Being ‘Out There’ in the City: Conservation and Urban Nature

I’ve spent the last few days in London, taking a moment to notice nature in the city. Naturally, pigeons were about and they bought to mind The Pigeon Paradox by Dunn and colleagues. Their paper, in Conservation Biology, suggests that global conservation depends on urban nature.

Pigeon in the Park

Pigeon in the Park

Their case is based on three assertions. Firstly, that at present conservation action is insufficient. Secondly, that direct experience of nature increases the likelihood of conservation action (i’d add a connection to nature here). And finally, that contact with nature will increasingly take place in urban environments, as that’s where people live in growing numbers.

City Coot

City Coot

Dunn and co go on to note that species and ecosystems won’t be saved in cities, but they will be saved by the votes, leadership and decisions of those living in the city. So, finding and noticing nature in the city is vital, and through some of my research we know that simply noticing three good things in nature each day can reconnect people to nature in a sustained way.


3 Good things in nature?

We need to identify, evaluate and highlight more of these simple pathways to nature, so that people can take the route that works for them – be it through contact, emotion, meaning, compassion or finding beauty in a starling (more on the research behind these pathways in a future post). And alongside that, nature needs to become part of our everyday discourse, as normal as talking about all the imagined realities that currently fill our lives and conversations.


Starling at Borough Market SE1

While wandering about the city I also revisited some of the thinking of David Abram that can inform the pathways above. Abram asks that we allow ourselves to be situated ‘out there’, letting our thoughts begin within the trees, clouds, birds and land. Allowing our senses to ignite our thinking, how our mind is both our body and the landscape – because our brains evolved to make sense of the natural world ‘out there’. Yet this perception, and inner world we experience, can create a perceived separation from that outer world, and we can forget that we only sense nature as we are part of it.

Emerging Hawthorn at Gunnersbury Triangle, London Wildlife Trust

Emerging Hawthorn at Gunnersbury Triangle W4, London Wildlife Trust

This is great thinking to return to, but as above, there’s also a need to frame this in the everyday, to find a grounded vocabulary to make our shared place in nature wonderful, yet normal. I found it encouraging that nature in the city can ignite the senses, within the parks and small nature reserves that act as focal points for nature; but also as nature finds its way to us, to the streets and markets, be it a starling or emerging leaf.


Dunn, R. R., Gavin, M. C., Sanchez, M. C., & Solomon, J. N. (2006). The pigeon paradox: dependence of global conservation on urban nature. Conservation biology, 20(6), 1814-1816.


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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1 Response to Being ‘Out There’ in the City: Conservation and Urban Nature

  1. Pingback: 3 Good Things in Nature – A simple way to improve connection with nature | Finding Nature

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