Ask the Wild, 2018

A project by Marcus Coates and Fiona MacDonald (Feral Practice)

Ask the Wild is an ongoing series of events that asks 'What can we learn from other species to inform the problems and questions we have about human society?'.

A panel of plant/wildlife experts answer questions from public and online audiences. The public ask questions about human society ranging from the personal, political, economic and global and the panel answer using only the knowledge they have of their specialist wildlife study e.g ornithology, botany, marine biology, primatology etc.

The event uses natural history disciplines as a resource for creative thinking and everyday life wisdom, offering perspectives on how our own cultures shape and define us.

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Ask Somerset's plants
September 2019, The Somerset Levels

Feral Practice and Marcus Coates are in conversation with plant scientist Dr Nigel Chaffey and local wildlife guide Deon Warner. Recording took place at Shapwick Heath and West Sedgemoor, on the Somerset Levels. Questions addressed and plants discussed:

Jenny Melling – How can I deal with the seeming impossibility of knowing the whole truth? Plants: plant perceptions, Oak tree, mycorrhizal fungi, woodland connectivity.

Anonymous – I am an eighteen-stone woman. I have been this weight for most of my adult life. I’ve repeatedly tried diets, but to no avail. What would the plants suggest I do? Plants: photosynthesis, Eyebright, Sundew, Bladderwort.

Luminara – How can I stay in my tenderness, as I navigate my way in a competitive and precarious career? Plants: Reed Mace.

Anonymous – Can the plants explain, considering the supposed wisdom of hindsight, how we are seeing a new rise of extremist views, and can they advise on a positive response? Plants: Common Dock

Quantock Hills

Feral Practice and Marcus Coates are in conversation with Plantlife ecologist Dr Alison Smith. Recording took place at Holford Coombe, part of the Quantock Hills Nature Reserve. Questions addressed and plants discussed:

Anonymous – How can we best engage with others, when we see so many polarising views and entrenched positions. How can we put aside differences to achieve something genuinely shared and mutually enriching together? Plants: Lichens, including Witches Whiskers and Barnacle lichens.

Kerry Grant – In the light of recent leadership contests, in which we find ourselves confronting a scenario where both candidates are seriously flawed, how would the plants select the best leader? Plants: Rhododendron, Laurel, Silver Birch, Ivy.

Anonymous – Can the stars light the sky forever? Plants: Polypody Ferns, Mosses

Ask Somerset’s Plants is commissioned by Somerset Art Works.

Ask the wood 

Ask the wood
May 2017, South London Botanical Institute

Question and response from the event
As a European, how do I stay positive in the current political situation?


Irene Palmer — fungi and orchid specialist and Chair of the Orpington Field Club.

Mathew Frith — urban ecologist and Director of Conservation of the London Wildlife Trust.

Roy Vickery — botanist and author of several books on British plant folklore, and President of the SLBI.

Gabriel Hemery — forest scientist and author of several books on forests and trees, including The New Sylva in 2014.

Marcus Coates & Fiona MacDonald

Ask the birds

Ask the birds
February 2018, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Question and response from the event
Why is it when one feels depressed time feels like it slows down and when one feels happy time speeds up?


Helen Macdonald — writer, naturalist, and scholar. Her best selling book, H is for Hawk, won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book Award. She has written and narrated radio programmes, and appeared in the BBC Four documentary series, Birds Britannia, in 2010. Her other books include Shaler’s Fish (2001) and Falcon (2006).

Tim Birkhead — Professor of Behaviour and Evolution at the University of Sheffield. He researches bird populations and breeding. Recent publications include: The Most Perfect Thing: the Inside (and Outside) of a Bird’s Egg, 2016; Bird Sense: What it Is Like to Be a Bird, 2012; The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, 2008.

Ceri Levy — filmmaker, writer, curator, and podcast presenter. His Gonzovation Trilogy, with artist Ralph Steadman deals with the subject of species extinction. He is a campaigning film-maker for conservation. The illegal hunting of migratory species in the Mediterranean forms the basis of his project, The Bird Effect. His journals can be read online at Caught by the River.

Marcus Coates & Fiona MacDonald

Ask the apes
July 2018, Turner Contemporary Gallery


Volker Sommer — Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of London

Nick Newton-Fisher — Reader in Primate Behavioural Ecology at the University of Kent

Marcus Coates & Fiona MacDonald

Ask the apes accompanied the exhibition at Turner Contemporary Gallery Animals & Us, 2018

Ask the ash

photo: Mat­thew de Pulford

Ask the ash
Septemer 2018, Folkestone, Whitstable Biennale

Question and response from the event
How do you hand over stuff to the next generation?

A walking event in Folkestone curated by Whitstable Biennale and The Ash Project.

The event makes imaginative connections between people and ash trees, and offers fresh perspectives on issues in human society, by bringing the knowledge of the natural history disciplines to bear on human problems and dilemmas. For this event we will be focusing on knowledge of the Ash tree and its interconnected species, and relation with the wider woodlands.


Tony Harwood, Resilience and Emergencies Manager for Kent County Council.

Marcus Coates & Fiona MacDonald

Ask the Ash accompanied the exhibition at Turner Contemporary Gallery Animals & Us, 2018’

Ask the sea

Photo by Kirstin Prisk

Ask the sea
September 2018, Tate St Ives

Question and response from the event
How can the sea help with the interminably troublesome and boring problem of Brexit?

Marcus Coates and Fiona MacDonald : Feral Practice bring together a panel of specialists to discuss what the sea can teach us about the human world.

Dr Clare Embling, lecturer in Marine Ecology at the University of Plymouth, specialist in the ecology and conservation of marine vertebrates, habitat modelling, bioacoustics, and human impacts on marine species.

Poet Susan Richardson, who has been writer in residence for the Marine Conservation Zones, and whose latest collection is entitled Words the Turtle Taught Me. Richardson is founding editor of Zoomorphic.

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