Wilding

wildingIsabella Tree’s book Wilding (2018) is one of the great books of nature writing. It had me spellbound from start to finish.

First, there was the great adventure of giving nature its head in a marginal farm at Knepp in Sussex, inspired by similar experiments in Netherlands, with the removal of fencing and the introduction of cattle, pigs and ponies. Remarkably the land soon reverted to a mixed landscape of trees, scrub and grassland. Biodiversity increased incredibly. Almost extinct species came back to life and thrived. It’s a story to warm the heart of anyone with a feeling for the natural world.

Of course there was opposition from conventional farming and a view of what the countryside ‘should’ look like, which simply goes back to around the 1800s. Part of the story is how these obstacles were co-opted or overcome. The thing is, the experiment was clearly a huge success from a biodiversity perspective and will surely provide a model for many others.

There are within this book many insights into the history of farming, and why things are as they are. For example the Victorians first created the deep ploughing tools that enabled the draining of marginal farmland and the production of crops. But there has been a price to pay. Along with corresponding ‘improvement’ of water courses to transmit water as quickly as possible, and the widespread use of sheep grazing and grouse management in uplands, this has created the environment where the flooding that we see today after heavy rains becomes inevitable. Left to itself, nature slows and tames the waters, and it can learn to do so again.

Really inspiring are the stories of the return and thriving of nightingales, purple emperors, turtle doves, water voles, hares and others.

And finally, there is the story of the soil, how soil health has improved, different sorts of earthworms thrive, and how approaches such as that taken at Knepp could play a major role in helping to reverse the increase of carbon dioxide that threatens human societies the world over.

They can also help us to get back in touch with nature and our souls, from which the mad money/technological dream has been increasingly distancing us.

Yes, read it.

And you can now go on safari at the Knepp estate.

Featured image shows longhorn cattle grazing wild at the Knepp estate,
from the Knepp website.

Chickens coming home

It has long been apparent that free market capitalism, as currently practised, is running into the buffers of climate breakdown, species extinction, pollution and gross inequality. A system that favours profit maximization at the expense of all else, including nature, cannot expect to go on and on without consequence.

Similarly, globalisation of finance, tourism and product supply with consequent massive movement of people, products and living beings around the world is foundering on the sands of the coronavirus panic and the apparent inability of the system to withstand shocks, and the human fears that follow.

Further, the overemphasis on sovereignty of nation states, with the related rise of populism, and with a weak United Nations, means that collective attempts to resolve these problems is easily nullified by powerful actors.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost. Yet this process seems to be necessary before humanity can build up the collective will to make the necessary changes.

Change there will be, but only when the consequences have effectively forced it. Human nature seems to work that way.

A Berlin Wall Moment?

It seems that the more progressive UK media, including the BBC, have finally taken on board that global warming/climate change, pollution, species extinction, population are major issues of our time that need to be urgently addressed. Many of the issues aired at our New Renaissance Lectures in 1993 onward are becoming mainstream, covered in ‘the news’ almost every day. But they’re not yet ingrained. There are still many news media, corporates and governments in denial, actively blocking change because of their perceived self-interest.

Yet can they resist the surging tide of realism? It feels like a ‘Berlin Wall’ type of time in history. The ice floes are melting. Humanity is turning to face reality, startled at where it has come to, as it followed the materialist dream and for half a century largely ignored the problems being created. The spectre of floods, fires, wars, epidemics, on a scale hitherto unknown, haunts us all, especially the young.

But there is an aspect of those lectures that is less mentioned, less easy to popularise – that of inner spiritual renewal. The outer is a reflection of the inner. Until our compassion for others and for the natural world rises to meet the occasion, and our conscience is heard and acted upon, we may alleviate but not resolve the problems we have created.

Featured image: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989 (at the Brandenberg Gate).
By Lear 21 via Wikimedia Commons.

Mainstream Environment?

I’d guess it was the 1980s when I really became aware of environmental issues, including fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, including pollution of the air in cities, including degrading of farmland by intensive farming, including the effects of pesticides on the natural world. For so long, those 40 years since, the mainstream media have largely ignored these issues, or reported them as the concern of ‘environmentalists’, neatly compartmentalized away from the mainstream.

So I’ve had a strange sense of cognitive dissonance this past week or so as these issues are being discussed on the mainstream bulletins of the BBC, that bastion of UK establishment thinking. Of course, this is a reaction to the success of Extinction Rebellion in highlighting just how urgent now is the situation on global warming/ climate change and species loss (as well as to the success of Netflix in pinching David Attenborough and allowing him his full environmental voice). It really is a planetary emergency with little time left to effectively act.

The worry is that this is just to fill in the air time left by a government and parliament doing nothing but obsess about Brexit. There is no other legislation, no ‘queen’s speech’. The broadcasters must be sick of reiterating the minutiae of customs union, the withdrawal agreement, the splits in the two main parties and on and on.

But we have to be optimistic and suppose that
(a) something will eventually be sorted on Brexit and then
(b) this time legislators are accepting of the urgency and will eventually set out a programme that will at least partially address the climate/fossil fuel issue, encouraging people and business in the right direction. That is their job.
Difficult for a Conservative government that has spent 4 years rolling back the little environmental progress they allowed the Liberal Democrats to make in the coalition government of 2010.

The big question at the moment: Is Environment Secretary Michael Gove up to the job? He appears to understand the issues, but can he persuade the government to act and explain to the public what they are doing and why, and anyway will he still be there when prime minister Theresa May goes (ie soon)?

My optimism is somewhat subdued!