Sunday, 30 January 2011

Reasons to be (a little bit more) Cheerful

Recent blogs here and here have worried away at the concern that things are inexorably getting worse in the British natural world, which led me thinking about the wider picture, and I ended up with a reasonably optimistic feeling.

As a historian I try to go back a bit, and we don't have to look far before we see a world of lush and varied vegetation, fields and woods echoing with calls of multitudinous birds, and a myriad of insects flying or crawling over it all.

These kinds of habitat still prevail in some undeveloped parts of Europe, but for us the combination of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, environmental pollution, concrete, tarmac, cars and people destroyed much, no, almost all of this beautiful richness.

By the 1960s our environment was not only in a serious mess, but almost nobody cared and the few that did (arise Rachel Carson and others) had little information and less influence. But gradually these few managed to be heard, and the environmental organisations that already existed like the RSPB and the National Trust grew quickly and were joined by many others - wildlife trusts, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth as well as local groups of people who saw the need for change.

The strength of protest in other areas like Civil Rights showed the environmental campaigners what could be done, and showed politicians the benefit of listening to arguments outside the mainstream. CND protests in the UK swayed popular opinion, and while some nature organisations raised money to protect "reserves", others improved the general environment - toxicity of farming chemicals was reduced, lead was taken out of petrol, industries and rivers have been cleaned up. Planning consent should now only be given if there are no serious environmental effects, and you should hear what developers say about bats, great-crested newts and white-clawed crayfish.

European legislation has also, of course, played an important part in forcing reluctant governments to "do the right thing".

Which brings us to today. Many of the species that were decimated by the devastation of the first half of the Twentieth Century have not returned, but some have - red kites, sparrowhawks, peregrines at the top of the food chain show improvements in conditions of their prey, while fish and otters have returned to rivers. Improvements in agriculture will have a slow effect, but hopefully although the field of corn will be sterile its surroundings may become richer.

Outside nature reserves, these improvements depend, of course, on "government policy" encouraging or enforcing good environmental practice. The voice of the environment is loud, and embraces right and left (hence the broad opposition to the sale of forests from green-wellie dog-walkers to green smelly eco-warriors). And although the Green Party seems destined to remain on the fringe of politics for the moment, voters should keep their MPs and councillors aware of the strong feelings on this matters.

There is a lot of lovely countryside out there, and although we know that much has gone, the patchwork of National Parks, marine and local nature reserves, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers much of our land and has a protection that could only be dreamed of a few decades ago.

That's the positive bit - we are currently just about holding the line.

This article was brought to you by Optimists Anonymous - terms and conditions apply. Effects from climate change, government cuts, privatisation, nuclear fallout, oil leaks, chemical spills, genetic modification and Japanese Knotweed do not apply.


DOT said...

What's your opinion of the break up of the Forestry Commission's responsibility for our woodlands? Have been following the story in my usual hazy way and really don't understand why the government is doing it. The only urge I can see is the Conservatives' - hoarse laugh - compelling interest in privatising everything.

Warren Baker said...

Still lots to do steve, but movement in the right direction has been seen :-)

GrahamH said...

Hi Steve,

Woh! Haven't looked in for a while and things seem to have got a bit heavy since Christmas! Something to do with this being a time of year for reflection (or a tainted mince pie maybe)?

My thoughts for the future are all to do with the coming energy crisis (that no one in government is talking about). The good bits (for the evironment) are less fossil fuels, less growth or de-growth, less intensive agriculture, etc. Bad things could include the increased consumption of remaining woodland (as alternative to fossil fuels). Could ramble on here as there are many scenarios, but instead check out, and keep an eye on

Kingsdowner said...

Thanks for the comments, gentlemen (and Graham, sorry to startle you!)

David, my views on the Forestry Commission sell-off are hampered by lack of information available from the Commission, but to summarise....
local community groups won't be able to afford to buy at the stated market price;
therefore forest land will be sold to private operators;
who will want to make a profit;
so will plant and manage to achieve this;
and will ignore the altuistic objectives that the Commission has belatedly adopted.
Consequently, even if access is preserved, the improving biodiversity of forests is likely to be reversed, so it won't be worth visiting them anyway.

So it will be A BAD THING.