only place it has left are the bits of land we don’t want, but at least it is making a go of it. No doubt supported by the carefully protected nature reserves that help feed the population of species outside of them.
So it’s the barn owls living along thin strips of set aside between farmers fields, the butterflies on the rough of the golf course, the badgers along the railway lines, the wild flowers on the motorway verges, the nightingales in the abandoned military bases, its all that wildlife that excites me and is, by its very existence in our human world – an “underwild”. It has no protection. No official home. No rights. It’s second class wildlife.
The Underwild is more than “urban wildlife” which seems to apply just to towns and cities. It is phrase that exists to recognize that there really is no wilderness anymore in the UK, no wild space of any significance untouched by human hand. The whole country is a human garden, and outside of nature reserves the scraps of land that nature inhabits is an ecosystem of its own, forging a future space for nature in which it will continually have to adapt to survive.
The Underwild is an exciting place to be as much as it is a depressing one. Yes, the edges of the world is all wildlife has left, but its success here shows how resilient it can be. The Underwild is a place of hope in adversity and it is everywhere – every weed, every pest, every living thing in our human world contributes to The Underwild, and we should celebrate it at every turn in our busy boring lives. The Underwild is both wildlife and habitat, thing and thought, it is everywhere, let it fill your life, enjoy it, know it. After all, if we are not careful, it may just be all we have left.