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Skin In The Game

I do love a bit of GQT.* I was toddling back from a site visit on Friday afternoon and caught last week's episode, from Solihull. The last question was "how can we get the young more interested in gardening?"

The panel talked about the disconnect with nature, the problem with social media, the time poor generation... What they didn't talk about, which I see every day, is much simpler. "The young" don't own houses with gardens.

I know, you can have houseplants or garden in window boxes or pots or - again, if you're lucky - get an allotment. It's just not the same as creating a permanent or semi-permanent garden.

Even if the house or flat you're renting has a good sized outdoor space why would you want the cost and have the work establishing a sustainable and attractive garden? In many cases landlords are going to be pretty proscriptive about what you can do anyway.  

And if you're lucky enough to own a house it won't have a garden bigger than a handkerchief, which most likely will need paving ripping out. 

Moving On

I knew the tree officer for Devon County Council, and remember a conversation I had with him about tree planting. He told me how hard it was to get people to plant trees in the county, because of its age demographic. Many folk over a certain age feel that as they're not going to be around to see a tree to maturity there's no point bothering to plant it. 

I feel almost an obligation to improve my own patch of land, which I wouldn't feel if I didn't own it or thought I'd be moving on soon - either physically or metaphorically. Growing stuff brings its own thrill, sure - but that's only part of the deal.

Of course, this also affects our ability to persuade people to put together habitats for wildlife, which is a very much related issue.

The Power Of Many

One potential answer - and more practical than solving the housing crisis! - is community projects. People like to invest time and energy into public spaces, particularly if they're creating permanent changes to their environment. There really is still a sense of pride and identity in many communities, and it can be encouraged. And yet...

I had a meeting earlier last week in our nearest large town, Yeovil. It was a kind of crisis meeting hosted by Able2Achieve, for local non-profits who work to improve their local environments. From the Wildlife Trust to small groups managing gardens and floral public spaces, allotments, churchyards - that sort of thing. Through work I'm familiar with these non-profits across the UK. They can be pretty big, effecting very significant local engagement and landscape scale change, like Chiltern Rangers.

And thank God they do. Like many, Somerset Council has all but gone bust. The horticultural resources it offered have gone, so the work of community groups is going to be even more important but much more difficult. There's no prospect of any help from the council for "non-essential" work. Their plant nursery has been closed, polytunnels abandoned. No school or community engagement work, staff laid off, events cancelled. Award winning Yeovil in Bloom has gone, and what's in the future for lovely Yeovil Country Park


At one level the meeting was pretty inspiring. I'm always humbled by the people I meet who quietly do great things for their local communities. "Humbled" is a hideously overused word, but here used genuinely. Our local heroes are generally well informed, completely unacknowledged, grotesquely underpaid - if at all - and usually struggling against fierce headwinds. More than ever, they need help.

But volunteering is in a sustained downtrend (Source: CAF UK Giving Report) and in terms of £££s a bit of old fashioned philanthropy wouldn't go amiss. I'm particularly thinking of corporates and the wealthy: 

The most affluent are donating proportionately less. The top 10% of earners in the UK donate at half the rate of the poorest 10%, resulting in £3.4 billion of lost funding for charities.
Too few wealthy individuals are participating in philanthropy. Of all donations from the top 1% of households, half came from less than 5% of the group. 
And donors are donating to a narrow set of places in the UK. Donations made through Gift Aid were four times higher in London compared to the UK average. And over a third of all grants from the largest philanthropic foundations were made into London.
Centre right social think tank Onward


As a society we have three options to deal with the collapse of local government support for environmental initiatives. This money isn't going to magically re-appear. Either we start volunteering for the non-profit organisations picking up the slack or we financially support them. Option three is doing nothing, which will have consequences far beyond the cancellation of Yeovil in Bloom

*Radio Four's Gardeners' Question Time.