Au­thor Ni­cholas Crane ex­plains why ge­og­ra­phy is so im­por­tant

Au­thor and broad­caster Ni­cholas Crane’s love of ge­og­ra­phy was in­spired by his child­hood in East An­glia. He tells Rachel Banham why ge­og­ra­phy has never been more im­por­tant.

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If Nick Crane hadn’t be­come an au­thor, ge­og­ra­pher, car­to­graphic ex­pert and TV pre­sen­ter, he would surely have made one of the best teach­ers of his sub­ject ever.

His lat­est book, ‘You Are Here: A Brief Guide to the World’, is a cel­e­bra­tion of the vi­tal role of ge­og­ra­phy in our un­der­stand­ing of the big is­sues fac­ing hu­man­ity and the planet to­day.

Nick says: “I wrote it be­cause I feel very strongly that ge­og­ra­phy mat­ters more than ever be­fore at the mo­ment be­cause we are fac­ing a set of global chal­lenges that are all geo­graph­i­cal.

“We need to ad­dress them with great ur­gency and we can only do that if we have a greater level of geo­graph­i­cal knowl­edge among pol­icy mak­ers.

“So what I’m ar­gu­ing for is that ge­og­ra­phy should be sup­ported at a much greater level all the way through schools and univer­sity and that it should be given greater weight in pol­icy mak­ing cir­cles, whether it’s busi­ness or gov­ern­ment.”

Nick is known for pre­sent­ing the BBC TV se­ries Map Man and Coast, among oth­ers. He served as pres­i­dent of the Royal Geo­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety from 2015 un­til 2018.

You Are Here is a dis­til­la­tion of a life­time’s work and it is aimed at ev­ery­one.

“It’s writ­ten, I hope, in a very ac­ces­si­ble way,” Nick says. “It’s writ­ten, in a sense, as a set of sto­ries. I’m a geo­graph­i­cal sto­ry­teller and I hope ev­ery­body from all sorts of back­grounds will find it in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally about our home, our world.”

Nick grew up in East An­glia and still re­turns to visit rel­a­tives in the re­gion.

“I grew up with an Ord­nance Sur­vey map and a bi­cy­cle, so for me ge­og­ra­phy starts with be­ing an ex­plorer of your own neigh­bour­hood,” he says. “One of the rea­sons you’ll see the front cover of the book with a map on it is that that’s where ge­og­ra­phy starts - with in­spi­ra­tion. It’s ex­plor­ing your own neigh­bour­hood nat­u­rally.

“If you look out­side your own front door there are geo­graph­i­cal sto­ries about ve­hi­cles that are go­ing past, the lay­out of the foot­paths, the di­rec­tion of the road, the kinds and the species of trees that you can see, the types of houses that have been built ar­chi­tec­turally – each one of those is part of a geo­graph­i­cal story.”

You Are Here is the short­est book Nick has writ­ten but it was also, he says, one of the most dif­fi­cult to write, since in many ways it has the most in it.

“I hope it reads very eas­ily be­cause that was the in­ten­tion. And also I was very keen to hang on to the sto­ry­telling, to make the sto­ries roll along,” he says.

“I’ve been think­ing about it for a long time, but re­ally what mo­ti­vated me to do it now is the ur­gency.”

You Are Here puts the case that we are all ge­og­ra­phers, hu­man be­ings who care about the places we think of as ‘home’ - our habi­tat. And yet we have lost touch with the con­nec­tion be­tween our ac­tions and the state of the planet.

“I think we’ve be­come more con­nected to more of the globe, but we un­der­stand less about the way our own neigh­bour­hood func­tions and in­deed greater com­mu­nity func­tions. So we’ve bro­ken those con­nec­tions and we’ve be­come less good at it,” Nick says.

“I think it’s very im­por­tant to re­dis­cover our in­ner ge­og­ra­pher and you can just take one ex­am­ple . . . Be­fore the age of smart-phones if you go fur­ther back, a cou­ple of thou­sand, four thou­sand, years be­fore the age of farm­ing - when in Bri­tain we were hunt­ing and gath­er­ing. Peo­ple un­der­stood then if you over ex­ploited a re­source, if you ate all of the berries off all of the shrubs and the trees there would be no more food un­til the next year, un­til the next sea­son. Whereas nowa­days we be­have as if some­how the nat­u­ral re­sources are go­ing to au­to­mat­i­cally be re­plen­ished if we con­sume them all. We now know that we are con­sum­ing the planet un­sus­tain­ably.”

We are be­ing con­fronted by a daily bar­rage of geo­graph­i­cal

We be­have as if some­how the nat­u­ral re­sources are go­ing to au­to­mat­i­cally be re­plen­ished if we con­sume them all.

sto­ries on cli­mate change, geopol­i­tics, pop­u­la­tion growth, mi­gra­tion, dwin­dling re­sources, pol­luted oceans and en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards.

Nick speaks of the im­por­tance of ad­dress­ing the United Na­tions’ 17 Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, which he says are all geo­graph­i­cal chal­lenges.

He says: “We need more ge­og­ra­phers. We can’t sort it out with­out ge­og­ra­phers, so we need stu­dents com­ing through pri­mary and sec­ondary school pick­ing up ge­og­ra­phy for GCSE, tak­ing it on to A-level and then to de­gree level.

“Ev­ery­body of every age is com­pletely crit­i­cal for the fu­ture of the planet be­cause we’re all vot­ers, if we’re adults, and if you have a vote then you are part of the fu­ture.

“I hope that peo­ple are go­ing to vote next time we have elec­tions with an un­der­stand­ing of ge­og­ra­phy, of where peo­ple and places are and how they re­late to each other. That’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Nick’s book am­ply makes the case that never has ge­og­ra­phy been so vi­tal. We have, he be­lieves, reached a point in our col­lec­tive geo­graph­i­cal jour­ney where knowl­edge is the best guar­an­tor of the fu­ture.

“For me,” he says, “ge­og­ra­phy is the most ex­cit­ing sub­ject in the world - and it’s what keeps us hu­man.”

I grew up with an Ord­nance Sur­vey map and a bi­cy­cle, so for me ge­og­ra­phy starts with be­ing an ex­plorer of your own neigh­bour­hood.

Nick be­gan his life-long love of ex­plor­ing the coun­try­side as a boy with a bi­cy­cle in Nor­folk.

Nick reg­u­larly re­turns to East An­glia and has been in­volved with many projects to pro­mote en­joy­ment of the re­gion. Here he is at the open­ing of The Crag Walk at The Naze in Wal­ton on the Naze.

TV pre­sen­ter Nick Crane, pic­tured in Cringle­ford, near Nor­wich, dur­ing one of his re­turn vis­its to the area where he spent his child­hood years. IN­SET: You Are Here, A Brief Guide to the World.

You Are Here: A Brief Guide to the World, by Ni­cholas Crane, is pub­lished by Wei­den­feld & Nicolson in hard­back at £12.99.

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