Nature Deficit Disorder

Words by Paul Thornycroft

Lucky me when, as a child, access to nature was straight forward.  With no stranger danger inhibiting my parents, I could I roam the wooded slopes that led down to meadows where a small stream meandered the woodland boundary.  This was the Wild Wood of “Wind in the Willows” fame, and the brook was Ratty’s brook, where he and Mole messed about in boats.  I haven’t visited this place for decades since the time that nostalgia drew me there to feel again my childhood haunts.  What I saw broke my heart.  The meadowland is now a motorway link-road, and the stream a foetid culvert choked with rubbish.

When I see nature brutalised I feel a deep, visceral anguish.  I feel loss, confusion and guilt, adding up to a feeling of abandonment–– but have I abandoned nature or has nature abandoned me?

In an everyday sort of way, we don’t notice losses to the natural world.  We admire technology and enjoy its fruits, finding reassurance in doing so.  But deep inside we know, when we care to look, that our wild desires are harvested and seduced into numbed fulfilment by the consumption of irresistible products, both material and ideological.  By these means our wild desires are muted and the anguish is somatised and normalised.

It seems that nature is defined by western culture as just another resource to exploit, use, abuse and control.  Sound familiar?  If it’s ok to do that to NATURE then surely, it’s ok to exploit, use, abuse and control everything, anything, anybody?  Not so.  That’s not what we want, but it is happening.

But how is it that western civilisation engenders this sense of human supremacy and entitlement at the expense of all other living beings, and cultures?  If we could examine this as a pathology, as if the collective were an individual, what do you think we would find?

As individuals we are conditioned by cultural metaphors from a very early age, perhaps even from the moment of conception, and yet children remain remarkably elastic in their imaginations until the realities of life constrain them.  They have an intuitive sense of the wonder of wild nature, and a hunger for this common source of nourishment, which, sadly, is no longer common nor abundant nor inexhaustible.  Many children have severely limited access to un-degraded nature, some none at all.  Sadly, for most, this becomes normalised.

Why should this normalising go largely unchallenged?  Do we really view nature merely as a resource to be exploited for our own economic advantage?  Perhaps we do, but not consciously; such deep rooted values come from the cultural metaphors embedded in our social mores, and in language itself, and these patterns of belief are cultural, not genetic.  We can change them if we choose to.

Nevertheless, the future looks bleak indeed.  Many young people are struggling, unhappy without knowing quite why, scanning the world for meaning and finding an absence.  Isolation, depression and anxiety have become normal, too, for a large number of older people.  And yet we seem to have no choice but to participate in a social and economic system that is degrading the natural world to a condition soon to be inhabitable only by machines, while humans live lives enclosed within urban norms.

Richard Louv, in 2005, wrote a book called “Last Child in the Woods” in which he coins the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’.  He states “Nature-deficit disorder is not meant to be a diagnosis but rather serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from the natural world.”.

Clearly, children benefit from spending time in wild nature, on camping trips, on adventure holidays and equine-therapy days.  We would all benefit from such activities.  But as Louv indicates, this goes much deeper and it is not just children that suffer nature-deficit disorder, it is humans of all kinds, it is society itself, and most significantly, it is Nature itself.

I recently came across a sentence that made me take notice.  “There’s something unsettling about being reassured in troubling times” (source not known).  This exactly resonates with my ‘deep, visceral anguish’.  Well, actually I feel no reassurance.  I’m clearly not consuming enough.  But if I could see back through time, I might see the beginnings of the patterns of culture that alienate us from the Earth, patterns that could be re-imagined.

I’ll need some help, need to look stuff up.  Learn how to shrink time.  I’ll report back.


Paul Thornycroft is the author of The Adventures of Horatio Mowzl, an illustrated children’s story that reflects on the impacts that human activity is having on the environment, whilst taking readers on a whirlwind adventure.

Follow Paul on Twitter, Facebook and his website for more blog posts, information about Mowzl, giveaways and competitions.

The Adventures of Horatio Mowzl is available to buy here.

Diversity and the Publishing Industry

Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK, noted that the book industry will ‘become irrelevant’ if it continues to fail to reflect and represent the diverse range of voices within our society.

There are many reasons for this, including a lack of contacts within the publishing industry, low levels of confidence, poor experience of mainstream schooling and sometimes greater needs around developing young people’s writing. There are many under-represented communities within the book world, including individuals from poorer backgrounds, from LGBTQ or BAME communities, or writers with a disability.

‘The past 10 years of turbulent change affecting the UK book industry has had a negative impact on attempts to become more diverse’, Professor Claire Squire states in The Writing Future, and if the publishing industry continues down this path, it ‘risks becoming a 20th century throwback out of touch with a 21st century world’.

Attempts have been made to tackle the publishing diversity deficit; Random House launched its new #WriteNow Initiative aiming to discover and mentor authors from the UK’s most under-represented communities in 2016. Authors Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla created the annual Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, an award that intends to ‘celebrate the achievements of British writers of colour’. Pioneering efforts by English PEN, the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in over 100 countries, who campaign to ‘defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk’, matching writers with marginalised groups such as people in prisons, in refugee or detention centres and young people in disadvantaged areas. The Arts Council England dedicates funding to support writers from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, disproportionate obstacles to getting published for disadvantaged authors continue.

Whilst the rise of digital publishing and self-publishing services means that more writers can get their work published, there are still challenges in effectively stocking and selling books, which directly impacts what gets read. Promotion and distribution are challenges that self-published authors and even those with an independent publisher face.

The result is a gap or omission in whose accounts, voices and experiences are heard, causing common stereotypes to go unchallenged, or even reinforced by other, more privileged accounts who may misappropriate or misrepresent different narratives.

Literature plays a huge role in exploring the current socio-political climate and debate, reflecting on various aspects of society and highlighting the need for action or change. From the work of Charles Dickens to Zadie Smith, a book can really change the world. However, when some authors are excluded from being published and platformed, it is not only unfair to them as individuals but denies society the opportunity from accessing their unique perspectives.

At Arkbound, we recognise the diversity deficit in publishing and seek to address it by supporting authors from disadvantaged backgrounds. Founded in early 2015, Arkbound is an innovative and unique publisher that bridges the gap between contemporary and ‘vanity’ publishers by offering writers a chance to publish their work in a supportive and sustainable manner.

Supporting individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, Arkbound believes firmly in the power of writing as a healing and inspirational tool. Invested in developing creative talent, promoting social inclusion and breaking down barriers within the publishing industry, Arkbound is a publisher with social enterprise at heart. Many of our titles focus on under-represented voices and have supported authors working with charities like First Stop Darlington on Roofless and Emmaus for No Homeless Problem (to be published in April) to curate collections of poetry that looks at narratives of homelessness and the critical issues that are at the heart of current social and political debates.

Arkbound’s social enterprise efforts are centred around training individuals who want to enter the publishing world, offering alternative routes and equipping people with the skills and knowledge to make their dreams a reality. The Publishing Excellence Programme, launched in 2017, is just one way we try to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to work in publishing, with many candidates carrying on to secure paid work placements. Our ‘Zooker Award‘ also endeavours to acknowledge debut books by diverse authors with an environmental or social message that encourages their readers to make positive changes, whilst Arkbound’s annual writing competition can sponsor entries from disadvantaged writers.

There is still a great way to go, with many challenges making things difficult to tell a range of stories that are truly representative of our time and society. Arkbound is committed to building sustainable futures for a diverse range of authors and will continue to keep bridging divides within the publishing industry.