Back in 2018, a few forward-looking people envisaged – though it was largely wishful thinking – a network of ‘pollinator pathways’. Today, we’re opening our first insect superhighway.
Fenn was anxiously watching two screens at once.
The one on his tablet showed footage streaming live from the Earth Court of Environmental Justice. The other was the enormous, wall-covering screen in the reWILD hub’s monitoring centre. Above it, the name of the organisation he’d dedicated his life to pulsed green: Restoring Earth with Insight, Love & Design. He paused, smiling, on the word ‘love’; how they’d struggled with that at the start. ‘Eco-loons think we can love the earth back to health!’ was among the kinder headlines back in 2025, when reWILD took root.
Fenn had been five when the ecological uprisings peaked, eventually forcing the extreme right from government. He remembered marching with his ma. No blood was shed and no stones were thrown – a few twigs, maybe; the protest, fuelled by love, had been won with persuasion and reason, not rioting and violence. He tingled, remembering the day he’d stood among tens of thousands on the hot, sticky tarmac of the peacefully occupied motorway, rejoicing with his ma as the self-styled ‘broad green coalition’ took office. They’d thrown flowers into the air, hugging and kissing anyone and everyone, despite the latest Lucifer-rated heatwave. Even a few of the farmers from the bare, treeless agrilands next to the motorway had run down the littered banks to join them, abandoning their dry, barren fields, tears in their eyes.
Fifteen years on, and with plenty of political bumps along the way, he was enjoying a skylark’s view of that same stretch of motorway, where it left the city and snaked out into the countryside beyond. It was unrecognisable; there were no vehicles, just people walking and dancing along the two graffitied lanes. Today, the central reservation was planted with maturing, shade-casting trees, their canopies almost touching those planted along the sides of the transformed strip of once thunderous, polluting road. On the screen, he could see the thin, shimmering strips that ran along its length; what was once a litter-strewn hard shoulder was now an aquahighway, where underwater – as well as web-footed – life commuted between the city centre and the recovering countryside. Fenn smiled proudly; he’d thought that one up. As one of the dronecams zoomed in, the big screen showed a line of shirtless people strung out over the grassy, flowery bank, wielding sun-glinting scythes. Eco-loons for sure, thought Fenn, wishing he was with them.
Today, this big screen, with its myriad live dronecam footage, numbers, and ever-updating charts, brought Fenn and his team boundless joy. The small screen on his desk filled him with an intense, hollow sadness.
One of the first actions of the new government in 2025 was to pass – after years of rancorous opposition – the Ecocide Act. In the following weeks, those who had previously been considered bastions of global industry had their assets frozen and were placed under house arrest. The pesticide bosses – who shouted, ‘We were only trying to feed the world!’ from the steps of the court – were among the first to be charged with crimes against nature, and nanotagged. They had no hiding place, even if they tried. Few were surprised when the toxic links between the ailing pesticide industry, farming lobbyists, and the surging ultra-right media were finally exposed. One of the faces scrolling across Fenn’s tablet – a face he’d tried hard not to care about each day for the last 15 years – had blown the whistle, helping to bring it all crashing down. That was something, at least.
‘Hey, all!’ A young woman, red-faced with long, haywire hair, burst into the hub. ‘Have I missed it?’
Fenn kissed Sting lightly on the lips. ‘Just in time; we’re about to go live,’ he said.
The girl looked at the screen, dumbfounded. ‘Three billion watching? That’s… amazing.’
Someone flipped the screen to show a map of the earth clustered with green dots, each one the location of someone watching live. A hush fell over the room.
‘You smell of nettles,’ said Fenn.
‘One of the schools had run out of plug plants. They want to do a planting party along the newest section, so I just had to grab what I’d got,’ said Sting, stroking the red bumps on her hands and arms.
‘Gauntlets?’ Fenn raised his eyebrows.
‘Way too hot, babe. There’s another Lucifer forecast, you know? Anyhow, I’ve been stung every day for a decade.’
‘Sure,’ sighed Fenn, ‘but you’ll be itchy and restless tonight.’
Sting wasn’t kidding about the nettle rash. Being responsible for the cultivation, design and planting of the city’s stinger corridors meant it came with the job. Research had shown Urtica dioica to be key in helping restore the denuded agrilands surrounding the cities, where wildlife had been all but wiped out. Dull old nettles, it turned out, fostered their own unique ecosystem that helped boost populations of many beneficial, beautiful insects. Sting and her team had helped establish an unbroken ‘nettlework’ of plants, connecting inner-city gardens, small and large, with parks and every other scrap of green space. Eventually it weaved its way out of the city and up onto the lush roadside banks. They’d even found strains whose soup didn’t taste like dirt.
‘… three, two, one.’ The huge screen switched to a satellite image of the western half of the city. Its centre and suburbs were dense with green, and a rainbow of other colours. Solar panels and back-garden greenhouses glinted in the sun; roads and the sides of railway lines everywhere were lined with trees; house roofs without panels shone bright white. People, bicycles, prams and wheelchairs, not cars, vans and lorries, filled the streets, moving together along the veins of the city, flowing out and onto the big wide road.
‘Welcome to the opening of Flowerway 1,’ began a smooth, polished voice, ‘reWILD Britain’s vital first phase in the restoration of its national ecology. Today, we’re celebrating the first step in bringing the pulse of truly wild life back to our ailing – and increasingly failing – agrilands. We have many people to thank for helping make what was once described as ‘the vision of eco-loons’ a reality. But today, here at reWILD Britain, we pay special tribute to one determined and tireless band, without whom this project would never have bloomed: our city’s gardeners.’
Fenn and Sting hugged as a cheer went up around the room. The drones swung in low, beaming images around the world of a cornucopia of colour- and insect-packed gardens, allotments and balconies. Every scrap of space seemed to be alive with flowers. A few late dandelions shone out along the crowded pavements. Dark nettle strips weaved unbroken through long, fenceless back gardens. There wasn’t a lawn to be seen. The summer sun reflected in a thousand ponds.
Squeezing Sting’s hand, Fenn drew a deep breath. ‘Shall we see?’ He tapped the glass panel. Everyone in the room looked up at the briefly hiccuping screen. Now, overlaid on the satellite image, clusters of pulsing dots appeared in over a dozen different colours, matching those in the key down the side of the screen. Red for bumblebees, orange for hoverflies… a different colour for each group of insects. No one in the room spoke; the only sound was a few tearful gasps.
‘It… it’s working,’ whispered Fenn, hugging Sting to his side. ‘Look how far they’ve got.’
The city was plastered with overlapping coloured dots. In the suburbs, the dots thinned slightly, but were more clearly concentrated over the corridors of gardens and nettles. Some of the dots were moving.
‘The nanotrackers worked, Fenn – they worked!’ Sting kissed him on the cheek. ‘You said they would.’
Fenn kissed her nettle rash. ‘And your stingers are working, too.’
Each dot on the screen was a minuscule beacon capable of being tracked by satellite, allowing them to follow an individual insect’s exact journey. Out on the flowerway, the colourful dots pulsed on the bright, flowery banks, alongside the bright stream of human celebration. And they were doing something else. Some of the tagged insects were moving up the banks, away from the flowerway, onto the surrounding land, spilling out over the bloom-rich meadows and ponds between the patches of young copse.
Sipping the last of his elderflower champagne, Fenn slipped back to his desk and tapped his tablet into life. As he was about to open the news feed, a video message pinged. Ma. The screen lit up with his mother’s smiling, tanned face. Behind her the flowerway was a riot of music and laughter.
‘I’m so proud of you today, son!’ She seemed a little tipsy.
‘Ma, have you been drinking?’
‘Just a tot of elderflower.’
Fenn frowned. ‘Oh… really?’
‘Did you see the news, Fenn?’
‘No, I was just –’
‘Guilty,’ she said, her smile gone.
‘Oh. No surprises, then.’
‘No. They’ll be easier on him at sentencing if he agrees to put his knowledge and insight into working on the restoration.’ Her smile seeped back. ‘And he did blow the whistle, after all. But he’ll still be tagged – probably for the rest of his days.’
‘We should… perhaps go for the sentencing. It’ll be in about a month.’
‘I’m not sure…’ Fenn looked up at the huge screen, his eyes on the word ‘love’.
‘Well, think about it, son. Whatever he’s done, I know he’ll be so proud of you. And he is your father.’
Text and images © John Walker
Find John on Twitter @earthFgardener