I have just finished reading Isabella Tree's inspirational book ‘Wilding’, documenting the decade long experiment in rewilding Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

Among the many themes it tackles is an ongoing discourse on our instinct for control of nature; to understand and therefore dictate what the natural landscape of Britain was, is and should be rather than allowing nature to fully express itself in its own way.  

When rewilding was first introduced at Knepp, it was met with a barrage of resistance and critique from the local community. Many felt that allowing nature to take control on its own would be disastrous for the land. The ‘natural’ landscape of neat hedgerows, divided areas of pasture and woodland, meadows, waterways, heath and parkland would be destroyed and replaced with a wild scrubland, full of weeds, benefitting neither farming nor wildlife, and eventually turning into thick closed-canopy woodland. What has transpired is an explosion of wildlife, a miraculous ‘healing’ of the land from industrial agriculture and a game-changing shift in understanding of the natural behaviour of wildlife. 

The obsessive need for control, when applied to the natural world has had a profound effect on our understanding of what we understand nature to be. Ecological studies that are only completed when species are limited to marginal habitats leads to a warped view of their optimal requirements, so when we finally take action to protect and prevent extinction we do not consider or understand what the true needs of a species may be. Our obsession with control and aversion to non-intervention management of natural systems defines our current relationship with the natural world and is an indicator of how the psyche of the nation has developed and changed over time. We have become a nation more averse to being in a position out of our control, that is, to be in a position truly experiencing nature and placing ourselves in it rather than above it.  

The cult of control has taken us to a level in society where every point of our lives now needs to be manicured and presented. We must control the outside perception, if not the reality of our lives. Within society, the control of narrative and political communication has entrenched binary world views - the with us or against us mindset is transforming the battle-lines of politics; warfare through words, aggressive posture and positioning. 

There have been numerous reports on how social-media has given rise to a dramatic increase in mental health issues with the youth of today, but again, it makes you wonder why? Is it not more prudent to question the underlying desire young people feel to have total control of their lives?

For an educator, the past years of upheaval from government control in the classroom has led to a number of complaints that the current system leaves no room for innovation. It may be fashion amongst teachers to lay all the blame at Michael Gove’s doorstep, but many have been questioning how effectively the current educational model fits for the needs of the 21st century since long before he rewrote the rulebook.  

Leading lights in educational commentary such as Sir Ken Robinson and Stephen Heppel have led a critique of the modern education system that values the Victorian ideals of conformity and control over a system of learning that promotes resilience in learning skills for the future. Heppel often talks of how university students should be expected to challenge and confront existing norms of thought; to wow their professors to achieve a first-class degree, but all too often now follow a framework of reference, diffidence and deference. 

At secondary school level, lessons are crafted and taught to such a strict discipline of structure that there is often no time for free exploration of topics and ideas. The last bastion of free-expression, the arts, have been completely undermined by years of austerity; “nine in every 10 [schools] said they had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.”  

Ken Robinson is clear when he challenges the assertion of the importance of the literacy and numeracy over the value placed on creativity; we need a fundamental shift in the paradigm of education. If we continue down this path of absolute control always planning to know the outcomes before we have even started, then how will we ever get to somewhere different?

Passionate about food and farming, Alex Fitton was a secondary school teacher in inner city London before relocating to Devon to establish an educational programme at Trill Farm.