Rewilding Play: Letting nature lead the way

Mike Jones and Mark Renouard think a lot about children’s play needs. They also think a lot about the needs of the natural world.  As directors of Earth Wrights, they design play ‘habitats’ – natural spaces where active, social and imaginative play arises naturally from the environment – and believe these can encourage a reciprocal relationship between what both humans and the earth require to thrive.

“Conventional playgrounds made from metal and plastic may look enticing at first, but offer only limited pre-set play opportunities. In addition, their construction and disposal cause real concern for the environment. When we create natural play spaces both humans and nature benefit.”

This benefit can be experienced in the many projects Earth Wrights has undertaken in recent years.

Buckfastleigh is an area with a high bat population and home to the largest colony of greater horseshoe bats in Europe. When asked to design a play space for Victoria Park, Mark decided to incorporate a planting scheme robust enough for kids to build dens in – amalanchier, elder, buddleia – while simultaneously providing food and habitat for the bats and other wildlife.  At Bishop Cornish Pre-school in Saltash Earth Wrights created a brushwood tunnel which became a home for insects and small animals and offers magical play opportunities alongside a troll bridge with a whispering tube.

Now work has started on a new play space in Parkers Way in Bridgetown. An area with ageing metal play structures and ongoing drainage issues will get a new lease of life by combining the science of good play with the wisdom of nature.

“Children need spaces that offer a variety of types of play. They want opportunities to be active – running, jumping, climbing – places to be quiet and contemplative, spaces that encourage interaction, a chance to explore their surroundings. At Parkers Way we are building a play tower with a climbing ramp and slide, living willow tunnels, balancing log bridges and grassy mounds for younger children. Older children will be able to enjoy climbing up to the hill-top look out tower via a web of ropes and traversing the log agility structure co-designed with local parkour teacher Kyle Perkins from Parkour Experiences.”

Working with, rather than against, the areas natural character they will be using Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) and targeted planting schemes to turn what appeared to be an inconvenient bog into a flower rich marsh and creating access to the stream via a shingle beach with boulders. “Biodiversity does not have to be at odds with humans. Sensible design brings humans and nature together.”

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