Though farmers seem like the ultimate salt-of-the-earth friends of Mother Nature and all her bounty, they, too, can seriously disrupt the natural environment. Paring down the variety of their crops necessitates a more homogeneous landscape, and oftentimes small habitats like old sheds or stone walls are removed to facilitate cultivation. The result is a displaced—but incredibly varied—population of living things, and, as birds can be particularly sensitive to environmental changes, their lives can be threatened. Swedish designer Emma Nilsson's response is livet på en pinne, a unique biotope that would provide these evicted species with a new home.
Nilsson spent five months researching the topic for her master’s thesis at Lund University, and the endeavor wasn’t without its challenges. Because her background is in design, not ecology, an essential part of the process was connecting with those in the know: visiting with farmers to gain a greater understanding of their needs and how they work to help with evaluating her concepts; collaborating with biologists on how to increase biodiversity within these particular types of sites, and checking out projects they were working on; and allowing ornithologists to weigh in with their avian expertise.
Lack of food is perhaps the most significant reason the birds can’t survive when their turf is disturbed, but farmers are loathe to reintroduce insects that might harm the harvest. As such, Nilsson sourced benign spiders and beetles to provide much-needed nutrition, then enlisted ladybugs and lacewings to eat pesky greenflies, and butterflies and bees to pollinate. "After localizing these insects, I researched what types of materials attracts them, which I could later include in the module," she tells Co.Design. Common plants, wood, and stones were actually the best bets, making it easy for farmers to find, gather, and use them to create a comfortable habitation within the unit. Each of the materials is separated, largely by weight, into different levels created by a series of horizontal plates, the top of which collects rainwater for a drink and a bit of a bath.
The industrial aesthetic of livet på en pinne might seem incongruous with its green surroundings, but metal made it strong enough to withstand harsh climates and rough handling. "I didn’t want to use any color on the module, because it would get more expensive in production, and for me the original metal color felt more honest," she says. And, as it turns out, modern farmers dig modern design. "The new generation want a clean look, with straight field lines and no weeds."
The prototype is currently being evaluated for efficacy on a farm in the south of Sweden. But it’s already gotten people talking—a success in Nilsson’s eyes: "My goal was to try to find a solution to this problem, but most importantly to start a discussion around the subject.