Ask the Wild, 2017, 2018

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

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.

Submit a question at:

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: A fungi and orchid specialist and Chair of the Orpington Field Club.

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

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

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

Marcus Coates & Fiona MacDonald

Ask the Birds

Feb 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: A 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: A 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

Sept 2018, Folkstone, Whitstable Biennale

Photo: Matthew de Pulford

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.


with 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

September 2018, Tate St Ives

Photo: Kirstin Prisk

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.