Sebastian Cox is a craftsman and environmentalist creating bespoke furniture from British wood, alongside innovative pendant lights grown from mycelium and green wood waste. His studio and workshop is based in Greenwich, London, and he also manages woodlands for biodiversity and resources in Kent. In anticipation of him joining a conversation for our Creative Residency, we share an extract from his nature-first manifesto, Modern Life from Wilder Land.
One of the biggest ethical issues we face today is how we use our land. Through the growing of forests we can offer solutions to climate change, through the growing of crops we are provided with food, energy and materials. But land is, of course, finite and we must exercise wisdom in how we use it. Land is also, of course, needed by species other than humans. Wild lands are put under increasing pressure by our increasing consumption. For the last fifty years, we’ve been evicting wildlife from land we once shared or spared.
The manifesto, Modern Life from Wilder Land, proposes change in what we consume, and a change in our perspective to see wilder land as beautiful and bountiful. The pages sketch out how we can reshape our fields, woods, hills and coasts to meet our modern demands, and the needs of our native wildlife.
Myself and my wife Brogan Cox grew up in the English countryside on and around farms, and today manage a coppiced woodland in Kent. We share a passion for understanding and caring for the natural world. The Sebastian Cox studio and workshop opened its doors in 2010 to find a commercial use for coppiced hazel, therefore creating a financial incentive to better manage our woodlands.
Since then, we have tried to make a positive impact with our design business. We ask challenging questions and make things that encourage change. Our priorities are three pressing subjects – the decline of biodiversity, climate breakdown, and our wasteful material culture. If the first two remain unresolved they threaten the existence of all life on this planet, including our species.
Working with natural systems allows species diversity to thrive and can drive a significant reduction in atmospheric CO2. But can this wilder, nature-first approach provide for our growing population on an island with a finite land resource? We believe so. If we learn to use resources in line with what the natural world wants to yield.
We intend to provoke conversation and demonstrate that living within our means is possible without too drastic a lifestyle change. Once we understand the resources we need, and the yield of each segment of our land, we can make decisions about what we consume. It is not a framework for policymakers or farmers, but a suggestion of what we can ask of our producers. Changing demand drives a change in supply, which can then influence policy.
It is unethical to view the needs of future generations as of lower importance than our lifestyle preferences today. Policy should be changed to meet the needs of our future, and political thinking should move beyond the short term to the needs of this coming century.
The science is clear and has been for decades. It seems the facts alone are not enough to provoke widespread action; we need an approach that resonates with people and breaks through apathy. Convincing the head won’t work alone, we must appeal to the hearts of people, and our creative professions are best placed to do this. In many cases, the resistance to positive change is based on aesthetic preferences – onshore wind farms are called ‘unsightly’, verges and roundabouts are mown or sprayed to look neat. Creatives of all kinds must challenge the idea that human visual preference takes precedence over the needs of our natural order. Understanding the challenges we face, we must paint a picture of how the world could be: a wilder future as a beautiful thing, worth aspiring to.
We encourage all creative professionals to make their work ‘wilder’. This might be products that look like their origins, dishes of food that tell wild stories, gardens and buildings that celebrate ‘scruffiness’. A wilder culture could enable the most significant change of all – a spiritual one, making our population sensitive to nature’s needs and compelled to act on its behalf. A wilder modern life could make us all happier, scratching that deep itch humans have to connect with our origins as a keystone creature of our natural world, and leaving our earth a bountiful place for future generations of all species.
Words by Sebastian Cox, extracted from Modern Life from Wilder Land.
Illustrations by Brogan Cox.
Listen to Sebastian Cox talk about nature in design during a panel discussion hosted by Katie Treggiden as part of our Creative Residency. Online and in-person at the Crafts Council Gallery, Islington. Thu 21 October, 7pm BST, 1 hour.