Finding hope for nature in The Lost Words

A poetic and artistic rallying-call for us all to stay connected with nature is set to inspire adults and children at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The Lost Words (May 19 – September 2) is a stunning collection of  “spell” poems” and nature paintings - taking the form of both a book and an exhibition - in an award-winning collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris.

Within Inverleith House, at the heart of the Garden, The Lost Words exhibition is Macfarlane and Morris’ response to indications that words from nature are receding from our children's vocabulary. With a recent survey finding that British primary school children were "substantially better" at identifying Pokemon characters than species of common UK wildlife, the two are setting out to invite others to help redress the balance.

With 20 “spell” poems – one for each lost word - and more than 50 beautiful watercolours, Macfarlane and Morris make wren, kingfisher, otter, bluebell and fern among the stars of the show.

Robert Macfarlane has spoken of the “dwindling engagement with nature” being experienced. He said: “A 2017 RSPB Birdwatch survey, assessing nature knowledge in parents rather than children, found that of 2,000 adults, half couldn’t identify a house sparrow, a quarter didn’t know a blue tit or a starling, and a fifth thought a red kite wasn’t a bird – but nine out of 10 said they wanted children to learn about common British wildlife. The hunger is there, but the knowledge is not. This isn’t the ‘fault’ of children, of course; it’s a function of massive changes to the ways we have organised society and place in this country and beyond. But if we are unable to see, know or name even in a basic way the creatures and plants with which we share our everyday lives and landscapes, why (and how) on earth would we work for their good, even when their good is also our good?”

The mediators in bringing the exhibition to Edinburgh were RBGE Head of Public Engagement, Dr Ian Edwards and Rob Bushby, John Muir Award Manager at the John Muir Trust. Mr Bushby explained: “The Lost Words has not only become a publishing phenomenon, but also captured the public’s imagination in a way rarely seen before. The John Muir Trust has a strong heritage in promoting links between literacy and nature so we are delighted to not only promote the sumptuous book that Robert and Jackie have created, but to align ourselves with the thinking behind it. There is a wealth of inspiration to be found not only in the world of literature, including the writings of Muir, but also in the creative outputs of Trust staff and members and the thousands of people who participate in the John Muir Award.”

Welcoming the arrival of The Lost Words to the Garden, Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE commented: “The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has a significant role in connecting people and communities to the natural world, not only through enjoyment of plant collections, activities and learning, but also through the arts. This exquisite exhibition will inspire people of all ages to celebrate and enjoy kingfishers, dandelions and bluebells.”

Throughout its run, The Lost Words will be accompanied by complementary activities, as Ian Edwards concluded: “Once we had secured the exhibition for Inverleith House, our Public Engagement and Education teams began working on ways to extend the experience for the public and visiting schools. As well as the family trail we have a range of engagement activities over the summer including a nature writing festival, poetry workshops, art and singing sessions. We also plan to incorporate The Lost Words into our work with community groups and with people suffering from dementia. The John Muir Trust have been partners in bringing The Lost Words to Edinburgh and their excellent online materials have been a great inspiration and support to our schools education team who will be running school activities at all four Gardens during the summer.”


The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)