Wednesday, 7 March 2018

People and Nature

Anne Gray, Director of the Heather Trust
For my first blog as Director of the Heather Trust, I was going to talk about me!  My background, why I think I’m right for the Heather Trust, and what I hope to achieve.  Then I saw that George Monbiot was once again making his case for rewilding in last week’s Guardian, this time berating our National Parks for not presenting him with the type of land he wants to see, and I thought a response to that would be much more interesting. 

Mr Monbiot’s perspective is of course something he’s perfectly entitled to, but it seems to jar with what The Heather Trust is about – integrated management of land – people and nature, not people or nature.  

In his attack on National Parks, he points to other countries as exemplars.  Countries more vast than our own that have the space to have parks as true wilderness areas.  That’s only one model of a National Park however.  In the UK national parks represent both natural and cultural landscapes, they cater for visitors and the people that live and work there, they recognise that economic as well as conservation activity takes place in them - and that is okay.  In fact, it might be a very natural, since it recognises human beings as part of the ecosystem.

The trouble, as I see it, with a lot of what is termed rewilding, is that human beings are largely absent from landscapes and ecosystems other than as visitors to them.  The vision seems to be of a UK where urban and lowland dwellers visit nature in the uplands on high days and holidays, but not living as part of them and deeply connected to them.  Other species, through going about their daily lives, would engineer these landscapes, but our own species would be prevented from doing so.  I have to question if that helps us humans in any way face up to and manage the biggest dilemma we’ve ever had to deal with – how to live within the resource limitations nature imposes.  Segregation – we do nature over there and we live over here - does not seem to be the answer.  Surely it is only by living alongside nature on the land, that it will be possible to find a balance that allows us to meet our needs without taking so much that it degrades nature and impacts future generations.  

What our countryside – and particularly our upland areas, for they are always the most contested - should look like is very complex indeed. What should they be used for? What do we want them to deliver?  How do they help us meet our needs as UK citizens in 2018?  It is a conversation society as a whole needs to have, but there is a lot more to it than simply saying economic activity is bad and wilderness is good.  

Last week also saw the launch of DEFRA UK’s consultation on the future of farming policy in England.  If we need to have a conversation about the countryside, then this is a pretty good opener.  The eventual shape of farming policy will matter to many, many more people than just those who farm, but it is vital that those who are currently heavily reliant on income from the CAP, engage with this consultation now, and give it their full attention.  

Michael Gove has been trailing much of what is included in the consultation since July 2017.  He has been clear in his message that direct support for agriculture will go, and that in future money from the public purse will be for public goods, primarily for measures that enhance the environment.  This might be good news for the uplands – they are where many valuable environmental services are delivered - and there is definitely potential to help achieve the balance discussed above.  But, there is little in the way of detail yet, so we just don’t know.  What it signals, is change,  and one of the things I am keen to ensure is that the Heather Trust is able to help moorland and upland farmers and managers with that change to achieve uplands that work for everyone.    

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