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Last updated 17 December 2015

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16 December 2015

I have read some of your postings on your website. I acknowledge constructive criticism towards what you refer to as the "megaherbivore mafia”, there is always a note of "love your own ideas” in every human, and we need constantly to challenge such tendencies, in particular if were scientists.

Anyway, I think I am part of this ”mafia"; I honestly think that increase of herbivore drivers of landscape could facilitate not only biodiversity of open/semiopen (grazed/browsed) landscapes, but also increase ecosystem resilience (also in forests), provide food (wild game meat) through hunting and also provide a perception of richness and viability of landscapes in general (thus, a variety of ecosystem services that all in all reminds of low-intesive farming that governed most european landscapes some 100 years ago, and only do to a minor degree today, mostly in the east and the south). Also, apex predators need prey to reach attractive and viable numbers. This whole may be naive, sort of a step towards a ”hunter & gatherer” state, but I thinks its appealing from a sustainability perspective. The rewilding gambit also has a sort of positive aura around it, a future trajectory that I think conservation in general lack.

In Sweden, forestry and conventional agriculture continuously impoverish the landscape, monetary interests are given interpretive precedence about what is damage (thus, economic ditto), what specie cause problems, which are good (few) and bad (most, in one way or the other). Biological sustainability is not really considered, in my opinion (i.e. a spruce damaged by red deer is an economic cost, but a biological benefit). Diversity is on a sliding slope, in particular the kind that is carried by open/semiopen landscapes.

Well, I guess I wonder how you think we should progress, if not on wild animals? Whats you suggestions? Its not clear from the postings I read.


21 November 2012

I am not often inclined to write letters of praise but I should tell you how interesting I find your website. I find conservation grazing a terribly depressing thing. Indeed it is being pursued on two nature reserves close to my home, at Pipers Hill and Hartlebury Common, which you mention on your site. I visited a small reserve at Holme, Norfolk in 2009. I saw reed fringed pools surrounded by rough grass and scrub, many dragonflies and plenty of birds, especially warblers. I visited the site again in 2011 after the konik horses had been unleashed on the unsuspecting landscape. A sea of mud greeted me. No reeds, no rough grass, no scrub. Oh and no birds either. Are the people who run these reserves blind? Or perhaps dazzled by the funding. No doubt grazing is a natural process but without a full suite of predators to maintain a balance , I feel it will remain an unnatural process.

A lot of the conservation groups/charities in this country seem to have turned into money making ventures, and have lost sight of what they were set up to do .Dare I suggest the wild world has become less important than maintaining their fat salaries and large pension funds. I find it incredible that I am more in sympathy with the actions of many private landowners than most wildlife charities, i.e Gairloch Estate in Scotland and on my doorstep, the Heart of England Forest. I will admit to liking the work and aims of Trees for Life though.

Do you think the madness will end? Or is it still gathering momentum? A quick internet search shows many businesses offering grazing to aid conservation, some of the statements on their sites are worthy of inclusion on your page "Conservation Speak",- for instance "without grazing.................these habitats would revert to scrub and woodland and their biodiversity would be lost". Hmmm...... "revert"........there's a clue there for them. The momentum certainly seems to be continuing in Europe, Rewilding Europe may well turn the wilder parts of Europe into a large field. Is there hope?

22 November 2012

It’s wonderful that you continue to produce regular articles of this quality. Clare is a great subject and so relevant to what’s happening. The blindness of some of the local middle managers continues to appal me. I took along my laptop to show some pictures to the Head of Parks and Countryside. He wasn’t expecting that. He had brought in a ‘hard man’ to knock down everything I might say but in the event neither of them could find a decent response apart from ‘ how would we get the cash to maintain these places without agri-env grants?’ I think I managed to tell them and they seemed to be astonished by the sheer beauty of the scenes I showed them of the wilder parts of Blacka. Could they really not have seen them –even looked at my blog? But I think it’s the wilful blindness that comes on when they are all together that’s the problem – all 32 of them!!!

Just finished a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph but it won’t have any effect apart from annoying them. At least that’s better than no response. Natural England have been in hiding despite having a head office here and the other partners are invisible too guilty to put in an appearance. It must be the vested interests of farmers landowners and managers at the top of NE and Defra that drives all this nonsense. It seems almost rotten to blame the middle managers. But the phrases in the SMP draft Master Plan are enough to curl toes.

Everything these days seems to be about control. Controlling land, controlling people. Even our local school playing fields have been enclosed that have been always open for public use. It was there my son practiced his cricket during weekends and holidays and he made the greatest contribution to the school winning trophies. Now they’ve generously rewarded the community with heavy gates. I was questioning the Chair of Governors last night: it was like Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry. “ I can’t recall..” etc

Thanks again for the article.


1 May 2012

I was pleased to stumble across your website self-wiiled-land.org.  All strength to your elbow!

Basically, I can think of nothing better than the rewilding of large chunks of England and the reintroduction of wild boar, linx, red deer, beaver, pine marten, polecat, wild cat and the like.  Options coming to mind would include the Quantocks, the New Forest, the Forest of Dean, the eastern Peak by Sheffield (as you suggest),  the Cheviots, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the central dales in Yorkshire, the North Yorks Moors, Howgill Fells, Forest of Bowland, Long Mynd, Breckland, Hatfield Moors, Charnwood, Worth Forest, and several dales in the Lakes (where my relatives farmed).  Not bad for a start.  I'd have thought they were all realistic, once we have persuaded the interested parties that some of them could still keep a foothold. But there should be no carparks within easy access, no dogs (on lead or off) and no mountain bikers (of which I'm one).  Social control needs to be by law and not necessarily by fence. Though most wild animals (until we get aurochs and bison) can get under or over most fences, so maybe fencing is sensible in some places......  I'd close a few roads, too.

I have a bit of a problem with the South East, however.  And I don't think you'll agree with me (you obviously won't, having seen your comments!).  I was born in Surrey, and remain a follower of the Surrey Wildlife Trust (though now living in Bristol). I largely support their efforts at heathland restoration via grazing (shock, horror!), on the basis that I am also a birdwatcher and reptile fancier and some species need their special niches there.    As a folk historian I'm also happy to see the Surrey Commons maintained in something like their historic state - wide, open and grazed.  You know: Cobbett, Clare, Hardy, Constable?  America didn't have that history; but we did.

In Surrey, two or three large areas might realistically be wilded - the NW (army) commons, the wooded Downs between Guildford and Leatherhead, Hurt Wood (Holmbury to Blackheath), and maybe the Devils Punch Bowl and the Hindhead flanks - though all have lots of gaps in them.  Thursley Common and its environs (which you cite) also are pretty chopped up by little bits of suburbia.  To be honest, fence the 'residents' (some rich home owners) and dog-walking car-parkers out, and the wildlife would improve greatly.  Which is why army land (no dogs, no residents) is great as a wilder.   You seem willing here however to fall into an unholy alliance with Open Spaces Soc, doggies and residents, to maintain their local 'park', and hard luck for the special wildlife.  Which seems rather to conflict with your stated aims.  The lizards were there before the suburbanites!

It's worth noting that GB is not America - it's a lot smaller, and with a lot more localised variety.  Have wilded parts where you can - in big chunks, including space for wolves and bears, too.  Half of Wales, for a start.  But in the more populous areas, the post-Neolithic wildlife and history can happily co-exist with heathland conservation, downland (same issue) and grazing marshes (ditto).  We don't want to turn the South East into an American suburb - expensive houses set in unmanaged woodland.  Surrey's got too much of that already.

Basically, there's everything to play for - without being lax about choosing your allies.....  And I agree with you re the daftness of Natural England's attitude to 'unmanaged' rewildings like wild boar (did you mention that?).  I'm on the side of the boar (who seems to be winning anyway)!


20 January 2011

I too live on the side of a hill over looking a moor but in Cumbria. I am a born and bred Tyke and moved here with my then job with the RSPB. My Hen Harriers were killed by shooting estates so I left the RSPB to be self employed. For the last 2 years we have had wild Eagle Owls nesting up the valley. They have raised 4 chicks in total. Over the autumn the shooting estates found them hunting on their land. It is now thought that they have killed them as well.

My life here is all around wild life but sadly it is being taken away from me yet again even though the RSPB run 14,000 acres by my house.

Over the years I have written several books about wildlife but I finally wrote a fictional book based on my experiences. The book is called 'The Return of The Jacobite'. It tells the story of Charlie and finishes with the killing of his birds. His only escape of this is following football which becomes his army of followers.

Keep up the good work.

11 January 2011

Just found your website and read your excellent article - The Tayside beavers - living wild and free in Scotland

This is definitely my favourite article on your website, although to be fair, it is the only one I have read so far.

Looking at your site and skimming a few of the articles I am greatly intrigued, and very much looking forward to finding the time to read much more, and hopefully to engage with you about some of your ideas, which resonate very closely with my feelings about land-use and wildness - or the lack of it, in UK.

No time for more just now, but I will reconnect once I have had the chance to beaver about in your pages some more.

Tomorrow night I plan to go to an informal meeting in Blairgowrie, Tayside, to meet up with beaver and wildness fans to see what can be done to stop the crass madness of SNH in their current attempts to capture free-living beavers. As you rightly point out this is probably an illegal action, so that gives us a good starting point.

Nice to find your writings


5 January 2011

I found your website very interesting, if at times a little blunt (but that helps it portray the cause that little bit better). Anyway you are correct about Britain lacking woodlands and forests, this is a problem I have thought about myself. Only around 7% of the land in England is forested, I believe the European average is somewhere around 20% or so. I've always believed that large areas of unused land needs reforesting for wildlife, offsetting some pollution and for our own needs. I think you need to highlight in your site - Heathlands are indeed natural as are moorlands but in their natural state occur only sporadically in the British Isles in areas of poor soils and or climate, usually WITHIN areas of forest. Most of the heaths we see today are indeed the result of man's over-working of the landscape. I see the importance of preserving heaths and moorlands for our wildlife and for their beauty but at the same time our focus should be on native, broadleaved woodland.

Another type of habitat we are much lacking are freshwater marshes, a rich habitat and a type of wetland which often in effect combines two very good habitats - woodlands which fringe the marsh and the waters of the marsh itself. Large areas of England were formerly marshland, especially around the east's rivers and the Fens.

I still recognise the need for farmland to provide food security but I think the UK should stop encouraging immigration and should allow the population to decline in size as it probably would do anyway if immigration didn't keep the numbers steady. 60 million people in such
small islands in the first place was a bad idea, the population is still slowly growing though.

I think the government needs to buy up large areas of land, vast tracts of the current national parks and forest them with native species. This would have little impact on the moorlands or heathlands because whilst they might be rare in Europe lets face it, in the UK they're quite common. On top of this kids in schools should have proper lessons about the natural world and native trees should be encouraged in gardens and parks. I also see a lot of parks in the UK which are mainly consisting of fields, a few trees and perhaps a tract of river. These vast areas go to waste as do the "dog walking fields" when they could be planted up and transformed into native woodland.

It is reckoned that if Britain was left alone and nature wasn't interfered with that it would revert mostly back to native woodland within 50 years or less. I think we should at least establish 30% woodland and forest cover in the UK and at least 30% woodland cover in England itself.


3 July 2010

Yetanother ill informed comment on the web re grazing. Grazing is a natural part of many eco-systems . However, due to the presence of several billion humans, in many places it has to be undertaken by domestic livestock, because natural eco-systems are so screwed up. Still, another chance for a cheap shot at the'coinservfation industry' as ytou put it.

So what did you do for the environment today, apart from knock the efforts of others?

5 November 2010

Clearly, from reading the comments posted on your website, the first very important function has been achieved. Thought processes and accepted practises are being challenged!!

Those that baulk at criticism of conservation lack vision and, I assume, accountability. All commercial industries accept criticism for what it is--an opportunity to develop.

Within our lifetimes conservation is likely to become the biggest industry in the World but remains poorly legislated, unaccountable, exclusive and highly insensitive to normal human interaction or requirements.

We each have a path to take (just as every human activity impacts on nature) and your view does have validity in the context of NE etc exercising 'control' by suspending nature and thus being extreme in not recognising the validity of succession .There MUST be someone in juxtaposition and a middle path taken!

UK (European) strategies have huge weaknesses based on science (scientists) driving decision making with little interpretation for those practising the husbandry, no accountability for results and low awareness of the global impact of spending huge sums locally at massive cost to our global systems.

Where are normal people in the scheme of things?

Environmentally disenfranchised by salvationists turning life into a science and given prescriptions written in a foreign language.

Part of the ongoing tradeoff with human occupation has been natures constant flexing of our ecosystem. Species adapting to us and disassociating with us as our impact changes/grows. I hesitate to call the loss of a species extinction, in the UK, unless it can be proved to be native in the absence of mankind.

We accept the Brown Rat/Rabbit as 'native' (when introduced) but question the right of relatively new colonisers to be here? Our government encourages population growth and incentivises food production (monocultures) whilst facing inundation but still, Canute like, a belief exists that what has been can still be!!

Strategies have to be based on an acceptance that nature is the arbiter of what exists. Mankind has created multiple niches and will continue to do so--new species moving in are indicative of that and should be part of the equation when considering losses.

When a species loss is announced in the UK there is no balance to that announcement by publicising a new species arrival. Losses and additions are both viewed as negative.

Is our ability to measure success or failure limited by our humanity? New species indicate that nature is adapting to us/taking advantage of expanding niches but we suppress them. Even what is seen as a negative immigrant like Phytopthera ramorum is reducing climax species  to provide opportunity.

Nature is a brilliant 'self manager' and succession should be accepted as a valid tool within conservation circles.New species are a part of succession as is the loss of existing species. 

The benefit? A better resourced Zoo/Garden on suspended sites and a comparator on the successional.

What have I done today for the environment? Carried on planting up heathland on what was an old Potato field (to underwrite the decreasing E.ciliaris numbers , under stewardship, in Cornwall) and to reestablish Adders etc in a SEMI natural environment.

Yes suspension but, as a part of my business/garden, better that than a monoculture!


11 May 2010

I was interested in your site the Open or closed – what is the natural landscape matrix of a wild Britain? seemed reasonable enough but seemed like you tied this idea with various misassumptions with “the conservation  industry”. The recent British wildlife feature on this debate does not come out overwhelmingly in favour of the idea a open landscape was dominant in prehistory in fact I would say quite the reverse  in spite of being written by “conservation professionals“. In fact even the article  co -written by  Butterfly conservation’s main man comes in favour of the open areas being relatively small in prehistoric landscapes.

In terms of weather or not this shapes present day conservation and ecology, could be open to discussion. Particularly what seems to me still incomplete understanding of the dynamics of climax forest cover and disagreements of what the structure of this prehistoric landscape was.

I do agree there should be a vision in the uplands of the UK for some truly wild spaces with low intervention. But don’t agree with your hostility for nature conservation in lowland england. Just abandoning  grazing or cutting of a isolated nature reserve in england does not create a natural habitat it just replaces one semi-natural habitat with another. And in the case of england this habitat will probably be another man made and species poor habitat secondary woodland.

In this ‘self willed land’ the open ground species  that have been forced into the last small pockets of biodiversity will go. (even the small proportion of  prehistoric landscape that was open, I am sure would be much greater than the area of the present day open ground sites managed for  conservation in england). Many of the species associated with woodland would also go, since many of the woodland species we have in this country are dependant on open or disturbed conditions or woodland edge for at least a part of their lifecycle. The fragmented small nature reserves we have left are too small to hold much biodiversity without some management and this is much more important than the debate on what climax forest actually looked like in england.

In my experience species rich open grassland habitats are less common than woodland habitats in my area and statistics show they have declined much more across the board.

The term wilderness or wild is fraught with subjectivety.  When I am in some of the ancient  managed parkland, managed heaths, and managed moors,  I see wilderness in the rich variety of wildlife in these places, the massive diversity of  invertebrates and flowering plants, that in the prehistoric landscape probably would be moving round temporary clearings, created by big wild fires and flood events to name a few prehistoric and natural processes we cannot replicate in England without management.


17 December 2009

I find your self-willed land website fascinating but I am confused as to exactly where you're coming from. The essential idea seems to be to leave substantial areas of land alone to natural processes without interference from agriculture, developers, environmental bodies or in fact any human trying to influence the natural course of the landscape's future. This is an interesting departure from conventional target-driven environmental management although clearly fraught with challenges in our crowded island. But then in your latest piece dated 24 November you say:

"I have explicit views about the landscapes that I do like. It has to have the sensual thrill that comes from the visual coherency of it “looking right”, coupled with a physical intimacy from my being enveloped by it’s structural complexity and the attention and commitment of effort that is needed to navigate that complexity. Flat, feature-less, open landscapes hold little curiosity for me on their own unless they are a component part of a much more varied landscape matrix. Even so, add water - in the way of rivers, lakes, and wetland - then that flat, open land is bustling with potential."

Read simply as a personal preference this is fair enough (I personally love wooded hillsides and fantasize about a hugely expanded version of Rook Clift on the West Sussex Downs) but it could also be interpreted as having an agenda to make landscape look a certain way according to your wishes - I couldn't help thinking of the Ground Force Team telling a homeowner - "What you need is a water feature"!. Seen that way are you so very different from an RSPB Warden preventing the natural succession of heathland to birch scrub in order to perpetuate a particular habitat with its own aesthetic to which the RSPB warden attaches value.

On the subject of the bare Scottish hills, about which you have written, if (theoretically) the natural landscape outside of the Cairngorm plateau had been bare hillsides and not woodland would you then appreciate it more because it was natural (albeit bleak) or would you still wish it was woodland because that is the habitat which you personally prefer. I suspect the latter.

No hostility intended - your website is very worthwhile.


6 December 2009

Interesting to come across your article on the craze for conservation grazing.

You may be interested to know that, more than two years after the National Trust’s original application for grazing (April 2007), there is still no grazing and no immediate prospect of any grazing on Longmoor Common.

This is due to a combination of determined opposition to every move the National Trust make combined with gross incompetence on their part. i.e. Not realising that they actually need permission from the Department of Transport to erect cattle grids on a public road (something which seemingly Cumbria Highways didn’t know either until it was pointed out to them). Currently the application is lost somewhere between Cumbria Highways and the County Council Legal Department with little prospect of surfacing in the foreseeable future – Cumbria Highways are far too busy designing new bridges to bother with cattle grids.


17 October 2009

Your website is very thought-provoking and clearly based on a love of the countryside in general.  I think you need to think about heathland restoration as just that, it's not conservation in most senses of the word.  In any program that involves taking something from what it is now to what it used to be there will be many who oppose it - opposing change in fact.  In the long term however (and it won't take that long either) they will soon enjoy walking over the 'moors' as my mother used to call part of Crowthorne Forestry (now being restored).  They will see the lizards, butterflies, heather, ling, stonechats, dartford warblers, woodlarks and all the other heathland species which have declined so much in recent years.  Change is often painful but the alternative is just a natural succession into mature oak woodland.  Would that be a bad thing?  Not bad if you love woodland as I do but not good if it also means losing the heathland and the wonderful views.  We need both: we still have plenty of woodland and could do with more, but heathland is very scarce indeed and well worth restoring.  There can never be a huge acreage as I'm sure you know - it's down to geology.


26 April 2008

John sent me a link to your website, particularly the article about Loxley and Wadsley Commons.

Here's a copy of my letter sent yesterday to the chairman of Harpenden Town Council's (HTC) Environment Committee. This chairman is also a councillor on the superior authority St Albans District, who granted permission for the tree work.

HTC have bought into (literally) the Countryside Management Service philosophy because after all they are the experts (and they need the smaller councils' money).

There are four trial heather patches on the golf course, which occupies about 40% of Harpenden Common's 96 heactares. They have been fenced off and monitored for three years. Result - no sign of any growth.

If you can take the excitement go to www.hertsad.co.uk and search either 'Nomansland' and/or 'Harpenden Common' and/or 'cherry trees'. We have been at it for several weeks; the editor will continue to give publicity until the campaign fizzles out or the councils back off.

By the way, your website is fascinating, lots of work and knowledge, thank you very much. I am but a portly 57 yr old dog walking resident of Harpenden, where my front door opens straight on to the Common and should be treating me right now to a spectacular feast of cherry blossom. Now there's only one.

I have forwarded links to your website to other members of our group.

8 April 2008

I am entirely in agreement of your arguments both about allowing nature to evolve the countryside and in your comments about the abysmal "conservation" practices in this country. I think it would be accurate to say that in England conservationists are people who destroy the natural in order to create the artificial.

I live in Surrey and we have seen a staggering amount of deforestation in the last decade. It is difficult to know how much for sure, but I would estimate that at least 3,000 acres or about 4% of Surrey woodland has been destroyed in that time. Nearly all of this is naturally regenerated secondary woodland, only a small amount is plantation.

Amongst the Surrey sites ruined by this environmental travesty are:

Hindhead Common & Devil's Punchbowl - National Trust
Witley Common - National Trust
Wisley Common - Surrey Wildlife Trust
The Ash Ranges - MOD

Just across the County border are:

Lynchmere Common (W. Sussex) - The Lynchmere Society
Chapel Common (Hampshire / W. Sussex) - Privately owned, unknown owner
Blackdown (W. Sussex) - National Trust
Woolbeding Common (W. Sussex) - National Trust
Woolmer Forest (Hampshire) – MOD
Bramshott Common (Hampshire) – MOD

The worst deforesters include (in order of most destructive):

MOD (Government)
The National Trust
The Surrey Wildlife Trust
The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

and others.

All these sites - and many other locations in all three counties. - have been partly or almost completely deforested to create "heathland".

In the case of Blackdown, I have seen a painting dating from 1824, which indicated even then it was a Scots pine Wood. The trees felled included some of the biggest Scots pines I have ever seen. They appear to have arisen from natural regeneration, possibly from pines planted in the 18th century, when it was common to plant pines on hills as shelter for travelers and landmarks.

Lynchmere and Chapel Commons are grazed by cattle owned by a hobby farmer.

The MOD has agreements with Surrey & Hampshire wildlife trusts to carry out grazing of MOD land. So far they have had problems with getting enough cattle, fencing and finding local people to help, and some sites are not yet grazed. But both organisations have received large sums of money for this purpose.

The NT is rich enough to have it's own herds of cattle and ponies.

My main source for the acreage deforested in Surrey is the "Surrey Heathland Project". It's website (www.surreyheathlandproject.org.uk) was slightly out of date when I last checked it, hundreds of additional acres of The Ash Ranges have been destroyed the winter just gone (which I included).

In addition a warden of the NT at Hindhead admitted the destruction of (or intended destruction of) 400 acres of woodland there a few years ago.

The Surrey WT claimed that it was only cutting down plantation trees at Wisley. I saw lorry-loads of birch trees being removed and, as someone who worked in the woodworking industry for 15 years, I know birch has never been used as a plantation tree here. This kind of misinformation is commonplace.

There have been very few consultations with local people about these activities. At Esher Common (Forestry Commission), there was huge local opposition to the deforestation, but the protesters were ignored. The same thing happened at the Bourne and Tilford woods (a plantation bought by the RSPB and renamed 'Farnham Heath'), local people were ignored. The attached letter, sent to a newspaper by a local person about Witley Common, sums up very well how most local people (who have an opinion) feel about the policies of "conservationists".


11 February 2008

I am one of those conservation vandals you guys seem rather keen to attack. I dislike the fact that conservation has become an industry. I agree that it would be lovely to see just one piece of wildland but the only way to do that is to go abroad perhaps - but even in the wildest corner of the world we "manage" the land-by polluting it from afar, by changing it's climate or simply visiting it. It is all management, just degrees of.

I have to work within the common standards framework, and yes, put effort into getting sites into favourable condition. The system is somewhat rigid and naturally goes against the grain of us old hippy types. It is not inflexible though and If I have a site that is knackered I wont burn tons of carbon and pump endless money into trashing it, I can simply recognise it as too far gone and either remove its designation or find new interest in it.

If however I have an elderly lady trying to continue grazing with her herd of traditional cattle on an ancient common (which I do) I will certainly try to help maintain the history and wildlife of such a place to the best of my ability. To let such a place go to willow, birch and gorse scrub and eventually to who knows what when little effort can help maintain it seems little short of stupidity to me.

I worry about what we would see in Britain as our landscape in your ideal scenario. As you are aware for most of Britain woodland is the natural climax community and there will always be large scale intensive farming. Do you propose islands of poor secondary woods and a few ancient (i.e anciently, intensively managed) woods in a sea of improved farmland? Do you propose we allow all of our traditional hay meadows, downs and heaths to scrub over? Do we allow those small, old fasioned farmers go pack up and sell up to posh horsey types?

I dont wish to be confrontational but in these crowded islands how do non woodland species survive in your vision?


30 November 2007

I always read your articles with interest, but you always make so many references to "artificial" and "natural" landscapes. I'm sure I'm not the first person to raise the question of how human interference with the landscape is so much more "unnatural" than animal interference with it - we are animals too at the end of the day, and I find it hard to see why our behaviour (however abhorent and self-defeating it might be) is classified as "unnatural"; if anything, this is an anthropocentric approach that elevates us above all other living beings. In any case, everything we do to destroy our environment will come back and bite us in the form of extinction, eventually - as is the natural way.

My article Are humans a natural disturbance? was written to address this question.


26 June 2007

This a refreshing change. I agree with just about everything you say. I am particularly interested in the cultural questions you ask in the last-but-one paragraph. I am not sure those issues will ever be addressed through strategies and plans, but through experience and small scale 'projects'. I'll give you an example. My second teenage son had a chance to go on a BTCV Millennium Volunteering weekend a week or two ago. They did all sorts of 'green' activities including woodworking. Tuition was done by a couple of local lads (early twenties) who are making a (small) living from doing these courses and a variety of other activities. They sit way under the radar of economic development, protected area management and other national, regional and local strategies, but they're getting to grips with those questions you're asking.

My lad came home buzzing and I would be only too happy if he and his mates have the courage to continue to explore those ways of living 'lighter' than I manage to do.

Thanks for raising the issues- standing back from day to day officialdom is much needed.


15 June 2007

I have just stumbled across your website - with some delight - and am not sure how I have missed it before now. I was particularly interested by the amount written about the Skomer MNR and marine nature conservation and the strength of your advocacy - the reason why should be clear from my attached response to the Marine Bill White Paper and the new website at www.wwmc.org.uk.

As you report discovering the Skomer MNR petition at Martin's Haven in your article on the Marine Bill White Paper, I assume you signed it (?) and therefore you are disqualified from submitting on-line via this website! ... but if not? However, should you be writing about the MNR again and you feel inclined to mention the wwmc site, and include a link, we'd be delighted.


17 Decermber 2007

In your article on Ashdown Forest you criticise the RSPB for its plans to turn Broadwater Warren into a mixed heathland/broadleaf woodland reserve. Have you ever visited the place? Do you think the serried ranks of conifers currently covering most of the estate somehow preferable? Or perhaps you approved of the previous plans to turn it into a landfill site?

I understand from reading some of the other articles that you come from a position where any human intervention in the landscape is bad, and you seem to hark back to an imagined pre-agricultural golden era where noble savages roamed the primeval forest. It seems rather foolish to imagine that Bialowieza Forest could be re-created on a 400 acre site one mile south of Tunbridge Wells, don’t you think?

The RSPB will manage the reserve to develop wildlife diversity, including the endangered Nightjars and Dartford Warblers you are so dismissive of in your article. A whole new range of habitats will be opened up, access will be enhanced, and if any of the other RSPB reserves I have visited is a guide, it will become a truly exceptional place to visit – a real resource for locals and tourists alike.

Plans are already well in hand to boost habitats for the widest possible variety of insect, mammal, reptile and amphibian life, as well as birds. A special trail will lead visitors to some of the exceptional archeological remains on the site. Dog-walking and horse-riding will continue, in flora- and fauna-rich surroundings.

Yes, as on Ashdown Forest, some grazing may take place to maintain the heathland, but so what? You’ll still have far more access to a far more inspiring site than the dank and gloomy tracks under the non-native spruces and firs that currently cover most of the estate.

You asked in another article what RSPB members think of the organisation controlling foxes and other pests by shooting. Both I and a majority of my local RSPB group are totally supportive of the organisation’s stance on this issue. Predator numbers can get out of balance. To anyone other than an animal rights extremist, of the type who thinks it OK to release minks into the wild despite the catastrophic effect on the local wildlife, it’s a complete non-issue.

If you want to persuade anyone as to the wisdom of your ideas, I advise you to be a lot clearer in your reasoning, and rather than taking sour side-swipes, give us a reasoned alternative to the scheme being carried out by the RSPB at Broadwater Warren.

19 July 2007

I was checking out the Heritage lottery grant for the Forest Ridge project etc. etc. and came across your piece on Broadwater forest and then BAM!!! Ashdown Forest. When I read it I was surprised to see your view and that you don’t even live here. If you can see what is going on, it confirms what we think: that there are none so blind as don’t want to see and none so deaf as those that don’t want to hear! Please look at our website. www.ashdownforestactiongroup.co.uk you will also see we are running an e-petition on the Prime ministers website and a paper one which has over 1200 signatures so far. Please get in touch as it is brilliant to hear from someone who is not so involved locally as we are, and can also see the folly of so called conservation which has such a heavy price on existing wildlife and habitat. All of which are ignored to benefit some academic’s idea of what nature should be.


12 May 2007

I enjoy your site very much. I came across it looking for Roger Lovegrove’s book Silent Fields, having only remembered the vaguest details -which did not include remembering the author or the name of the book. I haven’t read it yet but I intend to do so. Whilst having nothing against farmers, it sounds to me as though this book will help me develop my hunch that it is not true that farmers and the shooting lobby are the guardians of the countryside. I think it is important to be able to tease out different vested interests and my underlying concern is that no-one speaks up for the land or other species unless they can be described as having a use for the human species. So population control is also a hobby horse of mine.

However, the reason I am writing to you is that I have a comment about your observations on urban ecology. I wonder if living in cities need break the connection with the natural world? I love the countryside and wild areas but I don’t have a car and hope never to have one. The countryside will not be enhanced if I visit it, rather it will benefit (in my view) if I stay away and leave it to get on with its own existence. Here in London (where I was born and brought up) I can walk to where I need to go and to buy what I need to buy. Ideally I would co-operate with others to produce food and to dispose of waste material in the same area. I’ve just been down to the canal to get wild food for my rabbits (skirting the dog mess) . If people travelled less and worked more to produce in their own areas, wouldn’t that be better and wouldn’t we be more aware of the natural world around us? Believe me, while I hope one day to live outside London, we do have wildlife and plants here and if these were encouraged – and at least noticed - more for their own sake and if people were more involved in this and aware of the effect of what they do, I like to believe that the wider, untamed world would also benefit.

It’s not the self-willed land of which you write but it could be a way to support it.

Supported by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
21 March 2007 at the NTS Glen Coe Visitor Centre.

(See under Scotland and Wales, Heroes and Villains)

Rob McMorran
26 April 2007

Firstly you make the point that zonation isn't emphasised within the report as a possible future approach for NPs etc. Firstly zonation in certain areas is actually a key recommendation (see section 6.2.2 No. 5) of the report. Admittedly it s not fully explored as a concept, although it s value is alluded to by respondents a few times in the management review section. Interestingly zoning was not an issue raised by many respondents in relation to their management and as the report was primarily a review based on interviews of key personnel it only came up as often as it was stressed by respondents. To my mind it's not a practice in place in the way you mean it on a lot of sites. (i.e. surrounding wildest areas with low intensity land uses). This possibly being related to the fact that surrounding owners would need to be involved as JMT etc obviously want all or most of their sites as wild as possible! That's not to say I personally think it s a bad idea. I think it s a good one, but more importantly it was recommended because visitors are on the increase and land management in Scotland doesn't t seem to have used zoning seriously in the past.

Second point - you mentioned that you think the typology looks to the past rather then the future. I think the typology was meant (and I think this is mentioned in there somewhere) as a tool which could provide a snapshot of a landscape in time. Linking management type with it could certainly change the rankings a bit, no doubt. However, what I do say in the report is really sort of in agreement with you as I specifically state that restorative management could over time move sites up the typology (like Carrifran). So it s not the past so much as a moment in time - so applying it in 10 years would provide different results. I hope that makes sense.

Thirdly - you say that I was ambivalent about the vegetative state of landscape cover, which reflected a feeling in the room that a barrier to understanding of wildland is the untutored perceptions of the public i.e. that I didn't understand the importance of vegetation within the wild land concept. This is a key point and crucial really to everything ! It should be noted that the report was on "wild landscapes", as I stated at the meeting, not wild land. This is important because I then went on the explain that wild landscapes is a broader concept (like wildness) and wild land was only really considered as certain wild landscapes which exhibit all the various attributes strongly like Mar Lodge or Glen Affric. The idea behind the typology being that applying it would show up the attributes which could be most usefully managed to increase a sites relative wildness. This approach is used to manage wilderness in the states although a lot more detailed axes are used !

The idea behind wild landscapes and wildness in the report was to develop recognition that wildness is something that goes well beyond the confines of wild land. As I said at the time wildness is, from my perspective, like wilderness a primarily social construct. So I was effectively saying that areas can be wild landscapes (not necessarily wild land!) so long as people feel they are having a wild experience within them and this is important just as wild nature is important intrinsically and for so many other reasons. This doesn't have to dilute the concept of wild land, just recognise that people can have wild experiences outwith wild land and that this deserves protecting too. So taking the sociological (wild landscapes are a mental construct) view vegetation is, as I said, only important to the concept of wildness in terms of how it shapes a viewers perceptions. That is what I meant. In the report I also say (within the typology) that an areas wildness is also a product of the degree of natural interactions - specifically labelling ecotonal habitats as key to wildness (and some other ecological criteria). But fundamentally the report takes the sociological view to the concept of wild landscapes, simply because wildness was considered as something predominantly developed in Scotland from that perspective i.e. related to remoteness and solitude and so on. Groups like the SWLG and various other recreational groups have been lobbying for wild land on this sort of basis for along time. That of course is the real debating point. The NTS for example do not consider deer control as being management for wild values but for conservation values, with wild land management being more about removing buildings, limiting visual impacts and tracks and so on. I think practically core wild land areas should be managed as much from an ecological viewpoint as a social one, but because wild is such a sociological term, particularly in Scotland with all the cultural landscapes we have, this sort of management should to my mind also be strongly concerned with terms like natural habitat networks and so on. This is exactly why Toby has adopted the term "natural habitat areas" because it s less fraught with all the sociological issues of what's wild and what's not.

Finally you mention that I appeared supportive of the idea of incorporating cultural land uses within the wild landscapes concept but you point out the danger that private landowners may not recognise that land being used for sporting reason (or whatever) is land at a place in the continuum and far from being the most wild. I would agree with that. But my point was that using the concept of wild landscapes and saying a landscape can be wild even if sporting or crofting or productive forestry is going on may bring more landowners on board, this doesn't need to destroy the idea of core wild land  but just recognise that a landscapes relative wildness can be enhanced (to bring it at least some way up the continuum), by removing tracks for example, without necessarily banning any form of land use other then conservation. So I was really saying that we can enhance wildness on private estates without going the whole hog - which could actually lead to the creation of buffer areas for core wild land !

It is of course all such a debateable contentious issue and I tried to recognise that a variety of viewpoints exist. I sincerely hope that in the future all those concerned can come together and create a more unified front on what constitutes wild land AND wildness more generally because if this doesn't happen it seems likely that the Scottish executive is unlikely to support any moves on the whole issue. I would reiterate that there are very different views on what wild land and wildness are out there, but that sociologically wild areas (where people can experience wildness) are important to many, just as areas closer to wild nature are.

So I hope that maybe clarifies a few points. I look forward to seeing how the whole debate moves forward in the future !


8 January 2007

I have sympathy with Sandy over her defence of Rannoch Moor from your disparagement. Apart from the fact that creating woodland on it would significantly contribute to global warming, there is no evidence that the moor is an artefact - it is probably one of the most natural areas remaining in Europe!

In my view, whether we like (or love) an area, or not, has nothing to do with its wilderness quality - the miles of flat, Arctic tundra, Greenland icecap, Caithness flow country or Sahara desert are probably pretty boring to most people. It is the fact that we like trees that, in my view, is causing a reduction of wilderness quality in upland Scotland: we are converting (or trying to convert) large areas of a relatively natural landscape to woodland in order to fit in with our preconceptions!

The fact that you found the moor wet and miserable to me shows it really is a wilderness! Scott got pretty miserable on his way to the South Pole!


www.self-willed-land.org.uk  mark.fisher@self-willed-land.org.uk