A recent book about the making of the British landscape brought forth a remarkable and unexpected elision of ideas about the human experience of wilderness, as it charts the return, when the cold receded after the last Ice Age, of vegetation, animals and people across Doggerland and into southern England. The continued warming and consequent rise in sea level resulted in the inundation of Doggerland and Britain becoming an island. What do these drowned lands tell us about the people who crossed Doggerland and the wilderness in which they lived?
Worn down by feeling each day that I have to fight against the forces of evil that are destroying the prospect of wild land, instead I have asked myself who and what is going to make a difference in Britain to the prospect of wild nature? Could it be the environmental humanities as a cross over from the predominantly ecological approach I take in envisioning wilder lands? Could it be the new nature writers that have sprung up? What is it that makes us more tolerant of living with the wild?
It has been bothering me for some time why people’s perceptions of nature can be totally divergent. It seems like there is a disconnection. It begs the question of whether everyone is looking at the same nature: do some come with preconceptions of what nature should be, and have the power to enforce that; do others take on arguments about nature, but these are a means to forestall change; or is nature perceived differently depending on various abstractions, motivations, or connectedness to place? This could be an issue of subjectivity, but I think it is a worse, a symptom of wilful ignorance, and there are pressing examples that illustrate this.
I’m out on the sub-tidal fringe of the rock platform below White Nab, just south of Scarborough, peering into kelp in 60cm of water and counting the sea urchins attached to the submerged rock. I stopped counting at 20. However, while I delighted in this, the news of the EU referendum had come that morning, and I was desperately thinking what a withdrawal from the EU would mean for wild land in the UK. I realised I had to look again at the Bern Convention, a supranational agreement for protection of nature in Europe that we would still be party to, and evaluate whether it held out any hope for influencing the prospect of wild land here.
It seems to have become a habit opening these articles by recounting the wild nature I have seen in the intervening weeks. Partly it is a further exploration of nature-connectedness, but it is also about the importance of articulating the values of wild nature that I see at stake. The two locations this time have in common that they are in national parks, but their wild nature owes nothing to that. Nor will it in the future given the Governments recent 8-point plan for England’s national parks. Contrast this with Germany where their national parks have large core areas that are not farmed and which are expected to contribute to the national target area of 2% as wilderness by 2020. These wilderness areas are also expected to be evaluated for resettlement of more lynx and wolf in Germany. At least there are those conscientiously seeking to reinstate lynx here, as the stakeholder forum event of the Lynx UK Trust showed.
I am so tired of having to be critical of a mainstream conservation dogma that is so insubstantially warranted that it should have dissolved away by now. In the same way, I’m tired of being bogged down in the mess that is “rewilding” now, trying to inject some sanity, and while I still have some unfinished business on that, I long to get back on to an exploration of nature connectedness over the coming months. That I have unfinished business, even despite expending so much effort on it recently, is a need to ever more to puncture the conceit that continually refashions and reimages what is essentially just conservation grazing as being some wildland panacea. Tensions are created by the projects supported by "Rewilding" Britain seemingly facing in opposite directions. There is a lack of distinction of this in terms of a coherent approach to ecological restoration, and which could be resolved through recognising differentiation along the wildland spectrum.
It is common to see short, critical, replies to papers in the follow up issue of a journal, the authors of the original article getting the chance to rebut the criticism. It is however not often that a major paper critical of a particular trend comes out of the blue, and without seemingly any provocation. Thus in February, a scathing attack was launched on “rewilding”, a couple of the paper’s authors having a significant track record in scientific research. I was asked to contribute to a rebuttal, but there was no way I was going to defend what “rewilding” has become, when what it needs is a rehabilitation from the “rewilding without predators” identified by the authors, and back to the cores-corridors-carnivores approach of its original meaning.
I have to nail this nonsense of the conservation industry that disturbance events – or natural processes as they would call them – are missing from our wild nature and thus need to be externally applied. I alluded to this last time when I described the disturbance processes that exist within my local woodland, but then went on instead to write about the joys I find in nature. The intent was there again with this article, but it took a different direction. I walked the low tide rock platforms on the N Yorkshire coast a few weeks ago, and was again astonished by the wild nature there and how it exists in one of the more extreme, natural disturbance regimes of tides and waves. The coastal cliff slopes that back these rocky platforms exhibit an instability that is not just from wave action, but also from the hydrology of the land behind the cliff top. If use of that land creates an artificial hydrology, then the instability from this is also artificial. So why does the conservation industry describe it as natural?
This month’s article was going to be a slam on the nonsense of external disturbance having to be applied to natural systems or they would be not be natural. You guessed it, that disturbance is a surrogate for the one-eyed rubbish that believes there isn’t enough conversion of biomass to excrement. I couldn’t face it – to explain the logic fault in this rubbish means having to engage with it – again! So instead, I wrote about the joys I find in wild nature, and how I understand my emotional reaction to it. Though not usually given to philosophic analyses, I find the work of philosophers Emerson, Murdoch and Rolston immensely helpful in this.
There is a cycle of self-justifying invention and delusion, a continual bending of reality when it comes to the free for all that characterises those who pursue a dogma about the natural world, or who want to create new ecologies wherever the whimsy takes them, and with little to substantiate their choices. This free for all characterises the constant evolution of the next justifying excuse for persecuting woodland; the quest to prove the natural provenance of sloppy peat bogs; and the herbivore driven “rewilding” that is used it to sidestep any responsibility for the consequences of millennia of unrestrained, domesticated herbivory and the associated persecution of both plants and animals.
I went along to a “Rewilding” Landscapes Group meeting of “Rewilding” Britain in mid-November, where we were to discuss the greater detail needed for operational delivery by the charity, and to help distinguish RB’s position from other approaches. We went through, to varying depths, the challenges, operational definitions for the outcome of “rewilding” and for the process of “rewilding”, as well as deciding which “rewilding” projects to support. However, the abiding thought I had was if we are to have ecological restoration on a large scale, how do we get access to non-farmed land in what is essentially a privately-owned and farmed landscape in the UK. It is still the case that the hegemony of farming chooses what may live and what dies. Recent evidence suggests this is forcing reinstatement of former native species, as well as redistribution of species persecuted into diminishing exile and refuge, in to sub-optimal habitat for reasons of safety in the face of potential persecution, and this because it is in to large areas of land that we have in public ownership.
The wilderness class has a seminar topic each week where we discuss the outcome of their independent study. Its a challenge to them to find information and consider its relative merit and meaning, and so I often give them controversial topics, no more so than the contemporary obsession with trying to recreate the extinct aurochs so that there is some kind of legitimacy for those who want to cover the whole of Europe in excrement. So-called wild horse are also pressed to this obsession, but increasingly it is also the European bison. The difficulty the obsessives have, is that the bison was not universally distributed across Europe, and especially not in the Netherlands, nor England. As the seminar topic revealed, there is a confidence trick that is being played on us by this advocacy that is only caught out in discovering the meretricious way in which falsities in fact about bison distribution are propagated and then relied on.
I can’t get away from what Americans call conservation reliance, the dependency of some species on continued intervention to maintain their populations, irrespective of whether their presence at the managed location represents a natural distribution. At its apex is the self-justifying view that human transformed landscapes are so much better, that ecological restoration would throw away the gains from the simplification in agro-ecological systems. I was thus not hugely looking forward to giving a talk to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust staff on ecological restoration (they called it “rewilding”) but the field visits in the Ingleborough NNR as part of their away days were areas that are a study of mine. Who knows whether trashing the whole basis of nature conservation in Britain is the most effective argument for ecological restoration? However, what had been a vote against ecological restoration on the first day turned into a vote for it after my talk.
I set a challenge last time for all of us who seek a future for wild nature in Britain. It is clear to me that the ecological incompleteness of Britain, the absence of top predators, is the major issue for restoration of wildness, and which I have increasingly addressed over the years. While I have drawn extensively from the experience of America, there is always the criticism that it has no lessons for the ecology of Britain. Thus most of what I have written recently has been based on evidence from continental Europe, helped by the research that I did for writing a book chapter on the ecological values of Europe’s wilderness. However, there are as yet no studies from Europe that show the effect of predators on vegetation through the mediation of herbivore pressure, and thus I have still to turn to America. The natural recourse is to Yellowstone, but there are rumblings over whether there is a real recovery of vegetation in Yellowstone, and if it can be ascribed to a behaviourally mediated trophic cascade initiated by the return of wolves, or if there are other factors involved. We can also learn the lessons from the Rocky Mountain National Park where I first heard in 2003 about the need to restore wolves to overcome the degradation caused by the burgeoning elk population. Eventually, the park decided against wolf reinstatement, and for culling and fencing-off the aspen and willow, but can you substitute the ecological function of wolves by these surrogates that are presumed to serve the same function?
I don’t seem to have been able to get away from the “r-word” these last few months. I met up with a Canadian TV crew towards the end of May that were filming a one-hour TV documentary on Rewilding. They had been to the Oostvardersplassen (OVP) in the Netherlands with Frans Vera, and to a private reserve in Portugal with Rewilding Europe (RE). We talked about the ecological illiteracy that is represented by the experiment at OVP, and how it is a shifting sand of misrepresentation and justification by Vera, who shrugs off the high, year on year death rate of the deer, cattle and horses from starvation. I also discussed RE with the producer, its concentration on abandoned farmland, their rewilding based on one strategy, the appliance of herbivory. In none of this is true ecological restoration taking place – where is the assistance in the recapture of species lost due to simplification of ecology from agriculture, the necessary return of natural vegetation? I think the word rewilding has been made toxic by their actions having monopolised a definition of it, and which has not been matched with sufficient countering that there has to be restoration of completely functional ecological systems, at all trophic levels, and not just with herbivores. I must take some of the blame for the disastrous erosion of the meaning of rewilding, and the consequences it has for wild nature. I have to say that I have not been very effective in influencing the formation of Rewilding Britain (RB) which recently launched. It is hard to see that the broad church of interest that is currently associated with RB can be accommodated within a high aspiration for natural vegetation, but without compromising it.
In a book from 1970, Jean Dorst traced man's assault on nature by continents, listing them in the chronological order of their devastation. He recognised the impact of even primitive man in his use of fire, but saw a threshold in effect as being the transformation from hunter and berry-gatherer to shepherd and farmer. Against the backdrop of disaster that he records, including the extinction of hundreds of forms of birds and animals, the abuse of pesticides, and pollution of land, sea and air, Dorst believed that as well as leaving aside areas in public control, where it is forbidden to modify habitats or to disturb flora and fauna in any way, there also had to be a reconciliation of man and nature, and rational use of the land and sea. There will be those who will argue that the use of traditional knowledge, especially of indigenous people, will be implicit in approaches to rational use. However, that which is put forward as traditional knowledge/wisdom/use is often very fluid. It certainly needs serious critical evaluation before it has any widespread contemporary role, particularly when there are pressures to blur the line of nature protection by the advocacy of its use in conservation.
I walked my first coastal rainforest in a national park on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. It was a fabulous place, dripping with ferns and mosses. I didn't know at the time that parts of the west coast of Britain had been identified as a location for coastal temperate rainforest, and that a case had been made for the importance of Britain’s coastal temperate rainforest as being of considerable interest to world conservation. I have always been drawn to wet woodland, and walked a couple on the coast of Snowdonia in March before spending a week walking the Atlantic hazelwood and oakwoods around Oban on the west coast of Scotland. These were fabulous woodlands, full of oceanic mosses, liverworts and lichens, their presence indicating the ecological continuity that comes from a lack of disturbance, and which alert us to the importance that native vegetation and natural forces have in our understanding of natural processes. I also observed the impact of beaver at the official trial release site. I couldn’t help but think that beaver will be the next big story for woodland and herbivore dynamics after deer.
Having researched the experience of France in the return of lynx there, I have been waiting for the Lynx UK Trust to reveal the results of an opinion survey on their proposals for trial releases of lynx in Scotland and England before I could finish an article about the potential difficulties that could encountered and what we could learn from France. Postponed from their original deadline because of being bumped by the BBC, the initial results show an overwhelming support amongst the public for the proposals, and since responses from people in rural communities were over-represented in the data, then this poll cannot be accused of an urban fantasy. Lynx in the Vosges mountains have a hard time from illegal killing by hunters, and are failing to establish. Their dire situation has mobilised public support in France, with calls for a national plan for lynx (as there is for wolf there) actively seeking and punishing perpetrators of illegal shooting, and measures to educate farmers on how to take responsibility for the protection of their livestock from predation. This public support is seen in the context of participatory democracy, something that is lacking here when considering the reactionary forces that are ranged against against wild nature. In gauging the overwhelming public support, the Lynx UK Trust has let the cat out of the bag for lynx reinstatement and contributed to that participatory democracy,
Carrifran Wildwood was an obvious choice in seeking a new location for the Leeds student field trip, now that the idiots have turned the whole of the Ennerdale valley into a cattle farm. A group of us went up to Carrifran last September to check for local hostel accommodation and reacquaint ourselves with the valley. We had a very enjoyable day, seeing the undoubted progress in tree growth since we were last there six years ago. The developing canopy formed by the earliest plantings showed evidence of the resultant shade exerting an influence on the ground layer, and tree growth stretching up the valley is now a significant part of the visual scene. The ecological restoration in the valley is an inspiring story, of a clarity of vision that was brought to colourful life in a book written by the Wildwood Group. Coming back from Carrifran, I kept thinking how lucky I was to live with so much ancient woodland within walking distance from my back door, and then I had a hammering blow - man with chainsaw had been felling trees along the beck in one of those local woodlands. It was a poor job, creating a very unwelcome visual intrusion and cutting short the contribution these trees would have made to standing deadwood in the woodland. When I had calmed down, I determined to hold to account the judgement that had led to management operations in the wood, and the insensitivity of the work done.
The section of the Infrastructure Bill on provisions for control of non-native species underwent a series of amendments in response to the criticisms that had been made in Committee stage and by the conservation industry. The amendments clarified the difference between a former native species and a non-native species, removing the former from the provisions for control if they had been lawfully released. The native species that were subject to licensing for their release were also removed from the provisions for control. If I expected a chorus of approval from the conservation industry, then I was deafened by the silence. Except that ClientEarth, a group of environmental lawyers, produced a detailed criticism that was full of logic failures. In effect, not a great deal was changed in the outcome of the Act by the amendments, but it has certainly paved the way for a major rewrite of our wildlife Act. It has also shone a spotlight on the fact we are letting the situation with wild boar and eagle owl drift, rather than put some effort in to resolving their situation.
Over the last few months, I've been steadily exploring the potential ecological restoration of Britain, identifying what is missing, what can be reinstated and what natural processes will ensue. I am never one to offer facile solutions. There has to be plausibility, even if the aim seems out of reach. Thus when I argue for the return of the wolf to Britain, it is not in vainglory, but in a serious and reasoned judgement. We need to see the example of how others live in coexistence with large predators to overcome the usual limited horizons and the inability to shake off stolid preconceptions that plague British thought. France offers that example, the wolf having returned naturally in 1992, but its presence is still being opposed. We also need to understand the regulatory framework for reinstatement of former native species, since it is in that where the most persuasive argument has to be made. UPDATE - 22 Feb: Opinion survey dispels myth that support for wolves in France is only from urban people.
While I was researching habitat fragmentation and its effect on mammal species, I saw the skeleton of an Irish Elk in Leeds City Museum. This giant deer died out many thousands of years ago, the victim of a sharp return to icy conditions that destroyed the lush forest and edge habitats, replacing them with tundra and steppe vegetation that could not fulfil its specialised diet. If the giant deer had found some refuge during that cold spell, then they would have been able to survive until the equally abrupt upturn in temperature and accompanying return of lush vegetation. This made me wonder what the fragmentation of habitat today would be like through the eyes of the giant deer. It made me think that humans, as the exceptional species, have the ability to fragment and degrade habitat to the same extent as that abrupt drop in temperature. So what does this habitats fragmentation mean for mammals today? Is the ecology we study here just a series of artefacts, so that what we are seeing is the result of enforced habitat and dietary changes by mammals as a pragmatic response for survival?
The wildcat in Scotland offered me a great opportunity to focus on at least one species as an inspiration in recommendations I made for the future for Scotland’s wildland, and I tied its fortunes into the development of ecological networkng in Forest Habitat Networks. However, the glacial pace of official moves to protect the wildcat have come in for increasing criticism, and the recent identification of six priority areas in Scotland was poorly done. A focal species approach is a useful way through which to explore the ecology of our natural processes and its complexities in nature-led land. Looking at the wildcat, pine martin and nightjar, it becomes clear that a three dimensional vegetation structure is important for those focal species, and thus for natural processes. Because of their greater trophic need, the missing large carnivores will be going for larger prey, and so we need to adjust our calibration for the scale at which they operate, and how we see them reinstated in our landscapes.
There's an endless round of media articles and panel discussions about reinstating wolf, lynx and bear to Britain, but little sense that there is an understanding of the ecological function of these large carnivores, or that their reinstatement is ecologically necessary for a return of natural processes. Often, the depth of understanding is just of a restocking of the landscape zoo, but only if the returnees can be confined and well behaved, so that they don’t inconvenience us. More often than not, greater sanity is displayed by non-professionals, their genuine interest less burdened with the baggage of vested interest. It may just be people like that who will have to do the work to make the case for reinstatement, since it doesn’t seem that our statutory nature agencies will take a lead, supported by Government. They are likely to continue with the panacea here for natural processes of the unrestrained herbivory of domestic livestock. So what are the positive ecological relationships associated with top carnivores in Europe, and what is to fear about their return?
I was interviewed by Canadian author James MacKinnon for a book he was writing about the loss of wild nature, and then forgot all about it until a copy arrived from him through the post. I read the book, and then immediately read it again. It is a fascinating account of species loss across time and space, and of the seeming myopia that we have for this loss. Like George Monbiot, MacKinnon also sees extinct elephants as having been ecosystem engineers. I don't doubt an impact, but it is always seen in isolation of the really scary predators that existed, and which are also extinct. Monbiot believes we have an elephant adapted temperate ecosystem, based on certain properties of trees. However, there are other properties of trees that suggest they did not evolve solely on the basis of being bashed over by elephants, but on their ability to capture sunlight when growing in spatial combination. This apart, MacKinnon imagines a large, undiscovered island, and posits this as a challenge for us to consider how we would make a better go of living with a wilder land base. It is a brilliant challenge, MacKinnon rehearsing some of the choices he would make. If I stumbled across such an island, I wonder whether I would tell anyone else about it, but if I did, I would make sure they read MacKinnon’s book before they set foot on it. ADDENDUM - Nov 2014 The program on "rewilding" comparing the Netherlands with Canada was broadcast on 24 November. It has a section where Anik See, Frans Vera and myself talk about the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands. I don’t think I’m going to be allowed into the Netherlands ever again! Within days, I was teaching students about the ecological illiteracy of enclosing herbivores behind fencing at Oostvaardersplassen and without any natural control mechanism for their grazing and population explosion. Since 2005, about 8,000 animals have died of starvation, more than twice the number of animals there are there now.
I had an interesting exchange with Ian Machacek about the reasons for the high woodland cover in SE England, eventually alighting on the correlation between the agricultural value of the land and woodland cover. Where the land was good, forest was cleared. It was ever thus and in fact the origins of the word field is felled! Willem Riehl, a German writing in the mid-1800s, considered that too much forest in England had been turned into fields. He considered that forests and forest villages were where human development existed within the limits imposed by nature, and that this was the key to the national character of Germany. Was he right about England? Many advances were made over the nineteenth century in understanding the factors affecting the distribution of species in natural plant communities, leading eventually in 1904 to the first vegetation survey of Britain on the basis of phyto-geography and phytosociology. Unfortunately the survey was carried out at the point when we had the lowest ever woodland cover. What would the natural vegetation cover of England be today if it could develop without our interference, and what does it say about what we have to do to regain our natural heritage?
Insincerity is never far from the conservation industry, sometimes cynical, it can also be evidence of a willful ignorance. It is the latter that characterises the splutterings arising from the provisions on invasive species in the Infrastructure Bill currently passing through Parliament. I looked at the Bill a month before the conservation industry started scaremongering about it, and found no sinister purpose. As the splutterings surfaced, I looked again at the Bill, and confirmed that many of the accusations made against it were false – there has just been no effort to understand the background to the provisions, nor understand what will be the outcome of the legislation. It will not affect the reinstatement of former native species. It will not put the native species on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 under threat, as most of them are protected at all times under special penalty in Schedule 1 of the Act. It does not seek to redefine what are and are not native species, only have a process of identifying those species that can be subject to species control orders.
There was a rare example of a newspaper article last September that gave a comprehensible explanation of a trophic cascade. John Finnemore linked research about a trophic cascade between sea otters and eelgrass beds off the coast of California with his dissatisfaction at the ecological illiteracy of the badger culling that had just got underway in England. I wonder if Finnemore knew that there had actually been a number of studies on the ecological consequences of removing badgers, because they were mostly ignored anyway even though they also were rare examples where ecological principles were considered. This is frustrating, because England does have in Darwin and Elton a heritage of two of the key authors on the evolution of trophic interaction. It is depressing also that while Denmark and the Netherlands have recently anticipated and planned for return of wolves, we just trip over the reinstatement of beaver, while continuing with a crushing lack of aspiration, and a lack of terminology in our nature conservation legislation that reflects the reality of natural systems. France has recognised this omission, and is doing something about it.
A field trip to a Scottish National Nature Reserve made me uncomfortable about the level of deer culling that was being carried out so that regeneration of birch woodland could take place. I wondered what alternatives there were, including whether deer are actually deterred from returning to an area if all they witness is another animal being shot, rather than the more traumatic experience of being hunted by wolves, but getting away - the landscape of fear. A few weeks later, I walked Tomies Wood in the Killarney National Park in Ireland. This wood, while it had fabulous old oaks, was overgrazed by sika deer as there was no bramble, pathetically small woodrush, and no evidence of regeneration of trees. Fenced exclosures seemed to be the only way that the death of this chewed up woodland could be avoided. The control mechanisms of natural processes require that species are present in all trophic levels, and this includes the top predators like wolf and lynx. A recent Europe wide spatial study identified potential core habitat areas for large forest-bound mammals, using the lynx as the focal species. Two areas were identified in Britain, but both of them were conifer plantations, rather than native deciduous woodland. Where could lynx be reintroduced, do we need greater woodland cover, and where could that be?
I have been planning for some time to visit a woodland that was my playground before I started going to school. I have never been back after we moved a short distance away nearly 50 years ago. I have memories of my mum showing me the wildflowers there, and I think when I did start at infants school, it was possible to walk all the way through this woodland and the next one. I was not disappointed - Tips Copse is a lovely, ancient woodland, full of woodland wildflowers. I also revisited another woodland of my youth where I camped as a scout, and found it plagued by the dogma of the conservation industry, of felling and coppicing. I also had an expectation of two locations where I hoped they had succeeded to woodland in the intervening years. In the case of an area of old gravel pits, this had happened, but not so at a military training area where the colonisation with trees and shrubs had occurred but was reversed in pursuit of another dogma, this time heathland. In gathering my thoughts about these woodland places, I learned much more about the area I grew up than I expected. I recognised two wooded corridors of about two miles each that align along water courses, and which have a large element of public ownership. They are not wild, but they inspire thoughts of a large component of new woodland creation, with predominantly natural colonisation, as the basis of wilder landscapes,
I had great fun last year visiting exhibitions of landscape paintings in Leeds and London, and then spending a day in the National Gallery in Washington. The Leeds exhibition set out with the premise that British landscape art was not all it seemed, and this stayed with me as I saw more exhibitions. Given the time and distance to put it all into perspective, I think the traditions that grew up around landscape painting in Britain have contributed to the false impression of our modified and degraded landscapes as desirable, and consequently there is a paucity of aspiration for the wild nature of our land. The idealised pastorality of so many of these paintings just hides and obscures the extent to which they are degraded. It is a sad fact that the public beliefs of many, over history, are shaped by observing the attitudes of the loudest voices, rather than through their own logic or argument.
Needing to cheer myself up, I re-read an article by Peter Rhind from 10 years ago that proposed a new category of nature reserve - an Untamed Nature Reserve. Peter felt that naturalness was missing from our landscapes, as it was in consideration of what nature conservation was about. He argued that naturalness resulted from lack of human intervention, and that both the level of naturalness and the time free from human influence were important. This thought-provoking article has guided me over the years, and reading it again reminded me that I had collected various snippets of information that were relevant to untamed nature. At the time of first reading, Peter and I had discussed setting up a type of Wildlands Project for the UK, but we soon found out that others were setting up a Wildland Network. It was a mistake to have instead joined with that, because the clear vision that Peter and I had was frustrated by the lack of aspiration of WN. Now, 10 years on from those discussions with Peter, another group is on the horizon wanting to give it a go.
I went away to walk the beaches at low tide on the Northumberland coast to regain some equilibrium after being deeply offended by the accusations of cherry picking of evidence levelled by academic colleagues against those who sought to engage with the issues of the recent flooding. It just seemed arrogance when they were ignorant about ecological restoration, and were unlikely to have had any track record in civil engagement. It made me consider my own track record, and took me back 14 years when the valley below where I live flooded, how the District came to terms with that, and how I got involved. It became a personal study to follow developments on flooding and river management in my back yard of Yorkshire, seeing the repeating pattern of optimism about changes in land use being potentially effective, but coming up against the unwillingness of farmers. But it is not just farmers when the fetishising of open landscape species by the conservation industry blights any real debate about changes in land use.
I wrote last June, just after publication of George Monbiot’s book, about some of the feedback I had given him on reading a draft, and of our further correspondence. I felt then that there was too much of a temptation to compare versions for the feedback I had given him, and so I left reading the published version of the book for some months before I would considered reviewing it. Now I think a review is such a small thing when reflections better represent the life the book has had before and after its publication. In Feral, Monbiot powerfully asserts a space for our thinking on wildness, where trophic diversity is the essential characteristic, and trophic cascades are its inherent ecological processes. This is the highly important, breakthrough context of the book.
I get to look back at the beginning of this website, the first two years when I wrote about the wild places that I had found, and how I wanted others to have the opportunity to experience them. Then another purpose developed after the influence of two people, that of documenting the discontent of local communities at the slavish ideology of the conservation industry that destroys much of our wilder nature. Wild Park is just such an example of this killing of wildness, but what also is exposed is that the conservation industry disregards regulatory processes when it doesn't suit them, such as obtaining the necessary felling licence, and that in the face of opposition, it contrives some bogus process that it can claim shows support for their proposals. As is inevitable, HLS funding is the bribe that is driving all this.
For some time now, I have wanted to explain why I don’t use the word rewilding anymore. I believe it is a term that has been hijacked to become a toxic reminder of the worst aspects of the noosphere. A better expression would be ecological restoration, but even that is now being put into use by the rewilding-by-grazers, so that every phrase we may have used, is becoming useless to us: rewilding, wilded, natural processes, ecological restoration. One of the main culprits for this twisted ideology is the spectacularly misnamed "Rewilding" Europe. They have other sinister and despicable acts to be accountable for as well.
I kept putting off writing this article as I knew it would be distasteful having to review all the evidence I had accumulated on what is a misuse of public money, and then make a coherent story out of it. It is bad enough that the conservation industry pursues its own, selfish agenda, but to have it publicly funded is a moral corruption too far. I had to resort to Freedom of Information requests to find out the truth behind what are often unthinking applications of dogmatic but often damaging management, especially at Allerthorpe Common, Sound Common, Longmoor Common and Baildon Moor, driven by this agri-environment funding and the unscrutinised agenda of Natural England. The examples I give indicate that HLS has replaced Government funding for nature. It is no longer solely an agri-environment scheme, as a significant part of it is increasingly having nothing to do with agriculture. It shows the moral corruptness of HLS and the people who administer it.
It had been five years since I last walked wilderness in America, and so it was time for another trip. As I would be speaking at the Wild Nephin conference in Ireland, which was about wilderness in modified landscapes, it seemed a good choice to visit and learn from the wilderness in eastern America. These lands had suffered more human modification from farming and logging than the iconic wildlands of the west, but had undergone a process of ecological restoration over the 20th century as those activities were progressively withdrawn. I also wanted to walk in deciduous forest for a change, as the west is predominantly conifer. Walking Shenandoah National Park on the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest on the Allegheny Mountains, and then learning their histories, gave me much to think about. While I was away, George Monbiot’s book Feral was published, and so I missed the buzz around it, but I had read a draft last year, and came back interested to see what changes he had made.
I have been re-reading my bookshelf, and finding I get a lot more out of the books on second reading. Partly its do to with my greater knowledge now, picking up on things this time that I may not not have seen as significant before. The books of Richard Mabey in particular have been rewarding, and especially the journeys of discovery of the innateness of woodland in Beechcombings that I seem unwittingly to have mirrored. Within days of each other, and with my re-reading of the book, I walked two woodlands, one new to me, but both in which the recent heavy handed management had rally trashed the woodland feel for me. The new woodland - Bushy Hazels and Cwmma Moors, owned by the National Trust - got my attention as it was a Ratcliffe wood, listed in the review of nature conservation sites that Ratcliffe edited in 1977, and which is a useful list of over 200 graded woodlands. The other - Grass Wood - is one I walk regularly, but with increasing trepidation, as it is being routinely trashed during the dormant season by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Grass Wood was on the first list in Britain of potential nature reserves drawn up in 1915, and is a Ratcliffe wood, as well as a reference wood for the National Vegetation Classification for woodland. In spite of all this, the wood is being re-industrialised and is more like a wood yard than wild nature. In stark contrast, the adjacent Lower Grass Wood is owned by the Woodland Trust, which has a long term objective of minimum intervention, accepting what's there, and accepting natural regeneration without management as the way woodland will be retained on this site.
Its rare to see Natural England exhibiting a single moment of introspection about its function, and having opened itself to one weighty critic, it soon rationalised away what was a difficult message for it. At heart was quite a radical criticism of the approach Natural England takes to nature conservation. That they are trying to offer up a new context for a very old story is the burgeoning interest in large scale conservation, commissioning research and scheduling a meeting in London in late March. Except that the meeting is by invitation only, and consists of the main recipients of agri-environment funding, and who are thus willingly compliant with the conservation agenda of Natural England. As I have pointed out, nature conservation appears now to be in the unaccountable control of the conservation industry. This transfer or appropriation of state function to non-state actors has been described as the neoliberalisation of nature conservation. The attempts to conjure up heathland at Bitchet Common by Kent Wildlife Trust, aided by Natural England, is a classic example of this. ADDENDUM - Mar 2013 The main conclusions of the meeting had to be that there is no evidence that agri-environment funding delivers benefits at a landscape scale, and the overlap between different large scale initiatives, mostly NGO-driven (eg. Living Landscapes, Futurescapes, Butterfly Conservation, River Restoration, HLS Target Areas etc) creates a very confusing picture that is evidence of a lack of coordination, the duplication being very difficult to defend - or even explain! ADDENDUM - July 2015 The meeting report is finally published, and is a reminder of some of the more ghastly speeches and case studies. Natural England is developing a vision for its Conservation Strategy, the paper being presented at a recent Board meeting. It would have been interesting to have seen whether the report on large-scale conservation had had an influence on that strategy. However, unlike in previous years, Board papers are no longer publicly available, but the minutes of the Board meeting show that the neoliberalisation of conservation through the stolidity of eschewing national responsibility remains, and that Unnatural England Board meetings are still a pleasure ground of reactionary forces.
A lot of my interest in wild land across the countries of Europe is bound up in their national legislation for protected areas. Without that legislation, and the strict protection it gives to some of its designated areas, then that wild land characteristic would be lost from the exploitive extraction that inevitably is human use - some areas must be free of that human extractive use. It was, of course, a central theme in the report I wrote for the Scottish Government on the status and conservation of wild land in Europe. Events move on, and a report like that needs updating as well as expansion when new information comes along. I produced a supplement to the report when I was pressed to provide further information on the relationship between Natura 2000 sites and national protected areas. The European Environment Agency then produced a report that covers some of that ground, and so I was interested to see what they came up with. There are a number of over-reaches in the EEA report, along with quite a few errors, not least in spelling my name wrong.
It was a shock to to realise the probable impact of ash dieback disease when I first read about it at the beginning of October. I have lived during the time of a wide-ranging tree disease before. Dutch Elm Disease cleared the landscape of southern England of its English elm, but it wasn't a feature of where I grew up on the coast. However, living in the north now, I see the evidence of the disease in the decaying stumps of Wych elm. It does not kill the tree, as new stems pop up until they too are eventually infected. But the Wych elm seeds well in my local woodland, and will not be lost as long as seeds are produced. The outlook for ash is less certain, and the impact of the disease has not been rationally discussed. Ash can be the predominant tree in woodland. I have explored many of these wonderful ash woods on limestone pavements. It is these woodlands where the impact will be greatest, and I want to say goodbye to the ash there before the disease takes hold. I am particularly sad about where ash has led the ecological restoration of limestone pavements after sheep grazing has been removed. The amazing transformations in floristic diversity may be lost in such places when ash dieback takes hold. ADDENDUM - Jan 2013 Research has been commissioned on ash dieback, to inform policy and decision making. Amongst the questions are a number that I started to address, and particularly in concerns for the future of ash woods on limestone pavements. The emphasis of the research effort, as evidenced by the allocation of the funding available, is on questions that could appear to foresee a future without ash, its place taken by other trees.
Earlier this year, I came across an extraordinary report written in 1865 by Frank Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who had designed the layout of Central Park in New York. It was a preliminary plan for Yosemite Valley, written after the Valley had been granted to the State of California by the Federal Government. I was so taken with Olmsted’s report that I challenged colleagues on whether they could identify the authorship of such sentiment for public accessibility to natural scenery. A name given to me was Robert Hunter, a co-founder of the National Trust, but it was for his earlier involvement as the honorary solicitor for the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and his opposition to the enclosure of Epping Forest, a Royal hunting Forest. It would seem that this action to prevent enclosure of Epping Forest is regarded as a significant event in the nineteenth century, in securing public access to open space. At first, I thought it would be a fascinating juxtaposition to the grant of Yosemite and Olmsted’s report on the management of the valley. However, the more I looked in to it, the more it seemed to reveal divergent aims and entirely different outcomes. While I was researching Epping Forest, I kept thinking about the parallels with Rock Creek Park in Washington DC. While it may be somewhat unfair to contrast the natural aspect of Rock Creek Park with Epping Forest, the spirit of wildland coupled with the absolute commitment to public access that so infected the ethos of open space in America then as now, makes Epping Forest a very pale comparison.
The endless procession of proposals to enfence commons and reintroduce livestock grazing continues unabated. It is driven by agri-environment funding in what has become the business model of the conservation industry in England. It struck me that these new enclosures were the same threat to freedoms to that of the original enclosures of 18-19th century England. The poet John Clare often railed against enclosure in his poems after his personal experience of the loss of freedom in the countryside he grew up in, and which suffered at the hands of the Helpstone and District enclosure Act of 1809. The New Enclosures, though, are also about the loss of freedoms arising from the transfer of the control of the public realm into the hands of the unaccountable third sector of the conservation industry, such as the eastern Moors and Sheffield Moors at the edge of the Peak District. After the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, I fear that the Public Forest Estate in England is also to be offloaded into unaccountable hands. The physical obstruction wrought by the New Enclosures is exemplified by the recent proposals to fence off and graze Loxley and Wadsley commons. The inevitability of these proposals coming just four years after the outcry over the butchering of thousands of trees on the commons in the pursuit of heathland, is crushing, much as enclosure likely crushed the spirit of Clare.
It’s easy to plan a walking trip in the wilds of America, less so for the wilds of Europe. However, I discovered some years ago that the nature reserves and National Parks in Ireland are principally state-owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Moreover, the NPWS aspires to have proper National Parks rather than the privately owned farmland of ours. The NPWS provides wildlife and access information about the Parks and reserves, and so I planned a walking trip from amongst them. I was particularly interested to walk some of the woodland nature reserves, as they are renowned in western Ireland for the richness of their ferns and mosses. Ireland has a public forest estate of plantation woodland managed by Coillte, and which has a strong emphasis on recreation through its forest recreation areas and forest parks, and so I added to my list from amongst those as well. The two weeks of walking took me the whole length of Ireland on its western side, from the coast in Co Cork in the south, all the way up to the coast in Co Donegal in the north. I also arranged to meet Bill Murphy, Head of Recreation at Coillte, who showed me around Nephin Forest, a plantation in Co Mayo that is to be turned into a new Irish wilderness. It may not seem a good prospect to turn a forest of exotic conifers into wildland, but what I saw there, and in the other woodlands I walked, gives me confidence that a future natural wilderness will work. It has lessons for our Public Forest Estate, as well as for the whole of NW Europe. ADDENDUM - Mar 2013 Agreement has been reached between Coillte and Ballycroy NP to collaborate on the wilderness project. Bill Murphy and Denis Strong of the NP were interviewed as part of a radio prgtam on RTE 1. A conference - Wilderness in a Modified European Landscape - is to be held on 14th May – 16th May 2013 in Westport, Co Mayo. Programme details and how to register.
Much goes on after I write about something, so that I often feel the need for an update, whether as an Addendum or as a follow-up article. The formation of the Scottish Wild Beavers Group (SWBG) over a year ago and their early actions, and my follow-up research, gave me much to write about, but there was little change that could be reported in the fate of the beavers when SNH continued with its aim of searching for and trapping the free-living beavers on the Tay. SNH and the Scottish Government obviously had an embarrassment on their hands: they had gone ahead with an "official" trial re-introduction of beaver in Knapdale, but with little real knowledge of the extent of the Tay beavers, their success in breeding and establishing themselves in the wild. They continued to maintain that there were only 20 beavers on the Tay, and must have thought that they could have scooped them up quickly. They only trapped one beaver, and sadly Erica as she was named by SWBG, died in captivity in Edinburgh zoo. SWBG had always known there were more than 20 beavers, and so they used their local knowledge in a survey that produced a much higher number of at least 80. SNH had to concede this higher number when they worked with SWBG to confirm the number of active lodges. This left the SNH's aim of a resumption of trapping the beavers after the mating season in tatters. It all went quiet, but it was known that SNH had submitted an advisory paper to the Scottish Government on the “escaped/illegally released beaver population in Strathtay”, and that a decision on their fate was pending. It came in Mid-March this year - the beavers would get to stay while the official trial played out. then a decision would be made about the future re-introduction of beavers to Scotland as a whole. far from taking the pressure off the Tay beavers, the decision led to a clamour for their culling by farmers and landowners and with the collusion of SNH. Are the beavers strictly protected under the EU habitats Directive? Does the culling of beaver in Bavaria have any relevance to Scotland?
The noosphere describes the pervasive and ever-widening sphere of influence of the human mind (noos is derived from the Greek for mind) so that eventually all aspects of the biosphere will come under that influence, as the last of many stages in its evolution. It is the sort of nightmare that is consistent the constant shifting of goal posts that the conservation industry performs to justify the deadhand control they have on nature. It is the revisionism and sleight of hand that passes off that command and control, almost always involving domestic livestock grazing, as being a liberation of the landscape, giving it back to nature, and even rewilding. Nature Development is a particular element of that expansion of the noosphere, originating from the Netherlands, and which these distortions of natural reality in Britain owe their allegiance to. It is the laziness of small minds that does not see that the evidence from around the world is totally unsupportive of this nonsense.
|In losing wild land, we lost our wild heritage and our freedoms, and we are still losing wildness today through the continuing humanization of our land by the conservation industry and their imposition of farming pressure. We survive in spite of that loss, but we have lost the wonder, the beauty and the spontaneity of wild nature. Two contemporary writers are exploring that loss of wild heritage and are to write books on rewilding. One of them, George Monbiot, understands the drivers for that loss of wildness - the massive public funding from farming and agri-environment subsidies that keep the conservation industry in business, but come with preconditions that enforces that imposition of farming. The funding takes away the ability of local people to decide for themselves, and puts it in the hands of Natural England. It is a loss of our freedoms, especially on publicly owned or accessible land. Contemplation of natural scenes is important for human well-being. Why can't we have natural spaces that are ours to freely walk and where we can get away from farming?|
|A stack of reports have come out recently on England's (the UKs) woodland. What these reports wont tell you is how our woodland compares to the forests of Europe. Two recent reports on the state of Europe's/World's forests give us that comparison. The UK has one of the lowest forest covers in Europe; has no primary, undisturbed forest area; has no strictly protected forest area; has no protective forest that is designated; is amongst countries in Europe that have the lowest rate of natural regeneration of forests and the lowest quantity of standing and lying deadwood; has one of the highest proportions of plantation forestry in Europe with the highest domination by non-native, introduced species; is one of only a few countries that coppices woodland; and is in amongst those countries in Europe with the lowest connectivity and highest fragmentation of its forest cover. Given this background, it is astonishing that the Progress Report from the Independent Panel on Forestry has no evidence of this, but instead bangs on about every woodland having to be managed.|
|I came home by train via London about a month ago, and took the opportunity to do some art galleries. The main attraction was the Forest, Rocks, Torrents exhibition at the National Gallery. It achieved what I thought it might in giving me a reference point for realism in landscape painting in Norway and Switzerland. Wilderness in America is accused by William Cronon of being an imported product of the European Romanticism of the Sublime in landscape painting. I think he has it wrong. However, as with the little known early history of protected areas in Europe, there is an unexplored parallel in this artistic realism in Europe that gets away from the aesthetic and on to the biophysical. The history of forests in Europe shows that primary forest without human impact has only survived in inaccessible and mountainous areas that are unsuitable for agricultural use because of their difficult terrain and soil conditions. Painted today, their scenic composition would owe nothing to a cultural movement such as Romanticism, and everything to do with a wild state that even Cronon could recognise as wilderness. ADDENDUM - Nov 2011 The exploration of landscape in paintings and their emblematic use is proving to be a rich vein of interest, which is also shared by others. A visit to a brickworks near Sudbury helped explain to me what I had seen in a painting of Cornard Wood by Gainsborough. Olli Ojala used paintings of his native Finland wilderness to illustrate a talk at the European Wilderness Days meeting in Estonia. I saw an old favourite by Gustave Courbet at the Ashmolean, and next to it a delightful painting of stream running through a wooded ravine, a view reminiscent of inaccessible ravine woodlands I've walked. The Ashmolean also yielded a technically superb painting of the Scottish Highlands on Skye - a literal transcription of the nature that was before the painter, but while this painting has high realism, evidence in the scene shows the landscape to be far from natural.|
|There is a wilful ignorance in Britain about how out of step our national parks are compared to the rest of Europe. What is never explained is that British national parks are really just farmed landscapes protected only from physical development, whereas many national parks in Europe prohibit any form of exploitation either in the whole park, or in strictly protected core areas of the park. Consequently, the range of top predators that they are home to is testament to their wild characteristic. As we know in Britain, the prevailing dogma is that we should admire the landscapes under cultural exploitation, and there is a studied prejudice from vested interest that resists seeing any retreat from that exploitation. That prejudice also exists in continental Europe, but the strong message is that those national parks that give a high priority to natural values over cultural values achieve the greatest success for wildland. National Parks should have different aims and aspirations than the dogma of unremitting human exploitation. There is upheaval currently taking place at Šumava National Park in the Czech Republic because that prejudice is strong in the population around the park, and the lessons haven't been learnt.|
|The Natural Environment White Paper was as underwhelming as I suspected it would be. However, George Monbiot thought otherwise in his article in the Guardian, writing that it is a major advance in conservation policy. He thought that the proposal for restoration areas, where ecological functions and wildlife can be restored, looks like a step towards rewilding. The examples given in the White paper don't support that. Monbiot pointed to the Edwards report from 1991. It advocated setting up experimental schemes in the National Parks, where farming is withdrawn entirely and the natural succession of vegetation is allowed to take its course. It is unlikely that Monbiot will get his wish that Government will state that some of those restoration areas will be places in which farming and other forms of commercial exploitation stop. The Edwards report was followed by the Wild by Design in 1997 that looked in greater detail at ecological restoration in national parks. It didn't take off then, and policy has since gone backwards. Publicly owned land provides the best chance of ecological restoration because the burden of exploitation can be removed. However, that opportunity is increasingly being lost as responsibility for public land is shrugged off into the hands of the conservation industry, such as the 5,500ha of the Eastern Moors and Sheffield moors at the edge of the Peak District.|
|I have saved copies of articles over the last two years that are about the boastful nonsense of the conservation industry, mostly to do with the extent of their management intervention to maintain secondary habitats. It stands at about 120 articles, and 100 of them contain the word "rare". When I looked at which had "rare" and "precious", it was always the ones about lowland heathland. This man-made habitat is just not rare compared to some of the wild habitats I walk and that owe nothing to human intervention. I describe some of them here, including upland ledges and gullies, and coastal cliff shelfs. I would never call them precious because that is a word that has also been devalued by the conservation industry. To add to my despair, I still get enquiries about whether anything can be done about the relentless juggernaut of heathland restoration - this time it is Sutton Heath in Suffolk, and more on Hartlebury Common. ADDENDUM - June 2011 A petition site has been set up, objecting to the destruction on Hartlebury Common. It has some telling insights into what is happening on the common.|
|The maritime cliffs of North Devon between Combe Martin and Lynton were an unexpected delight. In spite of much of this coastal headland being managed heath, there were inaccessible slopes and bays where the forces of nature, the extremes of coastal exposure, were the only things that held sway for the vegetation that clings on and which in many cases is scrub woodland. These maritime cliffs and their immediate hinterland are designated as SSSI for coastal heath thus throwing into sharp contrast the unmanaged climactic communities of the steeper, inaccessible slopes, with the managed, mostly tree-less (plagio-climactic) but more accessible slopes of the heath. It set me the opportunity to test out whether a new project that seeks to classify protected areas in IUCN Category I have any chance of succeeding, given the vagaries of the protected area system we have in the UK, and which has none of the rich language of the protected area legislation across European counties, or their non-intervention approach based on restriction of extractive activities.|
|Since last October, when it first became clear that the Government was considering selling off England's Public Forest Estate, there has been the repulsive spectacle of a price being put on a fire sale of public assets, the shifting sands as the Government sought to make the disposal more palatable to a public bent on resisting the sell-off, and the exposure of environmental organisations for being out of touch with public sentiment perhaps because they were seeking to do deals behind closed doors. I did not want to write about the Governments proposals, even now the consultation on them was cancelled. Instead, I have drawn together many good reasons why the forests should remain in public ownership in the PFE, including two examples of local public support for FC woodlands that predate those developments. The key issue now is the uncertainty created by the setting up of the "independent" panel that will advise Government on the future of public forestry in England. Will it have the confidence of the public to do the right thing?|
|A newspaper article at the end of November 2010 reported that SNH were to trap beaver living free but "illegally" in Tayside. Occasionally, there had been reports of beaver in Scotland other than those released in Knapdale, but I always got the feeling that they were apocryphal. This article indicated otherwise, and so I left a comment that questioned the legality of what SNH was intending to do. A few days later, I got an email with information about the meeting at which the "decision" had been made. I went off walking for week shortly afterwards, and while in the National Trust-owned Dove Dale NNR I noticed felled trees in the River Dove that seemed to be about management for trout fishing. It reminded me of beaver dams in America, and so I pondered - in the light of the Government trying to offload NNR to NGOs - whether the National Trust would ever consider reintroducing beaver to "manage" the Dove. NNR should be where wild "nature comes first". When I got back, I was contacted with information by Save the free beavers of the Tay, a campaign to oppose the trapping. This article reviews the status of the Tayside beavers both in the wild and in law.|
|The conservation industry continues to base its justification of conservation grazing on it being a natural process that maintained original natural landscapes in a more open than closed condition. This is mostly predicated on the Vera hypothesis, which is just a theory that has not been supported by any of the many papers that have reviewed it, or brought forward new data. And yet it has been seized upon by the conservation industry as absolute evidence of open landscapes. More worryingly, "naturalistic grazing" has been elevated to be the only driver in restoring wild land, based on the Dutch experience of nature development, and this is being heavily promoted across Europe to the unease of many who feel it compromises wilderness principles because it lacks a systems approach. It says nothing about the landscapes needed for wilderness dependant species, and it falsely elevates "agricultural biodiversity" over the ecological functioning of three-dimensional structural diversity with its decomposition processes and nutrient cycling. Recent evidence supports that structural diversity as being the original natural state, and the example of the habitat needs of the barn owl confounds the addiction to grazing.|
|I was shown around the rewilding South House Moor in the Ingleborough NNR by Natural England staff, and given the background to the project. It became clear that they had another non-intervention area on the NNR that had had a longer period of exclusion of grazing. When I walked Scar Close, the vibrancy and sheer delight of its restoring ecology spoke volumes for the value and necessity of non-intervention sites in proving the case for rewilding. It then become a mission to find and walk other examples, such as the Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliff NNR, as well as some smaller ancient woodland NNR sites that because of their location in awkward limestone terrain have avoided extraction and management. These are wild places, rich in natural processes, and surviving in spite of the mainstream conservation dogma. They have similarities in their natural value to the Lagodekhi State Nature Reserve, a strict reserve in Georgia that I got to walk up near the border with Russia and Azerbaijan. This non-intervention reserve has been protected since 1912. With the potential hiving off of the NNRs in a cost costing measure, we will lose what littler non-intervention area that we have.|
|I make no apology for continuing a theme that exposes the conservation industry in Britain to be a self-interested anachronism in its own lifetime. People of greater vision have come before, such as Frank Fraser Darling and Bruce Campbell, but it is frustrating that they have not been heeded. Even when set against the practice of other countries - given a contrast between Britain, Canada and America - they persist in burying their heads in the sand. We don't have a view of a national system of protected areas, let alone a national strategy for protected areas, left as it is to the conservation industry. However, a recent process in France where state and civil society joined together to discuss such things, shows what can be achieved if the public have a stake, and not just the conservation industry. Wales looks like it may be embarking on a similar process in developing its Natural Environment Framework, even breaking out of the dogma of the conservation industry of targets, species and habitats, and considering instead whole ecosystems. Will it succeed? Or will the dead hand of the conservation industry drag it down. Are our children destined to only know wild nature as a field full of sheep?|
|I have to search out the wildness in landscapes. I find it in the wooded narrow ravines in the limestone dales of Yorkshire where their inaccessibility to livestock means they are refugia for woodland wildflowers, as well as being vibrant water courses. I can also find wildness in unmanaged woods, where in contrast it seems to to be killed by the coppicing and ride clearance in managed woods. I used to find much wildness walking the Pembrokeshire coast path, but the grazing and mechanical clearance of gorse has become so ubiquitous that the wildness seems to have been despoiled, covered in cow pats and horse droppings. Now I have to be careful where I go to avoid this killing of wildness, and replaced by the artificial. Some contemporary comment recognises that the conservation industry are much to blame, but I was shocked to find an article from 15 years ago that comprehensively demolished conservation industry dogma. Bewilderingly, the portents in this article have gone unheeded.|
|The battle over conservation grazing throws up many irrational aspects of the conservation industry, but the situation at Kingwood Common has to be the one that transgresses all rationality, logic and common sense. At issue is a 60ha common that has developed a pretty good woodland cover in the 40-50 years since grazing ceased, along with a ground flora of woodland specialist plants that puts quite a few ancient woodlands to shame. It is that rare example of a wildwood - every tree, shrub and plant chose where it wanted to grow. Volunteer conservationists hacked out some rides 15 years ago and sowed heather. Now we get the conservation industry saying this is remnant lowland heathland that has to be protected, and that a large part of the woodland has to be fenced off so that cattle can be pushed in to graze and maintain just the rides. Nonsense - but worse than that as the cattle will destroy the woodland value. I walked the woods with the Kingwood Common Preservation Group, formed to oppose the fencing of the woods. The hope is that enough objections can be made by KCPG members to the application to the Secretary of State to fence the commons so that a public inquiry is held. Why did it have to get to this point? Why weren't alternatives to grazing seriously considered? What happened to the Ł95,000 that was granted to the Commons Conservators to develop a management plan that local people could agree with? Wouldn't it have been better used paying for what management may be needed for the rides? Why does the conservation industry continue with a heathland approach to Kingwood Common when it is obviously a woodland now?|
|The relentless admiration for heathland amongst the conservation professionals can wear you down, especially when every opportunity is taken to idolize it. This became apparent again when the consultation responses on the Public Forest Estate in England were published. The usual serial offenders could be found in what has every sign of being a mass land grab of the PFE for deforestation to open habitat. The 'scorched earth' approach to heath management and the veneration of its supposed attributes is beginning to be contested by those who have greater imagination in their management approach, and by analyses on niche requirements of "heathland" species that suggests that the conservation professionals have just got it wrong. They have also got it wrong in understanding landscape perception and preference, showing that the conservation industry’s obsession with heathland is so out of step with ordinary people.|
|The historical driver for woodland clearance was the birth of agriculture. However the contemporary driver is the targets for priority open habitat restoration in the BAP. It is thus now the aspirations of the conservation industry in their slavish adherence to the BAP, and in their pursuit of the funding bonanza that they can pocket. Two examples of recent felling applications illustrate this, and show why the Forestry Commission has had to commit to developing a policy on deforestation, since they are charged with preventing a net loss of woodland cover. The consultation on the policy shows a sharp polarisation of views, which go the heart of what is at stake in our landscapes. While conifer plantations are considered fair game for deforestation by the conservation industry, the situation at Gib Torr in Staffordshire shows that woodland wildlife is always at peril.|
|I walked a fabulous ancient woodland in late summer, on the edge of a North Yorkshire moor. I instinctively knew that this was something special since it had all the elements that enthral me and which I associate with a natural landscape. Moreover, it was what was missing that made it special, as well as what was there. The woodlands are owned by the Woodland Trust, and I was delighted to find that they too consider them to be special. Contrary to much of the current orthodoxy of woodland conservation, the Trust have committed to management with a very light touch so that the natural feel of this woodland, unparalleled in the area, is safeguarded. In the context of the low woodland cover of the North Yorks Moors, this woodland and its future has much to offer in learning the lessons of what a natural landscape is, and how it can be expanded.|
|Staying with friends in Hampshire in June, I picked up the local paper and found a fascinating article that juxtaposed the story of two adjacent water meadows in the River Itchen valley near Winchester. The northern water meadow was a "success story" for the county wildlife trust. They had secured massive funding to re-impose an intensive management scheme on their expanded nature reserve, cutting down hundreds of trees and bringing in cattle grazing. By contrast, similar management proposals for Winchester Meadows had begun to meet with strong opposition from local people, who did not want to see a landscape that they valued returned to an era when agriculture sucked the vegetative life out of the landscape. My next visit in August coincided with another article, indicating that Winchester College, the owners of the contested meadows, had watered down the management proposals in the face of a 220 signature petition. Why do these water meadows need such destructive management? Because they are units of a SSSI, and have been judged by one person to be in unfavourable condition. I give another example in Hampshire where the decision of one person on the unfavourable condition of the River Avon SSSI has led to management that is damaging the ecology of the river. This is the way that "nature conservation" is regulated and carried out, but local people are increasingly pointing out how wrong it is. ADDENDUM -Oct 2011: The decision to cease vegetation clearance on the River Avon still doesn't resolve the reasons why such a high-handed approach was taken to river management. While it has for the most part stopped on the Avon, it is still happening on other rivers where the aquatic vegetation is an important part of the river ecosystem. Is it for "nature conservation” or for “fishery purposes”?|
|There is an inherent and determined bias in commentary on landscapes in Britain, and particularly on the potential effects of rewilding. What is particularly unsettling is that while this may be expected from land use interests, and especially the conservation industry, you would not expect that academic research would propagate that same bias and subjectivity. Popular coverage of science reports tends to embroider, but it should not be the case that researchers step outside of their research findings to confirm popular prejudice or, even worse, pursue that bias in their work. There is an obvious void in the evidence base on wildland and rewilding in Britain, and in informed and uninhibited discussion. Consequently policy formulation is lacking that could give leadership. What is needed is the hard evidence that comes from objective research, and it will need a positive and willing outlook that does not pander to the sceptics, but looks past current barriers and brings forward novel observations and solutions. To fill that void, a Wildland Research Institute is to be launched later this year in Leeds University. It will ask questions about the requirements, strategies and policies needed for a transition to a greater presence of wild landscapes and natural processes in the UK.|
|I went on a training course on Forest Habitat Networks in March. It was a fun four days, mixing presentations with landscape exercises and field trips out. It was while out on the field trips that a fundamental message came across about the nature of landscapes and the network linkages we were seeking to create. At our first stop, the treeless wet desert of a sheep fell was the hostile matrix through which we hoped to reduce resistance and increase permeability to wildlife. The matrix through which our linkages of new woody plantings would connect was thus a predominantly open landscape. At our second stop, the matrix was inverted as it was a predominantly closed landscape with high woodland cover and our linkages would be new field margins of unimproved grassland alongside a river. Some believe that in a wild Britain the matrix would be closed, and thus finding areas with high woodland cover in Britain offer the greatest potential for rewilding. But this not the view of the conservation industry that clings to notions that Britain was always an open landscape, maintained that way by wild herbivores, and that their use of domestic livestock just mimics that wild situation. However, the evidence is just not there to support this. The concentration of domestic livestock is so much higher today than would have been its wild equivalent, and it is a measure of how enormously we have changed the ecology of Britain.|
|The logical step after writing about tree felling to restore open habitat is to write about conservation grazing with farm animals, as that is inevitably applied after the trees have gone over. But grazing happens everywhere in nature conservation, as it is the orthodox dogma for maintaining biodiversity. And yet, what is the justification for conservation grazing, and does it produce what the experts claim? It is increasingly prescribed as management for woodland, but this rails against rationality when simple observation can show how damaging grazing is to woodland wildlife. It really does question whether the nature conservation industry ever takes notice of the evidence in front of their eyes, rather than be slavish to a dogma that is appearing more and more to be myth. A couple of days on a field trip to the Ennerdale valley in the Lake District provides much to consider.|
|Cutting down trees to restore open habitats – only now a policy emerges, Mar 09|
|The felling of trees that often accompanies heathland restoration is the most obvious sign of destruction that infuriates people, but there is a less obvious destruction going on in the damage to reptile habitat. I picked up on this from an e-forum for herpetologists, who uniformly claimed that heathland management was extinguishing reptile populations through the unthinking destruction of their sites of hibernation. In a simple but powerful explanation using photographs of what the conservation industry would regard as an overgrown heath, one contributor showed the importance of the natural mulch layer that accumulates under gorse and copses of birch, so that these were thus essential elements of the heathland mosaic. And yet they and the mulch layers were destroyed when heathland is cleared through. Heathland is not the only open habitat restored by clearing trees and scrub, and where there is protest at the destruction. Chalkland is another, and I came across a recent example of protests against the removal of trees around the edge of a lowland bog. Local people fear the loss of existing wildlife associated with the trees for little gain over the existing bog area. Restoring open habitats has created grief ever since targets were set in the UK BAP over 10 years ago. Paradoxically, it is only now that a policy is emerging that aims to make sensible decisions about whether restoration of open habitats by felling should be allowed.|
|Reintroducing lynx – sensing an atmosphere of wildness, Feb 2009|
|Watching free-living native animals in natural settings brings a place to life and creates an atmosphere of wildness. I get this from watching roe deer in my local ancient woodland, and as they have spread onto the moor. I also see them in the woodland of the Craven area, where I watch as this woodland habitat moves out in small areas of the limestone pavement and is joined by the roe deer too. This limestone landscape was once home to many animals now lost, such as wolf, brown bear and wildcat. It was also home to lynx, a woodland cat whose main quarry were the roe deer that I see today. The latest radiocarbon dating shows the lynx to have existed in the Craven area well after the woodland is thought to have been cleared, but how did they cling on there? What would be needed for their reintroduction?|
|Threestoneburn Forest – a lost opportunity for a new wildwood, Dec 08|
|So much of our nature conservation is a trade-off in choices, and the lucky ones are those who get to choose. This is especially so of our uplands, held to ransom by vested interest whether it be farming, game shooting, or the birdists who rule most of the biodiversity conservation orthodoxy. Wildland and rewilding rarely get a look in as it is threatening to all those vested interests. The current consultation over the clear felling of Threestoneburn Forest in the Northumberland National Park shows all the usual drivers at work. At stake is the loss of a scarce red squirrel population if the license is approved, and the "gain" is just a larger area of grouse moor in which the usual predator control by gamekeepers will wreak wholesale slaughter. It didn't have to be this way - the Forestry Commission should not have sold this publicly owned land of the Forest, which could have instead become a new wildwood in the uplands. But then the Northumberland National Park Authority had other ideas.|
|Woodland creation - a need for strategic direction and larger scale, Nov 08|
|I checked out two rewilding projects based on tree planting to restore the natural woodland coverage. One of them, in the Yorkshire Dales, has been carried out by Natural England, but without much fanfare, nor seemingly any context. The same could be said of the native woodland creations on Forestry Commission land in the Lake District. By comparison, the Carrifran Wildwood is a large scale community initiative, well documented and an inspiration to all of us, and it fulfils on the overwhelming public wish for more woodland. Where is the strategic direction for woodland creation in Britain? Certainly there is none in England and Wales. Many reports stress the need for new woodland of critically large size to ensure the full return of ecological function. However, where you might think that Government would provide a lead on this, it is in fact two private landowners who have committed their resources to developing two of the largest native woodlands in Britain.|
|Wild foraging - reconnecting to our ethnobotanical heritage, Oct 08|
|Its always difficult when I come home from walking wildland in other countries. There is the inevitable slump during which I try to recapture my enthusiasm amongst British landscapes, seeking out those little areas of wildness that give me hope. I know that many object to my comparisons, but how will we learn about wildland if we don't see the lessons from other countries where they have a greater claim to its existence? A significant aspect this time of my weeks spent in America, was learning more about the Native American culture and its relationship to the land, and seeing for myself the plants in abundance in wildland that native peoples relied on. This ethnobotanical heritage is much studied now, and Permaculturists in America are keen to learn the lessons of how native landscapes can be sustaining. Wild food foraging in Britain is a legacy that just about connects us with our aboriginal ancestors, but our landscapes heavily impoverished by agriculture leave us no great extent for this. Is there a way to reconnect with our ethnobotanical heritage in Britain? Can the forest gardens of British Permaculturists be scaled up and sit well within an extended wild and native landscape?|
|Wilderness experience and the spirit of wildland, Sept 2008|
|Each time I go to America, I try to walk as much designated wilderness as I can. You can't drive straight up to the boundary of wilderness, it is buffered by other wildlands that you have to walk across first. That's no bad thing as it gives physical protection as well as setting you up for the journey you will have once you are on a wilderness trail. It has given you time to settle in to the landscape, so that you can enjoy the physical intimacy and breathtaking beauty that is coming your way - the wilderness experience. I walked 10 wildernesses this summer. Each was different in its own way, but all shared the same value - that nature was in charge. The landscapes rich in wildlife and scenic beauty were untrammelled by agriculture. The American system of publicly owned and managed wildland is oft-times called Americas Best Idea. I couldn't agree more, and so it is always hard to come back to Britain to see how poorly wild land is regarded here. I think it is because of a cultural conditioning from millennia of blanding out our landscapes by farming. We need to have the shared aspirations of public ownership and stewardship of wildland that America has.|
|Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem - the island of hope, Aug 2008|
|Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is set within a much larger, surrounding ecosystem of national forests and national wildlife areas. The landscape was not what I expected, but then I'm not sure what I did expect. What it turned out to be was everything on a large scale. Thus the forested areas where immense, even despite the devastating fires of 1988 that destroyed a third of the woodland in the Park, but set it on its way to new growth and regeneration. Yellowstone Lake was vast and the Yellowstone and Snake Rivers impressive. Huge too were the open meadow areas in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. The mountains were big - and covered with snow. And the wildlife population was immense, with great herds of buffalo and elk, numerous pronghorn antelopes and mule deer, and the chance to see grizzlies and black bear. But it was the wolves, restored to Yellowstone just over a decade ago that gave it a sense of completeness, and a thrill beside. One element was msising though, the people who had had a 10,000 year relationship with the area, and really were part of the natural landscape.|
|When we talk to trees, do they listen? Jun 08|
|I came across a discussion from last year about the place of geomancy in Permaculture. The discussion ranged on to the scientific method, with some advocating that as the basis for Permaculture. As an ex-scientist, I would back a scientific approach in Permaculture, but not necessarily the rigors of the scientific method, which I think is different. What do other supposedly rational movements believe, such as organic farming? Do they take an evidence-based approach, or is their philosophy a compromise with commercial expedience? Do conservation professionals ever consider the unintended consequences of their action? What approach tells you what is rational and what is expedient?|
|Rewilding - the moral obligation for ecologial restoration, May 2008|
|EU directives on reintroducing species extinct in Britain impose a legal obligation on us, but also a moral obligation because their extinction was our doing. Our Governments have shown little serious intention to abide by this obligation, and so it is left to private landowners, such as Paul Lister at Alladale in the Highlands to reintroduce these species in a rewilding of his entire Glen. Lister is coming up against a series of restrictions that frustrate him at every turn. We just don't have a legal structure that allows real ecological restoration. However, there is an example of Pleistocene rewilding in Siberia that shows promise, and Pleistocene rewilding has been considered in a serious, deliberative process for N America. We don't have those type of discussions, and we should, like the Duck Test at a meeting of the Society of Ecological Restoration in Michigan. The British way of grazing landscapes with livestock is frowned at by the SER, and so it should be here. There is a real example in Devon of rewilding that relied on wild browsers rather than grazing, but it could be criticised as a one off and which does not exemplify a fully restored system with predator/prey interactions. A remarkable 30 year-old paper explores this for two contrasting locations. It needs to be updated and used as the basis for serious discussion of rewilding. The recent consent given to trial release of beaver in Scotland is but one small step.|
|Along the coast and under the sea - the outlook for marine protection, Apr 2008|
|As I was putting together information for an article on marine protection, Government published a Draft Marine Bill on the 3 April as part of its legislative process in this Parliamentary session. The Bill is open to consultation until 26 June. Before responding to that, this article sets out why current marine protection is inadequate, and confronts the misguided understanding of the fishing industry of their relationship with the sea and their opposition to marine protection. By looking at various examples of locations where current activities are damaging to the marine environment, such as dredging for gravel, scallop dredging and bottom trawling, it is clear what measures for protection should be afforded by the Bill.|
|High price for heath - Loxley and Wadsley Commons, Mar 2008|
|I did not plan a third article in this series of consecutive articles, but then I did predict at the end of the second article the inevitability of more examples popping up of dismay at industrial nature conservation on heathland, and that it would have been caused by the pressures arising from the priorities in the UKBAP. Thus a week after I posted the article on Swineholes Wood, my attention was drawn to a letter in the Sheffield Telegraph despairing at the planned destruction of so many trees on a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) on the outskirts of Sheffield. The letter was from a Friends group who had come together to question the basis of the management. It soon became clear to me that they had every reason to do so since the management plan was perfunctory, misleading, and lacked credibility because it did not identify an important habitat feature of this LNR. As the number of such examples stack up, it begs the question why local people get so little say compared to the conservation professionals, and why there isn't more assessment of the damaging impact of conservation work before it is carried out. ADDENDUM - Nomansland Common - Oaks being felled to make way for grass and heather, 17 March 2008. It took only a few hours to find out what was going on after a letter appeared over the weekend, contesting the tree felling on common lands in Hertfordshire. Just another example of a local person incensed at the high-handed management by conservations professionals, and because of the target driven heathland restoration of the local Biodiversity Action plan.|
|Swineholes Wood - 'Too many trees being cut down', Feb 2008|
|This is a companion piece that follows on from the previous article. It started out as an Addendum to that article but quickly grew to become a follow-up. As is often the case, it was a newspaper report that popped up soon after, of more local people protesting at the chopping down of trees on a well-loved open air space. This time it is in Staffordshire, at Swineholes Wood, a reserve managed by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. To no surprise it fits with the common pattern - the designation of Swinehole Woods as a heathland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is enforcing a high-handed, MacDonaldised view of nature conservation onto the landscape that seems to deny that there is woodlands there at all. What is happening there - the anger amongst local people that they weren't consulted before the work was carried out - pretty much happens everywhere. This is in spite of the fact that Natural England have sponsored guidance and commissioned a report, both of which encourage an approach to agreeing management that includes local people.|
|Take three woodland wildflowers, Feb 2008|
|I am always thrilled to see a plant in the wild that I grow in my garden. Of course, it works the other way around as well, buying plants for the garden that we have seen in the wild here, or on our various trips abroad. This article is a story about three woodland wildflowers that we grow in our garden. All three turn out to be native widlflowers in Britain, but we have only seen one in the wild here, the other two are so rare that there are only a few locations in Britain where they can be found growing. One of the rarities used to grow in woodland on light acid soils, and so it is unsurprising that it is rare since these are the woodlands that were easily lost to heathland, and remain lost because of the craze amongst conservation professionals for heath. There are no national plans to conserve or reintroduce this woodland plant. Why should conservation professionals get their choices and have such a large say in how our landscapes are managed, especially on publicly owned land? Examples from Ashdown Forest and Blacka Moor show how local people continue their dogged opposition.|
|Are humans a natural disturbance?, Dec 2007|
|I was challenged recently over why I consider human interference with the landscape so much more unnatural than animal interference, suggesting that since we are animals as well, then there was nothing unnatural about our actions. There are a number of ways I could have to answered this, but in the end the best way - and the one I followed here - was to examine what are the non-human (natural?) forces and then decide whether human disturbance (mangement, dominant use etc.) has any commonality. This is important not just in our approach to nature conservation, but more fundamentally in how we farm these natural resources for our own use. Permaculture, in seeking to emulate natural processes in the cultivated ecology of its approach to sustain living, has much to offer as a recent article on the future of farming in Britain has indicated. Permaculture can bring about a reinstalling of wild and natural processes as a force in our landscapes.|
|Harting Down - obsession with conserving man-made landscapes, Nov 2007|
|If you don't believe that the natural state of the UK is to be predominantly covered with grassland, then it begs the question of where is the natural grassland in the UK, and was this where the grassland wildflowers originally came from when they marched out to colonise land stripped of trees by agriculture? The prairies and plains of N. America provide a useful example in understanding what are the natural forces and conditions that favour grassland over trees, before seeking out where the natural forces and conditions may exist in the UK. Contemporary nature conservation cuts across these natural forces and maintains artificial grasslands. The chalklands of Harting Down are a classic example, but local people object to the heavy handed management that is being used to maintain the calcareous grassland there, especially since this management is destroying the wildland character that they have begun to appreciate. A paper from 1976 confirms the artificiality of these calcareous grasslands, and indicates that the trees and shrubs have a greater claim to a natural presence on Harting Down than the chalkland wildflowers. Will conservation professionals admit to this, and become much smarter in considering whole landscapes with mixed habitats rather than concentrating on species?|
|Wild Law - giving justice to the earth, Oct 2007|
|I read about Cormac Cullinan and his book Wild Law, late last year. It inspired me, and so I jumped at the chance to hear him talk in Leeds. I knew that I wanted to write about his ideas, and I was keen to ask him what legislation he would enact to give wild nature the rights in law that it lacks, especially since UK legislation for species protection is poor and often flouted. At first, he surprised me by sidestepping the question, but his key message is that legislation alone is insufficient - it has to be a bottom-up approach that brings about a radical change in human behaviour and which seeks reconciliation between humans and the natural world.|
|Nature as a product, Aug 2007|
|Repairing a timber frame house opened up a window into the history of the uses that we made of the natural world. Perhaps unwittingly then, the landscape management for those products also brought with it new communities of wildlife. With the decline of that management through lack of demand for the product, so too have of those communities of wildlife declined. In their place, however, has come wild nature, ever present to reclaim what we have lost interest in. Is it right, now, to rewind the landscape clock just for the sake of those artificial communities of wildlife, when we inevitably waste the products of the management and destroy the returning wild nature?|
|Wildness in the literary landscape, Jul 2007|
|A conference was held in Cambridge that explored passionate responses to nature, and asked the central question - can nature help us think? Three of the speakers had books that had come out or were coming out this year on wildness, and one of the speakers was also linked to a fourth author who also had a book out on wildness. As I see patterns of association in wild nature, so also has it always fascinated me to see the patterns of association between people and the influence they may seek to exert. So what of these books on wildness? And what would be my take on the quality of experience of wildness in Britain?|
|Doorstep wildness - our nearness to the natural world, Jun 2007|
|I got a mild rebuke from Norma in London that I only wrote about wild nature in rural areas, and said little about urban ecology. True enough, but then town planning from the 1930s onwards pretty much created the division by regarding the urban as completely artificial, unleavened by any opportunity for wild nature except in neglected or derelict patches. That is changing as society recognises the health and pyscological benefits of contact with the natural world, especially the natrural or wild play of children. People now defend their green spaces and there is the potential for more arising from the new planning agenda of green infrastructure. What is interesting is that there are a number of standards around that set a spatial value for the provision of publicly available access to greenspace in towns and cities. We should make ourselves familiar with these, and use them to bargain for the greenspace that we undoubtedly need close to our doorstep. ADDENDUM - NeighbourWoods - Good practice in urban woodland planning and design, and Urban Woodland Management Guides – Woodland Trust, 28 October 2007. Links to two resources that exist to support the creation and management of of urban woodland. ADDENDUM - Children’s play in natural environments, 19 November 2007 Link to an excellent factsheet on wild play.|
|A Sea of Change - a response to the Marine Bill White Paper, Jun 2007|
|The Government has been building towards a Marine Bill, commissioning background studies and consulting at each stage of its development. I picked up on this process late on, the White Paper to which this consultation response is directed being the point at which I came in. Thus it is a disappointment to me that the poor content of the Marine Bill in relation to marine protection was almost inevitable, given the tenor of the responses to an earlier consultation. Even the Wildlife and Countryside Link response in that earlier consultation, in some areas, fell into line with the overwhelming protection of business interests where they may be jeopardised by new marine conservation designations. How do you now backtrack? What would convince Government when they can turn to the evidence from the previous consultation to say that the bill meets the aspirations of the stakeholder response that they received? ADDENDUM - West Wales Marine Conservation, 28 June Blaise Bullimore of the Pembrokeshire local group of the Marine Conservation Society, who organised the petition for the HPMR at the Skomer MNR office at St Martins Haven. contacted me with information about the website of West Wales Marine Conservation. ADDENDUM - South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, Australia, 23 July Maddeningly, the Marine Bill that many had called for was omitted from the next Parliamentary legislative session. What made it even worse was that it was preceded only days before by the announcement of an excellent example of a new marine reserve network for SE Australia.|
|Nature grooming - the killing of wildness in nature, Apr 2007|
|There is still too much compromise between nature conservation, commercial land use and conservation land management, leading often to the observation that wildness is being killed off by the conservation professionals. Sometimes this is hypocrisy - the National Trust for Scotland using public funding for grouse shooting on their Mar Lodge estate when they boast about their conservation efforts for black grouse and capercaillie. Or the National Trust in England relocating feral goats onto one of their conservation heathland sites in Dorset, only to have to cull them when they escaped. This grooming of nature and the killing of wildness reaches a frenzy in heathland restoration, driven by targets in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) as I explain here. But nature grooming goes on everywhere in nature conservation, and it is a wonder that native species ever existed in wild nature before we came along to kill off all the wildness. ADDENDUM - Ashdown Forest, 14 May Within weeks of writing the article, another example of the tensions that exist between local people and conservation projects came to light, and gave further evidence of the consistency of the drivers that create that tension. ADDENDUM - Ashdown Forest Action Group, 23 July Peter Crane of the Action Group got in touch with me and explained their oppositon to further enclose and grazing of the forest.|
|Four strands of barbed wire - a Blacka Moor update, Mar 2007|
|Studies show that when given the choice, there are things that we like in a landscape such as topoghraphy, water, scale and extent of view, but our biggest preference is for naturalness. We distinguish naturalness on the basis of a lack of man-made artefacts, but also on the state of the landscape vegetation and whether it has been altered by human management. The more we tutor our preference, the more we are likely to be discriminating over the state of naturalness, and thus disenchantment will result if we see the effects of management - we may be put off and decide not to visit that landcape again. This is happening when nature conservation through fencing and grazing animals is enforced on landscapes where local people have long enjoyed open access, and enjoyed the transfroming wildness that will be lost through this management. At fault is the imposition of a landscape designation - SSSI - the intention of which is to hold the land in stasis so that it delivers on an impossibly tight list of characteristics that will be in direct conflict with wild nature. This is an update on the article about Blacka Moor from Dec, 2005.|
|Duddon Valley - woodland now and into the future, Feb 2007|
|Books about British woodland can leave you more confused than informed. It is hard to be too categorical about how natural our woodland is today when it has been modified so much over the millennia. Sometimes, you can pick out clear patterns in nature, but watching a woodland regenerate is another way in. The Duddon valley is packed with ancient woodland, and there is a conifer plantation in the process of being felled that when it regenerates into native broad-leaved woodland will complete a band of woodland that will stretch the whole length of the valley. Its an irresistible opportunity to study woodland into the future.|
|They shoot foxes, don't they? Jan 2007|
|I was astonished to read in an almost throwaway remark in an article that the RSPB shot foxes in one of their reserves in Scotland. It seemed such a contradictory act from an organisation dedicated to wildlife conservation. It bit harder when RSPB Scotland put out a press release shortly after I read that, condemning the poisoning of red kites from bait put out on game shooting estates. This seemed like hypocrisy, especially when it became clear that the RSPB allowed game shooting on the same reserve in which they shot foxes, and that many wildfowlers get to shoot over RSPB reserves all over the place. At the centre of this story is the capercaillie, a game bird once driven to extinction, re-introduced, and now seriously in decline again. Who gets to choose which animal lives and which animal dies?|
|The getting of ecoliteracy, Dec 2006|
|The appreciation of wildland may be on the increase, but it still lacks a basic understanding and it has yet to reach out to the general population. Unsurprisingly, I have a pretty poor opinion of most British landscapes and thus their ability to inspire us, or teach us much about wild nature. A workshop in Glen Coe in November on sharing wilderness experience epitomised for me the games of delusion we play. Not so for High School students in California where a 12th grade course on ECOLITERACY requires them to spend at least five days backpacking in a wilderness. As I explain, these students don't have far to travel to get their wilderness experience. And nor do I, now I have settled on what I have found has significant wildland value to me.|
|What do we know about woodland in Britain?, Nov 2006|
|I've been collecting varied data sets on woodland in Britain for some time now, as well as I have been searching out some of the best woodland to go walking in. Figures tumble out but they don't always tell you the story that walking the woodland can. We do have some remarkable woodland nature, but we have no way of classifying how much, nor do we have a systematic and effective approach to protecting it. The problem is that we have a tradition of managing woodland, even in protected areas where supposedly "wildlife comes first". We also have one of the lowest woodland coverages in Europe and consume five times more woodland than we produce. Thus woodland is doubly a poor relation in Britain, and we need some inspirational ideas and leadership.|
|No Take Zones - a maritime rewilding, Oct 2006|
|I read a Defra press release in August that mentioned a No Take Zone (NTZ) in the marine nature reserve around Lundy Island. It didn't register with me at the time, but I later saw a TV news piece showing underwater filming of the fabulous marine ecology in the waters off Lundy Island. It dawned on me that here was a maritime rewilding going on. As I found out more, it also became apparent that this NTZ was the first statutory measure in Britain to strictly limit the extractive activity of people in a protected area. Moreover, it was also probably the first example of the use in Britain of a zoning approach to a protected area. The Lundy NTZ sets a principled example that we should extend to terrestrial protected areas.|
|Shooting grey seals out of season, Sept 2006|
|There were some real wild nature thrills on a late season trip to the Pembrokeshire Coast - a dancing dolphin, a ray breaking the surface, and lots of grey seals and their pups on the rocky shores. The seals attract locals and tourists who delight in seeing new life being born to these cute and amusing mammals. The survival rate for the pupping is high here, probably because the Pembrokeshire Coast is admired and respected for its excellent coastal and marine natural heritage, which has some measure of protection albeit mostly voluntary. I returned home to reports of pregnant grey seals being shot dead in the Western Isles, and calls for seals to be given greater legal protection. We should also consider giving real legal protection within the various layers of designation that cover such as the Pembrokeshire Coast.|
|Forests with no trees, Sept 2006|
|Why are there forests marked on maps of Britain that have no trees? Certainly, most of Britain was re-covered in trees after the last ice age, but agriculture in the main, and perhaps climatic conditions in some uplands, led to a loss of almost all that woodland. Is it some racial memory that keeps those forests alive, or does a forest not always imply an area of woodland?|
|Gardening for nature - management of our national nature reserves, Aug 2006|
|You can see some odd things going in our national nature reserves, many of which are treated like suburban gardens. Is this helpful hand approach an acceptable influence of humans, or should we stand back, accept that it is not ours to make all the choices of what survives and what goes, and instead allow Mother Nature to get on with it?|
|A response to the consultation on England's Forestry Strategy, Aug 2006|
|Defra initiated a consultation on reviewing the Forestry Strategy for England. A good range of documents were given as background for the consultation, and the question format of the consultation itself adequately reflected the contemporary and future issues for forestry. Here is my response to that consultation, and which contains a recommendation for creating new, large scale wildwoods.|
|Landscape protection - too many layers, too confusing, no overall plan, July 2006|
|We have a stultifying low ambition for protected landscapes in the UK, and the European Landscape Convention that Government recently signed will do nothing to raise the level of that ambition, fixated on cultural landscapes as the Convention is. An advocate for the Convention imputes some advantage of protected cultural landscapes in complementing more strictly protected landscapes, except that we don't have any strictly protected landscapes to speak of and the logic seems faulty. What are our more strictly protected landscapes, and can we do better?|
|Giving the bird to farmification, Jun 2006|
|When urban dwellers are under pressure to reduce their ecological footprint, it comes hard that they get little say in what happens to the open countryside around them. Denied its use, there are occasional gains in access rights, but no real say in the money poured in to rural areas. One such trend is the public money being used by conservation charities to buy up farmland. Should those charities be able to manage the land only in the narrow interests of their members, or should they take greater account of wider public views?|
|Wetland restoration - the return of wild nature, Apr 2006|
|Raising the water level in soil is a great selective pressure and driving force for the return of wetland vegetation. Hence many new nature reserves are currently based around wetland restoration. I had the opportunity to see this first hand during recent field visits in Wales. The response of the landscape to rising water content, and our methods of managing it, offers a window of thought into the current issues about wildland restoration, as does the example of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska where the glacial retreat of the last 250 years has seen the return of a range of habitat mosaics. The return of wild nature to restored wetland may be the nearest contemporary equivalent we have to watching vegetation returning after our last Ice Age.|
|Looking for wildland - developing a value system for wild nature, Apr 2006|
|There are some beautiful examples of wild nature if you look carefully in the British landscape. Sometimes just small, as in a fragment of ancient woodland or a little undisturbed wetland. Our coastal cliffs also offer some spectacular wildflowers. Few of these are represented by our protected areas which, in the main, have other characteristics associated with their management. Looking for wildland will help us make the distinction and can lead on to the development of a value system for wild nature.|
|Mountain Lions and Eagles - the place of humans in nature, Feb 2006|
|It was to be expected that an easy accusation levelled against wildland enthusiasts would be excluding people from the countryside in a new Highland Clearance. Partly this is due to the laziness of accusers in understanding wilding, but it is just as likely to be a simple tactic to raise anxiety amongst land interests to prevent change. The next year will see more literature articulating wildland philosophy and the place of humans in nature. As is so often the case, the recent history of North America, and particularly it's Native American population, offers lessons that bridge the much longer timescale of landscape change that we have had in Britain. We need a new approach to humans in nature, and there are proposals that help us on the way.|
|Ecology, Buildings and Landscapes: restoring ecological processes, Jan 2006|
|In my landscaping work, I love it when the groundwork is done and the planting begins: its when the design really gets to be a reality and plants are my thing. Some of the fun is taken out when the ground I am working with is full of the garbage of years of dumping and covering up, whether it is agricultural waste or the detritus of people and their broken buildings. My current project has this blight. What started out as plan to restore the natural plant diversity of the site has turned into a reclamation of the land and then a restoration of its ecological processes. It is restoration ecology and puts the work in amongst a growing international movement who seek the ecological restoration of our damaged and degraded landscapes.|
|Blacka Moor in Peril from the Conservation Professionals, Dec 2005|
|Sometimes the evidence stacks up to the point where diplomacy goes out the window and you have to be honest. The biggest problem facing publicly owned land near towns and cities is not the threat of urban expansion, its the land management techniques of the conservation professionals. The issue comes down to access and unhindered public use when the conservation plan demands fencing off and being run with livestock. The ultimate blame lays with English Nature who perversely have established - through their protected area designations - a "farmed" landscape as the universal method for nature conservation. Thus the general public - who are beginning to value the wildness and unmanaged nature of ungrazed public land - are losing out to the industrialisation of nature conservation. Three recent examples illustrate this, but the public are fighting back. ADDENDUM November 2006 - Its happened again, so another example St Catherines Hill is added.|
|Natural Environment: a response to a draft vision, Nov 2005|
|A draft vision statement for the Natural Environment was posted for comment on the DEFRA website in mid-October, with a closing date of 18th November. While the limited window of opportunity for comment was a disappointment, far worse was the realisation that wild nature didn't get much of a look-in. The draft is essentially a vision for the human species use of natural resources - resourcism as it is called in America. We are dependent on the natural world for our survival, but that does not mean that the natural world is here solely for the use of the human species. Along with many other respondents, I made that point in my comment, but also went on to make the case for core areas of wildland in which the future of our wild nature is safeguarded.|
|White Mountain National Forest - lessons in landscape, October 2005|
|A walking holiday in a New Hampshire forest turned out to be a more profound experience than just the immense joy of seeing the autumnal colours. The White Mountain National Forest has some core wilderness areas and when we hiked into one of them - the Sandwich Ridge Wilderness - we were impressed with how little difference there was between the woodland either side of the wilderness boundary. We learnt much about the forest management practice as we walked the National Forest and it is clear that natural systems are as important in the managed areas of the National Forest as they are in the non-managed wilderness areas. The wilderness areas, the management of the woodland, and the clearings in the forest, provide a remarkable example in practice of the different intensities or zones of land use that characterize Permaculture Design.|
|Beavers and boars: a Wild Animal Update, Sept 2005|
|The bad news at the beginning of September that the application for a trial to reintroduce beaver to Scotland had been turned down again has upset a lot of wildland enthusiasts. It perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise as it is still a tough time out there for wild animals, with not much reason to hope for any change. I last wrote about the difficulties facing wild animals in Feb 2004. Here are some of the things that have happened since then.|
|KEEPERS OF TIME - is it a National Wildland System for England?, Aug 2005|
|The new Government policy for England's ancient and native woodland could be interpreted as establishing a National Wildland System for England. The policy makes a commitment to maintain and extend the coverage of ancient and native woodland in England, and it does so by taking a whole landscape approach. By reconnecting ancient woodland and other semi-natural habitats, the policy aims to recreate ecologically functional landscapes. The significance of this policy lies in the fact that a large proportion of the ancient and native woodland resource is publicly owned, and is managed by the Forestry Commission, a Government agency. In this, there is a parallel with the Government agencies in America that manage federally-owned land and which have a role in their National Wilderness Preservation System.|
|Why We Need Wild Land, July 2005|
|I believe that arguments over whether the concepts of wilderness, as exemplified in North America, are based on a falsity are missing the point. There was a mistaken assumption by early settlers, and then later chroniclers, that what they were seeing were landscapes untouched by humans, when we now recognise evidence of extensive use by native populations. But the key issue is the lessons we should learn from the patterns and relative intensity of land use that was represented by the native American way of life, and contrasting it with the dominating approach of European human land use that would have been imported with those settlers.|
|Trees in the Landscape, June 2005|
|In the temperate climate and soils of Britain, woodland represents the predominant climax ecology of our landscapes if they are allowed to rewild. Trees in the landscape are not just about re-creation of wildland though - they have many other productive purposes that served us as the woodland people we used to be many thousands of years ago. Permaculturists have the instinctive feel of a woodland people as their zonal approach to land use leads them to encourage ecological succession whereby significant elements of wildland are regenerated and maintained as a part of a continuum of land use. The Permaculture Association are to mark the importance of trees in the landscape by co-ordinating a series of educational, link-building and working activities for 2006 in the program of events for its Year of the Tree.|
|The Rocky Road to Wild Land, April 2005|
|Enthusiasm is growing amongst the statutory conservation agencies, and in many voluntary organisations, to adopt a whole landscape approach to nature conservation. Britain will become wilder, and there will be a return of wild animals in greater numbers as they take advantage of this new habitat range. Problems will occur when this wild nature butts up against the interests of people. Other issues on the road to more wild land will be the emotive case of windfarms, the need for us as a society to develop a respectful use of this new wildland, and the false hope that the new subsidy regime will allow farming to deliver on this rewilding.|
|Woodland Nature Notes - from Lilliput to Large Alders, March 2005|
|Walks in old woodland can be very rewarding, with their abundant groundcover of flowering plants and the many birds and mammals that have made them their home. Old woodlands exist everywhere in Britain, whether on limestone or sandstone, in the uplands and semi-uplands, on wetlands, or on the sandy gravel of lowlands. These small outposts of nature's abundance are the inspiration for many rewooding projects throughout Britain, bringing wild nature back to our landscapes.|
|The Other Side of Crofting, Feb 2005|
|Crofting in Scotland seems always to evoke strong emotions, probably because it is a form of land tenure born out of a mistrust of the landowner. An action in the Scottish Land Court recently reinforced that stereotype when the headlines of press reports praised the defiance of a crofter in his defeat of the wealthy landowner. However, the real story has nothing to do with these stereotypes, and has everything to do with the future of Scotland's landscapes.|
|Wildernesses of the Mind, Jan 2005|
|A new year gets me reviewing what progress there has been on promoting a value for wild land. Good debate has gone on, but it is lost to the general public as it is confined to subscription journals that do not publish on the internet. Key issues have arisen: wild landscapes are dynamic, shaped by wild animals as well as the climate and habitat; historical loss of woodland cover in Britain could have been natural in some areas, rather than from clearing by early farmers; and current conservation legislation in Britain needs revising if it is not to hold back more natural approaches to nature conservation. An alarming issue for me is the anthropocentric conceptualisation of wilderness in Britain - mindscapes instead of wildscapes because there is no wilderness in Britain to learn from.|
|The Permacultural approach to woodland, Dec 2004|
|Its been an interesting year for discussion within the Permacultural community about its approach to woodland. A successful first woodland gathering was held, which was followed-up by a workshop at the annual convergence. In the background to this was a consultation from the organic movement on its standards for woodland. In helpful spirit, the consultation was circulated amongst the Permaculture community, but few could offer much useful comment when the philosophy behind the standards seemed to offer little empathy with what Permaculturists set out to do. Permaculturists start from a different point and, over this next year, the initial markers set out in this article will contribute to the Permacultural community developing their own approach to woodland.|
|An Imagined Landscape, Sept 2004|
|The choice of NW Slovenia for a walking holiday was luckier than we could ever have hoped for. Guide books showed beautiful mountains, lakes and rivers, but gave no inkling that the wildflowers would be so wonderful, or that semi-natural woodland was such a key feature. In a landscape like this, it is very easy to put together a list of the characteristic plant communities that grow in its different habitats. While much of the British landscape is a blank canvas by comparison, it is possible to see remnants of the characteristic plant and tree guilds that let you imagine what our landscapes could be if nature had its way.|
|A Season of Orchids, Aug 2004|
|It has been a good year for wildflower watching. Either I am getting better at catching the peaks of flowering, or there just are more wildflowers around this year. Exploring new locations has added to this feeling of abundance, but it has also confirmed to me that variety in habitat is the key to floral diversity. We miss so much from having farmland as the dominant habitat of our landscape. We would gain so much from allowing a proportion of our farmland to revert to different habitats. Contrary to the usual propaganda, we would gain more than we would lose. I use the example of the orchid family to illustrate this.|
|A Permaculture parish, June 2004|
|Government hopes to re-engage its citizens with local democracy. The use of postal voting in the North was meant to help that, but more than ever people are finding it difficult to believe in a system based on party politics dominated by the national scene, and which covers such large areas. Parish councils cover much smaller electorates and mostly dispense with party politics. The modern parish council has everything to offer those who want to live in a place, and with the people, they can have a commitment to.|
|A Walk in the Forest of Forgetting, April 2004|
|I walked the West Highland Way between Drymen and Fort William early in April. The weather could have been much kinder and I would have enjoyed the walk more. Some stretches were wondrous, but others so bleak that it reminded me that I had read a short article a few months before that had called the Highlands the saddest place on earth. There is a reason for this that is only too clear if you go back into the history of the landscape of the Highlands.|
|Progress and the Public Realm - what progress are we looking for?, March 2004|
|Will Hutton is a great observer of the state of British Society. His observation of the 30-30-40 society in the mid-nineties led me to believe that our society could have been ripe for schism into new communities. It didn't happen. Hutton still impresses with his take on contemporary society. His recent plea for progress on the back of science, supported within a strong public realm, got me to thinking about new communities again, but planned and agreed, and recognised in the public realm as probably necessary for our progress.|
|The Dignity of Wild Animals, Feb 2004|
|We persecute wild animals if they are any threat to us. I think it is our attitude that is to blame. In the same way that we persecute people by "de-humanising" them, we have done the same to wild animals by taking away their dignity - we treat them only as vermin to be controlled and managed. This attitude is ingrained, but we can reverse it if we give wild animals their own domain so that they can exhibit their natural behaviour, safe in their natural habitat.|
|Our Costliest Expenditure is Time, Jan 2004|
|Nature thrills me with its scented blossoms in the depths of winter. I have waited nearly 10 years for a wintersweet to flower well. How much time do I have left to do something with my life if the good things need such a patient timeline? At 50 years old, what should be my priority?|
|Rural Planning Policy - a consultation response, Dec 2003|
|Government provides policy guidance on a range of planning areas such as housing, green belt and nature conservation. The policy guidance process is being revamped and new policy statements (instead of guidance) are being drafted and released for consultation. This is a response to the consultation on the rural planning policy statement (PPS 7). The statement appears to be more favourable to rural business diversification, but in the long term rural planning policy must accommodate both the establishment of significant areas of wild, self-willed land and of land with more human-scale use through low impact development.|
|Self-willed land - the rewilding of open spaces in the UK, Sept 2003|
|A radio interview about a new national park in Scotland got me thinking about why land protection in America is so different to that in the UK. And so I researched the detail of how wilderness has so much more support in America, when it seems we are still stuck in denial about how we manage and view our land. I compare UK legislation for land protection and make a case for rewilding. And I offer some guidelines based on the American experience.|
|Land care and Permaculture, Aug 2003|
|If someone tells you that England is overcrowded, then don't believe anything they say. Discussion of land use and land ownership is dogged by that falsehood, and we ought to get it out in the open to see just how land-deprived the ordinary person is. Could Permaculture allow better use of the land?|
|Walking through Seattle Centre, I saw an extract from a Shakespeare play outside a design centre, which seemed to indicate that he had an understanding of the design process. Would he be Permaculturist if alive today? There is someone else who I think would would have sympathy with Permaculture if he were around now, and that is the wilderness writer Aldo Leopold. I give some extracts from his writings and I believe Permaculture principles fit well with his land ethic.|
|Wilderness Walks in the Colorado Front Range, July 2003|
|Wilderness is a difficult concept for those who only know landscapes shaped by people. I spent ten weeks walking around the wild landscapes of North America and here I give a description of just two weeks of that journey. The variety of the wildflower walks in Colorado stand as strong example of the many ways that land is gifted back to nature in America.|
|Rites of Passage, Apr 2003|
|Following a passion or an interest is much like growing a tree from seed. Perseverance against what might seem to be adverse odds, sometimes comes to fruition (or in the case of the tree, begins to flower) and it feels like a significant event has occurred.|
|What does the Mid-Term Review Mean for us?, April 2003|
|Here, I try to analyse what impact the proposals put forward for reform of the CAP under the Mid-term Review (MTR) will have on the UK Government's Strategy on Sustainable Farming and Food (SSFF).|
|Down on the Farm - Modulation, Decoupling and Degression, April 2003|
|The proposals contained in the Mid-term Review (MTR) of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could have some profound long-term consequences for land use in Britain. MTR breaks the link between production and subsidy, but it also creates the situation whereby farmers will be paid for doing nothing. Is this what we want?|
|The Whole is Not the Sum of its Parts, Jan 2003|
|The Government's Strategy on Sustainable Farming and Food was a disappointment as it failed in its most simplest test - of supplying a whole farm vision for the future of farming. It also adopted the Curry Report approach of separating out organic farming and treating it differently. I am not the only one to disagree with that, and organic farming is not the only game in town.|
|Natural Gardening - The Many Perspectives, Oct 2002|
|Natural is an often used word in gardening. But what does it really mean?|
|Holding Back Succession - Can Nature Ever Be Free From Being Managed, Conserved or Reserved?, Aug 2002|
|This is a ragbag of circular arguments that show the absurdity of agriculture and how it has so much influence on the way we manage our landscapes.|
|Do We Need to Re-embrace Wilderness?, Aug 2002|
|Agriculture has changed the face of our planet, mostly in ways that have smoothed out and obscured the characteristic habitats that we should have inherited today. Resistance to accept this, and to accept change, is endemic in rural communities who can only accommodate small steps rather than radical prescriptions. I set the problem up here and offer some moderate solutions.|
|Plant Communities and Natural Pest Control, Jun 2002|
|Controlling pests is something that happens naturally. To take advantage of it, we have to recreate the plant communities that exist in nature. From simple companion planting with its origins in cottage gardens, to the complex guilds of Permaculture, all seek to attract in wild nature so that a natural balance exists between pests and their predators.|
|Stealing the Clothes Off Our Backs, Jun 2002|
|Imitation is not flattering when it doesn't give due credit. Permaculture is a minority interest at present, but it is beginning to make its mark. People who should know better are appropriating its ideas in a process of revisionism that is unconvincing.|
|Rural Aspirations of a Semi-Upland District, Jun 2002|
|This was my response to the Government's consultation - Sustainable Food and Farming: Working Together - on the issues raised in the report from the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming (the Curry Report). It was provided on the basis of research on rural aspirations that I did for a Metropolitan authority in a semi-upland area of Northern England. The first section is an overview of the findings from that districts rural community. The second section contains responses to the specific questions raised in the consultation.|
|Leaping the Fence, May 2002|
|I teach a course on building natural gardens. Its the sort of gardening I love and I get inspiration from seeing nature's gardens, the communities of wildflowers exhibited in characteristic habitats. Leaping the fence is an imprecation to students to share my enthusiasm for wild nature and to use this inspiration in their garden design.|
|Todays Dogmas are Just Another Form of McDonaldisation or MacDonalds du nos jours!, Feb 2002|
|No area of food and farming is free from dogma. The contemporary mantra of local food and local marketing has quickly reached the level of dogma, forestalling any rational critique - as all dogmas are wont to do. But does it have any merit?|
|The Received Wisdom of the Moment, Apr 2002|
|The outbreak of FMD in 2001 gave rise to a lot of fevered discussion on the future of food and farming. Few took the opportunity to stand back, clear their minds, and think past the received wisdom of the moment. There were, however, two interesting exceptions.|
|There is a lot of style over substance about organic farming. Many of it's claims are untested rhetoric, but more seriously its approach to long-term farming just doesn't add up. Eventually, organic farming will deplete soil minerals and this needs to be acknowledged.|
|National charities rarely come in for public criticism. Partly this is because they avoid detailed scrutiny, but it also because people who know better don't want to rock the boat when it may harm the cause that they espouse. That is the case with the organic movement in Britain - the behaviour of one charity, the Soil Association, leaves a lot to be desired. But there is a conspiracy of silence, even though there is a loathing and contempt felt for it in many other organisations. I feel no inhibition to set the record straight. You may also like to read about the anti-science nature of the Soil Association in Legends and Myths in Science.|
|Not Seeing the Woods from the Trees, Jan 2002|
|Greg Williams launched a scathing attack on Permaculture while reviewing a book for Whole Earth Review. Permaculture is an easy target for criticism because it is prone to misunderstanding, and early practitioners wove embellishments of its potential but without providing practical demonstration. Yield is often the criteria, but Permacultural systems take their yields in many different ways and thus are not easily comparable. I take criticism of Permaculture as a spur to thinking about its longterm future.|
|Approaches to Problem Solving, Jan 2002|
|Problem solving is key to the design for life. Solutions demand good information on which to work, and thought processes that are given free rein. Permaculture provides good approaches to problem solving, but there is a fictional precursor in nexialism, the fundaments of which are so sound that they have real, modern day adherents.|
|I wrote this response, on behalf of the Permaculture Association, to the consultation from the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming (Curry Commission). It identified a number of current Government themes in rural development in which Permaculture is complimentary and which could benefit from its involvement. It also identifies the support that Permaculture Design can provide to rural land users seeking change and who may do this through existing strategies and programmes.|
|Food, Digestion and the Primeval Landscape, Oct 2001|
|I spent many years supporting local food initiatives and making the links into nutrition and health. Sometimes, though, it all becomes a tedious procession of the next food initiative/fad/fiasco and so I thought an empirical view on nutrition, looking back at what our ancestors ate, would clear the fog.|
|This is a briefing paper on the Permaculture approach to farming. It explains this approach through showing how it is complimentary to a number of current Government themes in rural development. It was written during the time that the FMD outbreak spawned a frenzy of reflection on the future of farming, raising an expectation that new and different approaches would at last come in for serious consideration.|
|Farm Subsidy Into Land Purchase, Mar 2001|
|Farmers loathe scrub, but love subsidy. In effect, subsidising sheep farmers through the CAP is just paying for landscapes to be mown, preventing scrub from taking hold and thus preventing a return to woodland. Instead of paying farmers to overproduce sheep and degrade landscapes, why don't we use the subsidy to buy farmland and let it return to woodland that we can all enjoy?|
|A Land That All Can Enjoy, Mar 2001|
|The moor behind my home is my place of exercise and contemplation. It was closed during the FMD outbreak, eventually re-opening after the sheep had been culled as a dangerous contact. Sad though that be, the moor had many users other than the sheep and its closure because of them caused much disruption. Here I write about the historical uses of the moor and wonder why everything is subservient to the sheep.|
|The Hoe and the Plough, Feb 2001|
|Ploughing is recognised to have contributed significantly to climate change over the last century, releasing carbon dioxide as soil organic matter is oxidised through exposure. This is yet another critical impact of broadscale agriculture. Should we look to food production that is less dependent on machinery and more in humanscale? Should the hoe replace the plough? Can organic farming be considered in any way natural when it has a heavy reliance on ploughing?|
|Global Ecosystems and the Effects of Farming, Feb 2001|
|Historical rural depopulation, the disconnection and de-skilling, and the long-term changes wrought by agriculture, means that most people are divorced from the land and are unaware of current land dynamics. Land use and ownership must come up for discussion.|
|Nature as the Inventive Chemist, Oct 2000|
|It is a pity that most people have a poor understanding of the science of the natural world. Learning about the tricks that nature gets up to may not get people to accept biotechnology, but at least it would allow them to understand the rationale behind it.|
|Legends and Myths in Science, Jul 2000|
|The new battleground in farming today is science. In a world that is increasingly being battered over the head by subjectivity, science holds on to the need for value free discovery that has a high level of confidence. Except that scientists are blamed for BSE and for biotechnology by the very same people who aren't able to substantiate their own claims. How can the public decide?|
|Wolves in sheeps clothing, July 2000|
|I learnt not to judge a magazine by its cover when an American backwoods magazine turned out to offer more than just advice on low impact building, solar energy, composting toilets, and a food dehydrator.|
|Food Chain and Crops for Industry, Jun 2000|
|Future studies are an emerging tool for exploring public policy. The Government's Foresight Program has recently looked at the food chain and come up with some important observations. The four future scenarios spun for the consultation challenge us to look past our blind spots. In my case, it confirmed an intention to break with the subjectivity and prejudices of the organic world.|
|The Robin Hood Syndrone, Dec 1999|
|Do you know how much of our land is given over to agriculture - and how much of that is just to support livestock? Very few people do in spite of the fact that agriculture dominates most of our landscape. It wasn't always so. Historically we had far more woodland and I suppose the urge to live in the woods, like Robin Hood, makes me want to see that woodland come back.|
|Food, Land and Money - Making the Case for Urban Food Production, Aug 1999|
|The urban community food growing movement blossomed from the mid 1990s onwards, supported by the Growing Food in Cities report, and the conference of the same name held in Bradford in 1996. Farming communities around large urban areas were proving unresponsive to the needs of urban communities, and access to rural land for new entrants to food production was difficult. It is not surprising therefore that urban communities took responsibility and developed food growing projects on the only land they had access to.|
|What did you do in the Great Genetic Engineering War?, Apr 1999|
|The concerted approach of environment groups in destroying the image of biotechnology in the public's mind means that simple discussion on the issues is long past. People now only expect scare stories. Here is some dramatic fiction that really should make people scared.|
|Natural, Healthy Food for All?, Jan 1999|
|People don't drop dead from eating conventionally produced food. As food and nutrition gains further ground as an issue in health action, so do the calls for it to be sourced from natural production. Fine in principle, but natural food carries a price burden. The disadvantaged already have to make difficult food choices. We shouldn't burden them with a choice that only the affluent can afford to make.|
|Using Plants with a Purpose, April 1998|
|Shrubby plantings besides roadways and on central reservations represent the new urban hedgerows, offering refuge to wildlife as well as colour through flowers, leaves and berries. The shrubs are chosen for their survival value in urban situations, as well as how they look. One reason for this survival is that the shrubs may be nitrogen fixers, but they are not members of the pea family having instead Frankia as the bacteria symbiont . Other plant families have this symbiont, and can be found in a range of habitats.|
|Organic Junk Food - Organic Panic? Oct, 1998|
|Hypocrisy bedevils the organic movement - not in the small, pioneering producers, but in the venality of the bigger producers and in the certification organisation that does so much to support a commercial imperative. Certification is supposedly an assurance to the purchaser and consumer - the gold standard as it has been dubbed by the leading certifier. There is increasing evidence that this gold standard is being bought off.|