I spent the past 11 years researching, writing and teaching in the Philosophy Department at the University of Manchester, first as a PhD student and then for seven years as a postdoctoral researcher. I oriented my research and teaching around questions concerning the values and ethics that shape our relationship to nature. Before this I studied and worked in nature conservation for a number of years, during which time I became fascinated by the fundamental questions it raised about our responsibilities towards the natural world. I was drawn to philosophy as a means to exploring these questions. Over nearly 20 years of studying, writing and teaching in the discipline, I have tried to use philosophy – with its focus on examining values, uncovering assumptions, clarifying where arguments conflict and where consensus can be found – to make useful contributions to the debates between divergent interests that put forward apparently competing visions of what land is for and how it should be managed. I am now retraining with an educational charity, The Philosophy Foundation, to take philosophy into schools.
My experience of the British landscape has given me a balanced perspective on what is at stake in its future for different communities. I have worked on farms – from agri-business arable to fruit farms to organic smallholdings – and in nature conservation, from traditional local council nature reserve management to landscape-scale rewilding projects. In pursuing a range of ways of engaging with the countryside – outdoor pursuits like hill walking and rock climbing; wildlife activities such as birdwatching; landscape archaeological surveying; natural flood management volunteering – I’ve gained an insight into how different groups view the landscape through the lens of their own concerns. I’m fascinated by and open to understanding all these perspectives; you’ll be as likely to find me at The Game Fair as Birdfair, or at a conservation policy conference as an agricultural show.
I grew up in the arable lands of Essex, and then attended agricultural college in Suffolk to study for a rural studies diploma. For the following eight years I lived in Edinburgh, spending much time in the Highlands hill walking and leading residential conservation holidays. My heart has always been in the Pennines, though; when I was 11 my dad took me camping in the Yorkshire Dales and it was there I fell in love with the landscape. For the past decade I have lived deep in Pennine country in Hebden Bridge, in the Upper Calder Valley of West Yorkshire.
I am always happy to hear from fellow nature, place and landscape enthusiasts. Please drop me a line at pauljamesknights [at] gmail [dot] com.