Brexit – Two Years On.

Brexit – the Big Lie

Two years ago today – that fateful day when the UK voted, by the slimmest of margins, to leave the EU. I’d loved to have gone on the People’s Vote march in London, even though I’m ambivalent about whether there should be another vote. But domestic circumstances, which I won’t go into, mean I’m here in Dorset instead – beautiful sunny Dorset.

I just re-read the piece I wrote a day after the vote result was announced, an angry piece called Turkeys have voted for Christmas. It was far and away the most widely piece I’ve written on here – a fact which does, on reflection, provide no solace to me. I talk about the older “working class” voter and how they wanted to leave the EU in order to rekindle some notion of past British glory. I haven’t changed my views in the intervening 2 years.

Sociologists have looked in detail at who voted to leave and why – yes, fears of immigration played a part, as did “taking back control” from supposedly unelected Brussels bureaucrats. Vote leavers were also older and less-well educated than the average. But aside from these (which are easily influenced by the media and propagandists) the strongest correlate with voting leave was supporting the reintroduction of the death penalty. and to a lesser extent corporal punishment. According to one sociological theory, this desire to beat and kill people who transgress the law identifies the Right Wing Authoritarians among us. Not much a surprise there.

What I hadn’t appreciated at the time of writing (no-one had) was the extent to which both the official Vote Leave campaign; and the unofficial Leave.EU campaign, cheated. Vote Leave, led by the execrable Dominic Cummings, deliberately flouted the rules on funding by creating a fake campaign called BeLeave, then channelling over £600,000 through it to an obscure Canadian company called AggregateIQ, who used it to help target social media ads towards voters, to sway them to vote Leave. This was illegal and the Electoral Commission will publicly confirm this in the next couple of weeks. In fact there is plenty of evidence that Vote Leave broke electoral law, presumably knowing that even if they were eventually caught, the Referendum vote would not be overturned. There’s also the small matter of another £435,000, which was channelled to AggregateIQ via the party in power, the DUP. It is still a mystery where this DUP dark money originally came from and both the DUP and the Government have moved mountains to keep this a secret. Why?

And then there’s Leave.EU – the rival campaign set up by UKIP donor Arron Banks, with Nigel Farage. The stories swirling around Banks and Farage have darkened with each passing month since the referendum. Leave.EU has already been heavily fined by the Electoral Commission for cheating. It now seems pretty clear that Banks and Farage were working both with the far and libertarian-right in the US – think Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer; and also with the Russians. And of course it’s perfectly possible that those are in fact one group working together (who helped install the deranged puppet Donald Trump in power.) It’s still unclear exactly how much influence the Banks/Farage campaign had over the poll result, but does that really matter? That both external malign influences from the US and Russia deliberately worked to sway the poll, using methods Goebbels would have been proud of (and indeed Banks’ wingman Andy Wigmore specifically referenced the “very clever” Nazi propaganda machine). I could go on, but one thing which is still a mystery about leave.EU is where the money came from. Banks poured millions into it, but has never given a straight answer as to where that came from. And his claims to be a multi-millionaire also face some very serious questions.

UPDATE: this morning (monday 25th), Bloomberg is running a story claiming that the EU Referendum results were used by Hedge Funds, some close to Nigel Farage, to make millions by “shorting the market,” and in particular Farage’s bizarre concessions that the vote had been lost, on the night.

What of all those promises made by the various leave campaigns? We now know the £350M a week for the NHS on the side of the bus was a fiction. There is no Brexit Dividend and the NHS has been starved of cash since 2010, for ideological reasons. Now the tap will be turned on a bit, though it won’t make up the big shortfall of underfunding. And taxes will rise to pay for it.

What about “taking back control” from the hated EU and giving it to the Mother of Parliaments? well that hasn’t worked out so well either. Far from taking back control and giving it to Parliament, this Government has taken control away from Parliament in Westminster, as well as grabbing powers that had previously been devolved to Edinburgh and Cardiff. As for the devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland – conveniently, that collapsed thanks to the DUP running a renewable heating scam for their members. As the ongoing car crash formerly known as the EU withdrawal bill crawled through the Houses of Parliament, it became increasingly clear that Parliament would be prevented from having any meaningful say on the Brexit negotiations outcome. Parliamentary conventions have been thrown away, debating time has been curtailed and rebels bought off with hollow promises. Thanks to Brexit, our Parliamentary democracy has been badly wounded, while the devolved administrations are seething with anger at the betrayal.

The big concern of many leave voters was immigration. And how that has played out – stoking the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment has also fuelled the return of the far-right, only this time they are adopting the tactics of terrorism. EU nationals are now afraid to speak their mother tongues in public lest they be verbally or physically attacked. It is no surprise really that they are leaving in droves, leaving holes in our society and economy. Farmers (a significant chunk of whom voted leave remember) are now crying out because key workers in the food industry, from fruit pickers, to meat packers, to vets, are leaving. Who can blame them? Being offered “settled status” ie second class citizens – at best (assuming a deal can be done with the EU)  – what would you do?

Interestingly, with Sajid Javid, the son of an immigrant now in charge at the Home Office, the tone is changing. And that’s hardly surprising after the Windrush scandal. But of course it’s too late. Anti-immigrant sentiment was whipped up by the leave campaigns (especially the hateful quasi-fascist Nigel Farage) and once that Pandora’s Box has been opened, it’s very difficult to close again. The truth is we need people to come to the UK to contribute to creating a thriving society and economy.

Quite apart from any ideas about being an open outward-looking society, it’s simple demographics. The post war baby boomers are retiring, and by 2030 around a quarter of the population will be over 65. Meanwhile the birth rate for white British people is declining. Ergo, if we reduce immigration (from wherever) to the “tens of thousands a year” which Theresa May continues to cling to, presumably to appease the Right Wing Authoritarians in her own party, then who will look after the elderly? Perhaps Mr Farage will propose a scheme to forcibly pair up suitably white young people, to produce copiously large families. It’s been done before; and there are plenty of eugenics advocates around.

Finally, let’s look at the Economy. Brexit was going to free us from the chains of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We were assured that The Good Ship Britannia was going to sail away onto the Oceans of Free Trade; we could do new deals that were far better than the ones we had within the powerful EU bloc. The USA for example. Just one problem – Trump the protectionist. Trump isn’t interested in free trade. He wants America First. This means we have to buy chlorine-washed chicken and whatever else the US decides we need, if we want the City to carry on making money from arranging mergers between US-based multinationals. Suddenly the idea of getting a great Trade Deal with the USA doesn’t seem quite so alluring, unless you’re the Atlanticist and disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who’s leading our charge on Trade. Actually there’s a much bigger problem in the way of these great new trade deals – the Northern Irish Border. What no-one seemed to realise at the time was that a Free Trade Brexit would mean breaking the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Meanwhile, as we lurch from one Brexit-crisis to the next, with no clear end point in sight, the Economy is struggling. Brexit caused a big devaluation in the pound, boosting exports. That boost has now gone. Now we just have uncertainty. And, as we move ever closer to  Brexit day, that uncertainty will magnify and multinational businesses that need to be in the EU, will leave. Airbus might stay, but plenty of others will go. Brexit also creates domestic uncertainties. It’s no surprise that High Street, Britain is in trouble. Who wouldn’t put off those big purchases, or think twice about going out for a meal, if you don’t know if you will have a job, or reduced hours/pay in a few months time.

I won’t dwell on things like Brexit’s impact on the Environment -as I have a piece on that particular aspect on Lush Times today.

Where does this leave us? Yes Brexit was a con trick. David Cameron sealed our fate, I guess in the hope that he could go down in history as the Tory leader who lanced the Europe Boil that had festered in his party for the past 50 years. Others then stepped in to exploit the situation, the Vulture Capitalists like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Neo-Libertarians from the shadowy world of Think Tanks – the IEA, Tax Payers Alliance, Legatum Foundation and the rest. They saw, and see, Brexit as a great opportunity to deregulate Britain – effectively creating a “free-market paradise” otherwise known as an Offshore Tax-Haven/dark money laundromat, on Europe’s doorstep. Sell off what’s left in public ownership; turn us into a small version of the states. A new version of Airstrip One, as Orwell called it.

I applaud all efforts to try and reverse Brexit, but I think it’s going to happen. And I think we all need to prepare for it. Without wishing to be alarmist, I am worried. I am thinking about getting solar panels and a generator. We will definitely be stocking up on food staples (and firewood) well ahead of Brexit day. I wouldn’t be surprised if, given Theresa May’s authoritarian streak, there is some sort of martial law imposed, or Parliament and elections suspended.

Bloggers such as myself may find we are not able to publish what we want any more. What do we do then?

 

 

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Quoth the Raven: Never More.

On Friday last week Defra announced that Natural England chair Andrew Sells would be standing down in January 2019, a year earlier than had originally been planned. Sells joined the Natural England board in 2014 on his first 3 year stint and I wrote about him back then.

During his time at Natural England, the total number of staff working at NE has declined dramatically, as has its operational budget. So while he may have felt he had influence (as an influential Tory) over Natural England’s Defra overlords,  he did little to prevent its shrinkage. Would things have been worse under another chair, without the political links Sells has? We will never know.

Under Sells Natural England has presided over the Badger cull, which has seen a native mammal slaughtered under the dubious justification of reducing TB in Cattle. While few of us knew Natural England’s role was to protect domestic cattle from disease, we might have expected them to protect wild species and habitats. But the continuing programme to protect our finest wildlife sites, as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) has slumbered under Sells’ watch. At least he was there to support the protection of a few sites, including Rampisham Down, which I was involved with.

The fate of Lodge Hill, on the other hand, still lies in the balance, and Natural England have not been able to influence Defra, let alone the Ministry of Housing, to abandon their efforts to destroy this amazing place.

And, as Mark Avery has written about exhaustively, Natural England, under Sells, has been craven in its refusal to challenge the damage by Intensive Grouse Shooting in England’s uplands.

I wonder whether it is a coincidence that on the same weekend that Sells’ retirement was announced, an article in the Sunday Times revealed that Natural England has issued licences for the culling of Ravens in England. There is already a judicial review underway in Scotland, to challenge Scottish Natural Heritage’s decision to introduce Raven culling. The justification, in as much as there is one, is that Ravens kill or injure newborn lambs.

I remember seeing a story a couple of years ago, about sheep farmers in Dorset complaining that Ravens were attacking their lambs and something must be done. Well now, apparently, something is going to be done. Looking a bit more closer, the Sunday Times article quotes a National Sheep Association committee man, Martyn Fletcher, who looks after a sheep flock for a local estate, owned by the aristrocratic Dineley family – who apparently owe their good fortunes (in part) to the manufacturing of weapons for use in the Film industry. Not surprisingly, they support the local Wilton hunt. They also receive £127,000 a year in public subsidies. Some of this is to fund agri-environment schemes, totalling £247,000 over ten years. They also sold off some land to the owners of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, who is, presumably, their neighbour.

Ravens were persecuted for centuries, and their numbers are slowly starting to increase. Being very long-lived birds this recovery will take a long time. It is always exciting to hear them, when they occasionally fly over the house, or in the countryside. They are inextricably linked to people, and there is a deep-rooted emotional relationship between us – perhaps love/hate is not quite the right phrase, but they both evoke excitement and fear, and always have. For those who don’t know it, here is Poe’s Poem.

Once again the question arises – who decides which wild animals are allowed to live alongside ourselves and our farmed animals. There are an estimated 7400 pairs of Ravens in the UK. This compares with 16 million sheep in England alone last year. Farmers receive financial support from the taxpayer, including people like the Dineleys, who I imagine are not short of a bob or two.

Is there really no quid pro quo – that in return for that money, some wildlife is allowed to return to the land? Michael Gove has stated time and again that in future farmers and landowners will only receive funding in return for “public goods”. Do those public goods include animals like the Raven (the Beaver, the Otter etc etc), or not?

 

Photo by Andreas Eichler, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64187377

Posted in Andrew Sells, National Sheep Association, Natural England, Ravens, Sheep | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Alliance brief on the EU withdrawal bill Green Watchdog amendment

Since I wrote the earlier piece on moves to strengthen environmental protection via the EU withdrawal bill, Green Alliance has produced this very useful briefing note. MPs vote tomorrow, so I am posting this now so you can draw your MPs attention to it via twitter, facebook or any other route.

In summary the amendment which Sir Oliver Letwin has put forward is considerably weaker than Lord Krebs’ amendment which the Lords voted for. Here is brief, produced by the excellent Ruth Chambers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatively you can download the brief here

Labour environment audit committee chair Mary Creagh has put forward a much stronger amendment which better reflects the Krebs amendment.

Please do get in touch with your MP either this evening or tomorrow morning & ask them to support either the Krebs amendment or Mary Creagh’s amendment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Will Gove get his way, for a toothier Green Watchdog?

The Brexit train continues to head towards the buffers. Today sees the EU Withdrawal Bill (aka The Big Brexit Bill) return to the House of Commons, where MPs will consider what to do with its tattered remains, after it received a thorough mauling at the hands of the “Traitors in Ermine” (™ Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail), otherwise known as the House of Lords. The Lords inflicted 14 separate defeats on the Government during the passage of the Bill, including a significant one for the Environment.

Lord Krebs (an eminent ecologist, who led the research project investigating the effectiveness of Badger Culling against Bovine TB) introduced an amendment (no.58), which greatly strengthened the powers of the Green Watchdog, which I wrote about in a previous column. The amendment received widespread support in the Lords and passed with a healthy majority. Although it could still be rejected in the Commons, the message that the Lords sent to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, was a powerful one; and that message was echoed by commentators and environmental NGOs.

And the Government clearly does not have an easy job of rejecting these amendments to its flagship Brexit legislation. It seems quite possible that the Tories will split along Brexit lines, with the hard Brexit European Research Group (led by the subject of my previous column, Jacob Rees-Mogg) on one side, and a smaller but just as significant group of soft-Brexiteers led by MPs including former Attorney General Dominic Grieves and former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, on the other. Equally, Labour could also succumb to factionalism, with some back benchers supporting Lords’ amendments which bring the UK closer to the EU, including into the European Economic Area (as Norway is).

It is in this context that Michael Gove made some very telling comments at an event at his favourite right-wing Thinktank, Policy Exchange, on the 6th June. Having given a very wide-ranging speech about the need to reinvent capitalism (which could arguably be seen as part of a nascent leadership campaign), Gove, in response to questioning, recognised that the Lords’ amendment was a significant moment, and that he would need to respond to it.

It seems pretty clear now that it was the Treasury, who spiked Gove’s guns and prevented him from bringing forward stronger proposals before, using the tired old argument that regulations to protect the Environment would just add up to Red Tape throttling economic development. Intriguingly, yesterday’s Farmers Guardian suggested that it was the useless former Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who is proving to be a blockage to Defra ministers access to the Treasury. Could she also have been doing the Chancellor’s work, blocking proposals for a stronger environmental watchdog?

Bearing all this in mind, it was with some surprise to see my MP Sir Oliver Letwin (chair of the Red Tape Initiative), helped by Gove’s old friend, Zac Goldsmith MP (and former editor of the Ecologist flagship website) table an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. This seeks to give that Green Watchdog more teeth, without agreeing to everything proposed by the Lords.

It remains to be seen whether Letwin’s amendment will be sufficiently toothy to satisfy all groupings within the Commons. Indeed 20 Labour MPs subsquently tabled an alternative, stronger, amendment (see both here, pages 31 and 32.) Whatever the case, it is clear that the argument is now shifting away from Hammond and towards Gove.

While the UK continues to struggle with the many consequences of Brexit, the European Union Court of Justice continues to make decisions that impact on the way the UK protects its own environment. A recent case known as “People Over Wind”, has put the cat amongst the pigeons. Based on a complaint about the impacts of building a wind-farm on a population of a very rare Freshwater Pearl-mussel in Ireland, this Court decision is already forcing councils to change the way they deal with developments which affect nature sites. While the details of the decision are quite technical, relating to how impacts on European designated nature sites are considered in the planning process, and at what stage mitigation of those impacts can be considered, the implications are significant. Housing developments and Local Plans are already being delayed as Councils come to terms with the new legal judgment from the European Court. There is more information about it here.

And the real point of all this is that a group of concerned citizens, like “People Over Wind”, in an EU country, can take their Government to the EU Court of Justice, challenging decisions by the Authorities. This route to environmental justice will be removed when we leave the EU; and Gove’s original proposal for his toothless Watchdog would have done nothing to remedy that loss of access to justice.

There is no small irony in the unelected House of Lords challenging the Government to restore that access to justice and it is now incumbent on MPs like Zac Goldsmith, who recognise how valuable that access to justice is, to ensure that the Government does fill the gap, by creating a powerful new Environmental Watchdog.

This is an updated version of an article which appeared in Lush Times.

Posted in Brexit, EU withdrawal bill, Michael Gove | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Jacob Rees-Mogg and his fantasy Scrublands

 

Juniper Scrub, Old Winchester Hill © Miles King

You would have to be a hermit to be unaware of the housing crisis which grips towns and cities across England. Homeless people line our high streets and occupy shop-fronts. But the housing crisis is far wider than that most obvious representation of homeless people, because it flows all the way through to sofa-surfing, and families living in damp, decaying flats, paying exorbitant rents.

The gap between older people who bought their homes when property prices were much lower, and young people who now only dream of buying a home, is stark. That pressure may well be starting to create fissures in society – fissures of resentment. Governments of all stripes have wrung their hands and made grand plans to address the problem.

I remember working on proposals for Eco-Towns about 10 years ago – remember them? They were going to be new Green New Towns in various places around the country. No, almost all of them didn’t get built. Then the Coalition Government decided the best way to put a rocket under the house-building market was to relax planning laws, which they did in 2012. House-building rates didn’t budge. So they relaxed the planning laws more and more – and now you can convert an office into a residential flat without planning permission. Result? Lots of low quality housing, but big profits for developers.

Then there is the ruse of allowing developers to avoid having to build, or even pay for, affordable housing, as part of new developments. Developers have to write Housing Viability Assessments, explaining why it wouldn’t be economic for a development to take place if the affordable housing obligation was included. But the assessments are kept secret, so nobody can object to the dodgy maths on which they are based.

This happened where I live in Dorchester, when the old prison was sold off. The developers argued that they couldn’t afford to incorporate any affordable housing, or even make a contribution to it being built elsewhere, but kept the viability assessment report a secret. Despite the Council’s reluctance, they were, in effect, forced to allow the development to go through, knowing they would lose at an Appeal, and then have to pay the developers’ massive legal bill.

But there’s an even bigger prize, on which Mr Rees-Mogg has his eyes. And that is the Green Belt. The Green Belt is one of the very earliest pieces of environmental legislation, its origins dating back to the end of the 19th century, when large-scale suburban housing development really started to take off. It was in the 1930s, when suburban sprawl threatened to destroy the rural hinterlands around the great urban conurbations of London, Birmingham and Manchester, that the idea of containing this sprawl with a Green Belt became a real prospect. The idea was that the Great Metropolis’ needed “green lungs” for people to escape the dirt and pollution of city life; to breathe freely, partake in various recreational activities; and enjoy nature and beauty.

The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act – yet another of those monumental Acts created by the post-war Labour Government – enshrined these ideals in law and statutory Green Belts, with real powers to protect land from development, were created over the following 20 years or so.

Now, 1.6 million hectares of England falls within a Green Belt, most of this being around London, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North-West conurbations. That’s about 12% of England. By coincidence, most of Mr Rees-Mogg’s constituency of North-East Somerset is covered by the Bristol and Bath Green Belt.

Green Belt designation makes it much harder for housing to be developed, but the belt is already fraying at the edges – data released last week showed that new housing in the Green Belt had doubled over the last year, from 2% of all new builds, to 4%.

For those of you who also adopt hermit-like behaviour when it comes to politics, Mr Rees-Mogg, famous for being described as the “Honorable Member for the 18th Century”, is the Leader of the ultra-hard Brexit group of Tory MPs the European Research Group. He is also immensely wealthy, thanks to his investment group Somerset Capital Management, which was recently criticised for its Russian investments, especially in Russia’ largest bank, Sberbank, which is subject to EU sanctions.

Rees-Mogg is regarded (very seriously in some quarters) as a possible leader of the Tory party.  As well as his rather 18th century views on social issues (gay rights, abortion etc.), he has little time for environmental protection either, having argued that we should adopt the same level of regulation for the environment and workers’ rights, as India.

Rees-Mogg, in an interview broadcast on the Conservative Home website, argues that the 1947 Planning Act was a “Socialist Act” which enabled bureaucrats to decide what was best for people, and that it has created the housing crisis by restricting the supply of land for housing. He argues that while there is genuine Green Belt, there is also much that is “poor quality scrub land that could easily be developed.” Rees-Mogg’s view is that natural beauty should be protected (via Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONBs) but that villages within AONBs can take “5 or 10 more houses” without risking any adverse impact on ‘natural beauty’.

Others are also banging the same drum – The Landscape Institute is calling for a strategic review of Green Belt policy.

In truth very little of the Green Belt is covered in scrubland (it’s such a small percentage it’s not even included in the statistics) – and what if it was? Scrub is a very valuable wildlife habitat, and one of the richest in terms of overall diversity of plants and animals, as well as supporting many rarities. Lodge Hill – the abandoned army camp in Kent made famous for the ongoing battle to stop it having a new town built on it, supports England’s largest Nightingale population, precisely because it has a large area of Scrub.

The notion that our housing crisis can be solved by building houses on the scrub-covered Green Belt is a fantasy. And Mr Rees-Mogg’s fantasy scrublands only exist on those sunlit Brexit-uplands, grazed by Unicorns, which occupy his dreams.

this article first appeared on the Lush Times website.

Posted in Green Belt, housing, Lodge Hill, Lush Times, scrub | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Nitrogen Dilemma

The Haber-Bosch process has transformed global food production

Are humans, and everything we do, part of nature? Or have we evolved to the point where what we do is no longer considered “natural”? This might seem like a philosophical question, but the answer to it has a great bearing on our future, as individuals and as a species.

 

Geologists are already talking about a new epoch created by humans – the anthropocene. And, as an illustration of that, a piece of research that’s just been published calculates that farmed poultry makes up 70% of all the world’s birds, and that only 4% of all the mammals on the earth now are wild – ⅔ are livestock and ⅓ humans.

One the biggest factors that has helped drive this transformation is our ability to break out of our ecological niche. Every species has a niche which determines how and where it can live. That niche includes things like the ideal temperature and how much water we need to survive, plus what we use for food, and how we interact with other species.

Growing our own food (farming) instead of collecting it from wild sources certainly was a big step towards that break-out  -al though a few other species also carry out forms of farming – ants manage aphids to produce honeydew in a similar system to dairy farming, and also cultivate fungus gardens.

Perhaps the biggest step out of our niche in recent times, has been the ability to directly create reactive Nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the fundamental building block elements of life – without Nitrogen there would be no protein, no DNA. Life, as we know it, wouldn’t exist.

Where there’s Life – there’s nitrogen

And Nitrogen is all around us – 78% of the planet’s atmosphere is Nitrogen, so every breath you take is basically Nitrogen, though you wouldn’t know it. That’s because it’s bound up in an inert form of two Nitrogen atoms joined together – sometimes called di-Nitrogen.

In order to be available for life, di-Nitrogen has to be split apart to create reactive Nitrogen atoms – which are chemically unstable. These atoms want to form stable molecules so will very quickly combine with other atoms to form things which are very useful for life – things like Nitrate and Ammonia.

Before life evolved, and even now, a great deal of Nitrogen in the atmosphere is broken up into reactive Nitrogen as a result of Lightning, where very high temperatures break apart those inert Nitrogen molecules. And this is where the first life forms got their Nitrogen.

But very quickly this source was not enough to feed life, which then evolved the ability to mimic lightning’s effects, through the creation of a special protein (or family of proteins) called enzymes – we call them Nitrogenases. The bacteria (and similar microbes) with Nitrogenase are known as Nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Without them life would not have evolved to the point where humans appear. Fast forward a few billion years to the 19th century: Human populations had grown vastly, but were struggling to produce enough food to feed all the human mouths.

Farming was still dependent on those N-fixing bacteria, especially the ones living in the roots of particular plant families – like the pea family (legumes). Farmers realised that legumes like clover had a special property which made soils richer, allowed more crops to grow, and more animals to feed from them. And chemists were starting to identify the atoms and molecules at work under the surface.

 

Nitrate Wars

As the British and Spanish Empires expanded across the globe, Explorers in the 1830s discovered that there were a few very special islands which were incredibly rich sources of Nitrogen. These were the guano islands – found in places where deep ocean current brough Nitrogen-rich matter up from the ocean floor, which created massive numbers of fish, which were eaten by sea-birds, who created islands, literally made up of their own excretions. Guano islands were discovered off the coast of South America, Southern Africa, in the Caribbean (including the lair of the James Bond villain, Dr No)  and in the Pacific.

Realising that this resource of Nitrogen could provide the answer to increasing food production back home, these islands were mined, and the guano sent back to the homeland for use in farming.

Descriptions of these places suggest they were hell-holes, with bonded labour or slaves used to mine the stinky bird pooh – but they were also extremely lucrative, with fortunes quickly won and lost.  A few decades later, deposits of Nitrate-rich rock (Caliche) were discovered in Chile, and this led to a Nitrate boom with Chilean Nitrate exported across the world. It also ignited a Nitrate war between Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

By now there was a new but also big demand for Nitrate – to create explosives for use in warfare. Saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate) is one of the three compounds which form gunpowder, but it was hard to make. Gunpowder was originally invented by the Chinese, but the technology arrived in Europe during the late Middle Ages, transforming war.

In England from Tudor times onwards, Saltpetermen (from the Worshipful Company of Salters) were tasked with collecting it from places where it “grew” – cellars, pigeon-houses and stables – the terrestrial equivalent of those guano islands. The Saltpetermen had special powers to enter private property and collect the saltpeter, and this created all sorts of problems, including possibly contributing to the reasons behind the English Civil War.

The Chilean Nitrate became more important as the guano deposits were exhausted, and the race was on to find some other way of producing Nitrogen usable for farming. During the First World War, Germany’s imports of Chilean Nitrate (needed for their armaments industry) dried up, as the naval blockade of their few sea-ports really took hold.

During the first years of the 20th century, Fritz Haber, a German Chemist, had developed a process to create Ammonia from Nitrogen and Hydrogen, without the need for N-fixing bacteria or rare mineral deposits. This was then transformed into an industrial process called the Haber-Bosch process, allowing Germany to manufacture Nitrate for explosives and the war to continue, killing millions more. Haber went on to become the father of chemical warfare, developing poison gases. Such is the two-edged sword of chemistry.

Capturing Fertility

Even more significant than his military discoveries, was the fact that the Haber-Bosch process suddenly removed the natural limit on available Nitrogen for farming. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that artificial Nitrogen fertilisers became widely available, but once that moment arrived, farming was utterly transformed (and overnight the Chilean Nitrate boom was dead.)

Without too much thought for the consequences (other than increasing food production), Nitrogen fertilisers, were used everywhere they could be used. Food production shot up, to the point now where it is estimated that half the global food supply is produced using N fertilisers. It’s arguable that Fritz Haber is the person whose discovery had the biggest influence over the human population explosion of the 20th and 21st century.

But there’s been another consequence, one which is now among the greatest environmental problems facing us and the Planet – there is now too much reactive Nitrogen swilling around. For the past 60 years farmers have been putting on more Nitrogen than the crop plants can take up. The excess ends up in soils, in water and in the air. The problems this excess cause are collectively called Eutrophication.

Nitrates from fertilisers leach through the ground ending up in human water supplies – a serious this problem as Nitrates cause cancer. But this leaching can take decades so the fertiliser applies in the 1970s might only now be reaching the underground aquifer which provides water to your tap.

And Nitrate fertiliser, slurry or manure applied to fields ends up in rivers causing wildlife to die. Poole Harbour – the Dorset home of Lush HQ – is suffering from too much Nitrogen flowing down the rivers which feed into it; the excess N causes ‘mats’ of algae to form, which has knock-on effects on plants, invertebrates and the internationally important populations of birds there.

Nitrates in the soil encourage plants which benefit from high Nitrate levels (called Nitrophiles) to take over, replacing the vast majority of wild plants which prefer very low Nitrogen levels. This is why our road verges and field edges are now dominated by nettles, cow parsley and hogweed; and one of the reasons why so many wild plants are disappearing from the countryside.

Ammonia, which is a reactive gas, is released from intensive farming practices – dairy farming, the use of fertiliser on fields, plus pig and poultry units, all contribute to Ammonia in the air. This causes air pollution, sometimes a long way from where the Ammonia has been emitted.

And there are other sources – Nitrogen Oxides are also very toxic and formed by both industrial processes and vehicle exhausts.

Some efforts have been made to tackle these widespread problems of too much reactive Nitrogen. The EU introduced a Nitrates Directive 27-years-ago, but all its good intentions have done little to tackle the problem.

Kicking up a stink

The UK Government has been taken to court repeatedly over its failure to tackle air pollution, which is reckoned to cause 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. Not all of these are due to Nitrogen – but a combination of Ammonia from farm sources, and Nitrogen Oxides from Industry and Transport, are very significant contributors.

It is this context in which Michael Gove made his latest of the many announcements of the changes he wants to make to the UK’s environment – a Clean Air Strategy. The Strategy includes proposals which would limit the total amount of Nitrogen a farmer could apply to their fields; introduce a requirement to cover all slurry lagoons and manure heaps (to prevent Ammonia escaping) and also introduce a permit system – which currently only applies to Pig and Poultry farms – to large Dairy farms. These are welcome moves, particularly the limit on total N applied across all farms. Will it be enough? Of course not, but these are steps in the right direction.

In truth, the problem is now so great that, combined with the other global threats to our future, we need to recognise some home truths. The reactive Nitrogen genie is well and truly out of the bottle. And even if everyone stopped creating new reactive Nitrogen, it would take decades, centuries, perhaps millennia for equilibrium to return (think of those Nitrogen-rich deposits at the bottom of the ocean and how long it took to create the Guano Islands).

While some farming systems are able to grow food without artificial Nitrogen (Organic and other forms of Regenerative Agriculture) we have to start developing systems which actively remove all that excess Nitrogen, which is so damaging for nature, and for our own health.

Given that half the world’s food is grown using artificial fertiliser, can we sustain our current human population without using artificial Nitrogen? This will be one of the greatest challenges of the future.

this article first appeared on the Lush Times website.

Posted in Agriculture policy, agrochemicals, eutrophication, No Tern Unstoned | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

The GDPR

The snowstorm of emails asking your permission to stay on mailing lists has finally abated. If you, like me, have also noticed that some of the websites you previously visited are no longer there, that’s also because of GDPR – the General Data Protection Regulation. Mind you, it hasnt stopped me receiving spam about how I can make a fortune from bitchain, or whatever it is (I never read them.)

GDPR is the EU law which will make it more difficult for companies like Facebook, to weaponise your personal data. Sadly it may have been too late to prevent your data from being used to sway the result of the EU Referendum and the US election, which saw President Trump elected.

I for one am a great supporter of it, and of what it illustrates. Which is this.

The EU creates laws to protect its citizens. That is a good thing. Some might argue that the GDPR is just another unnecessary piece of Red Tape – though in truth I have heard few of those siren calls that we all come to expect emanating from the free-market de-regulatory nexus. Perhaps they are waiting to pop out today.

If you signed up to receive an email telling you I have written a new blog, I have not asked for your permission to continue to contact you when I write that blog. This is because I had to read quite a lot about the GDPR recently  – mainly because I wanted to make sure People Need Nature complied with the new law. And it seemed to me that an awful lot of organisations, mostly charities, were panicking and asking people to resubscribe unnecessarily.

This blog is a purely personal matter, there is no money involved and no organisation. It’s literally me (and some guest bloggers) writing about stuff I’m interested in – I’m not providing any form of service and there is no contract between me and you. You’re here because you want to be. And you can unsubscribe from the mailing list any time you want to.

If you’re one of the fantastic people who leave comments on here, then, again, that’s your choice. And if you want all your comments erased now or any time in the future, just let me know and I’ll remove all traces of you from my blog. I don’t do anything with your data, and I won’t do anything with it in the future. It’s saved here on wordpress so you don’t have to fill in your details each time you leave a comment.

Thanks very much for reading this blog, and all the other ones.

 

Posted in Europe, GDPR | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Natural Capital thinking leads us astray

Balinese water temple.

It seemed appropriate that I should take part in a debate about natural capital and wetlands yesterday, on International Biodiversity Day. I was invited (I think) to be the Natural Capital dissident. It was a good debate and I enjoyed discussing the issues with my old boss Martin Spray from Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Charlie Stratford from CEH.

 

I understand a podcast of the debate will be made available in future and I’ll let you know when it is.

 

This is based on an article I wrote for Lush Times yesterday to coincide with the debate – actually this is based on the speech I wrote, though of course I completely deviated from it!

International Biodiversity Day

I have to say I think biodiversity is an ugly word. I much prefer Nature, or Wildlife. Biodiversity is clunky, and not easily understandable. It has its place – in technical discussions – but if you’re going to try and persuade people in different countries, with different cultures, that Nature is important (which I think is what these International Days are about) then it’s not the right word to use. But then biodiversity, as a word, is relatively harmless compared with the term ‘Natural Capital’.

Natural Capital is a relatively new (from about 1988) economic idea. The old notions of Capital referred to things like Land, resources like Coal, and Labour. Over the years, Capital was broadened to include Social Capital and eventually Natural Capital. Natural Capital is now described as the sum of all the things nature provides to people – which are also termed Ecosystem Services. Now there is growing movement to push for Natural Capital to be given a financial value, so that it can be properly accounted for in the economy.

The Language of Capital

Language is always important when working to achieve understanding and then change. And I am always interested to explore where the words we use come from.

Capital derives from the Latin Caput or head. Originally this referred to head of cattle, which was (and still is in some places) the measure of someone’s wealth. This is also where the word chattel as in ‘Goods and Chattels’, comes from.

Naturally, Stock derives from livestock, and the Stock Market was the place to trade your Cattle, long before anyone had the idea of companies or shares.

Less obviously a Fee comes from the Saxon Feoh, which means Livestock or Cattle.

Pecuniary comes from the Latin pecunia which means “wealth in cattle.”

Just for a change, Emolument originally meant “payment to a miller for grinding corn.”

And in a similar vein, Derivative comes from De rivo, literally water drawn from a stream.

The language of capital, and of economics is full of the ghosts of a much closer relationship with, and conscious dependence on, Nature. But these words have been appropriated, altered and yoked to serve other needs.

Natural Capitalism seeks to place a value on Nature, for our own benefit. But are there other values outside the human ones We don’t know whether an Elephant knowingly values an Acacia tree, but it certainly depends on it, whether it knows or not. And the same applies to every other animal, plant, fungi or bacteria that makes up every ecosystem on the Planet.

The ideas of Natural Capital, that value flows from nature to people, is based on the human notion of property rights – if you own a piece of land, or a tree (or an elephant) you have the right to do what you want with it. But does nothing else in Nature have property rights? Who decided that? Even more bizarrely, property rights are conferred on entirely artificial constructions, like companies, or public institutions. Again this ignores everything else.

How do we assign value to the ecosystem services a tree provides an elephant? Elephants have no need of money but that is irrelevant to what the tree provides the elephant. If all species can assign values to the things they need for life, then most of the value in an ecosystem lies in the relationships between the species that comprise it – the value is internal, not external. This could be called intrinsic value.

Natural Capital economists do not like the notion of intrinsic value, because it messes up their equations. Professor Dieter Helm, the leading Natural Capital economist and chair of the UK Natural Capital Committee, described intrinsic value as “dangerous” because it “opens up the possibility that the world might be better off without us.” This sounds a bit hysterical to me.

Natural Capitalists argue that we must adopt the language of the economist in order to persuade businesses, or Government economists, to change their calculations, and include a financial value for Nature. The evidence, such as it is, does not support this approach. One typical economist’s approach is that the needs of the economy have to be traded off against the needs of Nature – and this despite this idea being repeatedly debunked, it keeps turning up. (Just last week I wrote about proposals for a new Green Watchdog, which would balance environmental needs against the economy.)

One recent example shows up the dangers of using this trade-off approach all too well. Economists use a Cost Benefit Analysis (COBA) to look at the environmental impact of an activity, usually development. The costs (financial) of developing a road or a new housing development or whatever are balanced against the economic benefits – so, in order to do this financial figures have to be calculated for the benefits the environment provides (us.) During the Obama administration, an assessment of the value of US wetlands was made, which concluded they provided $450M a year of benefits to the US economy. On this basis Obama created a Waters of the United States (WOTUS) programme to support these wetlands. But when Trump took over, his “environment” man Scott Pruitt ordered are-evaluation and found them to be worth only $50M, far less than the costs to the economy of protecting them, calculated as $300M a year. At the press of a button, those wetlands suddenly had no (net) economic value. The Natural Capital Coalition argued that what Trump had done was terrible – and of course he is the most anti-environmental world leader, the world has ever seen. But all he was doing was showing how the COBA approach loved by the Natural Capitalists is so wrong. Put a financial value on nature, and you put it in peril. Now Trump is also attacking the legal basis for protecting nature in the States, but it will be a much tougher route, through the courts, and up against people using ethical arguments for why it needs protecting.

Evidence from the field of psychology suggests that when people think about the financial value of Nature, these thoughts “crowd out” any ethical or moral concerns for Nature. In other words, you may feel a moral duty to look after a tree, but if someone offers to pay you to do it, you then forget about that moral duty. And if they stop paying, you are more likely to cut it down.

Wealth Creation

Natural Capitalism tells us that the current economic system values natural capital at zero, and therefore ignores it. So, if natural capital is suddenly given a value (where previously it had none), then new economic value will be created. We could call it a magic money tree.

The Office for National Statistics tells us that UK natural capital has a value of £750Bn. This may sound like a lot, but London’s residential property is worth twice that.

One of the reasons why London is worth so much is because of Quantitative Easing: The last time the Magic Money Tree was harvested, £435Bn was created out of nothing – and that capital flowed into many places, not least property – here and elsewhere. How much of it flowed offshore, outside jurisdictions, away from tax payments for public good? Nobody knows. The National Crime Agency estimates that nearly £100Bn a year of stolen money is laundered through the UK (and into UK offshore territories), much of it from Russia.

Capital is always flowing to places where it can’ pool’, away from the grasping claws of Regulators and Taxmen. Land in the UK is a good example of this. Farmland (75% of the UK) has become a massive tax shelter. It’s a tax haven, hiding in plain sight. Tens of billions of pounds a year are lost to the Exchequer via this tax haven. Are all those tax reliefs providing any benefit  – is Nature, let alone Natural Capital, benefitting from them?

If the value of the UK’s natural capital really was converted into financial capital i.e. real money – where would it flow? One thing we can be sure about – it will not flow back to the “providers” of the “services” i.e. nature itself. It becomes just another asset to be traded, and, like QE, it will contribute to asset price inflation.

Ecosystem Slavery

Ecosystem Services is another appropriation, another euphemism for something quite different. The modern word is used to describe a transaction. A plumber provides a service by fixing your boiler, for which they receive payment.

But Ecosystem Services harks back to the original meaning of service  – from the latin servitium “the condition of a slave.” And that is really much more accurate, because we have effectively enslaved large parts of the planetary ecosystem, to serve at our will.

Does the concept of natural capital recognise this injustice? Does it work to emancipate the enslavement of Nature? Slaves had value after all, and the market determined that value – even though that value never flowed to the slaves. The market had no interest in emancipating slaves, indeed some economic historians recognise the central role that slave-driven production had in kick-starting the industrial revolution and creating the wealth of the British and other Empires.

It was political campaigning, driven by moral arguments, plus a few slave revolts, which led to Emancipation. Ironically when Emancipation came, it was the slave owners who were compensated for their loss, not the slaves, who continued to live in penury. Similar campaigns exist today (mainly outside Europe) seeking to give Nature “legal standing”.

Market Failure

Natural Capital is supposed to be the way to address market failure, which describes when the market doesn’t price in the value of Nature to economic transactions. But there are tried-and-tested ways to address market failure: Regulation, Taxation, Subsidies (payments to create public benefits) and Education to reinforce the moral arguments for Nature. None of these approaches have been entirely successful, but they have all been used with some success and without needing to try and place a financial value on Nature.

There is a great danger, with the Natural Capital approach. It is that those who believe the market to be the only true solution to all problems (also known as Neoliberals) will seek to exploit the good intentions of others, and replace all the well-established remedies for market failure, with a market-based solution, turning Nature into just another commodity to be traded.

An alternative future?

We can look at some examples from the past which might help shape a new relationship between people and Nature, of which we are both part of and apart. Commons existed for 1,000 years in Britain. Commons restricted property rights of both owners and commoners, and in doing so required both to use the natural resources provided in a more sustainable manner than purely private property owners would do. Nature thrived on the Commons but the Enclosure Acts saw most of them privatised over a 300-year period.

The peasant poet John Clare mourned the loss of his commons (here’s just a fragment from The Mores)

“…Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours

Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers

Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,

And hath been once, no more shall ever be

Inclosure came and trampled on the grave

Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave…”

A belief in the sacredness of nature also helps people to work with Nature, rather than against it.  Bali’s thousand year old water temples are a good example of this. The Temples and Balinese rice farmers worked together to ensure harvests were sustainable, water was shared out equally and different communities planted their crops at different times, according to where water was available. Pests were controlled by a system where every community fallowed their land at the same time, starving pests of food. When new crops and agrochemicals were introduced, alongside Government rules which ignored the traditional approach, the system fell into chaos, pests proliferated and rice harvests plummeted. Thankfully the value of the ancient system was recognised before it was too late, and the Temple control reinstated.

Rather than seeking to make more sacrifices to the God of the Financial Market, perhaps we need to find ways to create a new sense of the sacred in nature.

 

Photo of Balinese water temple by Michelle Maria [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in biodiversity, Lush Times, Natural Capital | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Losing the Muscle from Brussels risks leaving the environment protected by a Paper Tiger

Now that the consultation over the future of farm support in England has finished, Defra – the UK Government‘s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – tells us that more than 44,000 responses have been received. So many thanks to all of you who took the time to let Michael Gove know what you think about the right approach for farmers to be supported in the future.

Hot on the heels of that consultation (as if Defra was sitting on its hands and twiddling its thumbs) it has launched the next Brexit-related search for answers – namely, what to do about the “Governance Gap”.

The Governance Gap is the space which leaving the EU will create, because laws derived from Brussels are ultimately enforced by Brussels. When Brussels is no longer part of the picture, who enforces those laws?

You might think, “ah well, we won’t need to worry about that because we won’t be subject to any laws from Brussels any more.” But you would be wrong. Because the Government has committed to transfer all EU law across onto the UK statute book (the book of laws – and no there isn’t an actual book) at least in the first instance. And since most of our environmental laws are derived from Europe, this is a very, very big deal for the Environment.

European Law has helped to reverse or at least slow the continuing decline in our environment – covering everything from birds to beaches, river water to air quality, invasive species to electronic waste.

Leaving the EU (assuming that is actually going to happen) means we either lose all these protections or duplicate them. Some certainly want us to lose them – Tory politician and hard line Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg, who is the MP for North East Somerset, for example has suggested that we would be perfectly fine with the same level of environmental protection as India. But Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, who is keen to be seen to be ‘green’, has come under intense pressure to do the right thing.

Last Autumn, during the passage of the EU withdrawal bill through the Commons, Gove promised to bring forward proposals for a new green watchdog which would ‘plug’ the Governance Gap. We could call it the Green Plug. And last week he did just that, launching a consultation asking people’s views on what the Green Plug might look like, and how it would work.

Radio 4’s Today programme (55 minutes in) had a brief report on it last Thursday, in which, typically, anchorman John Humphrys displayed his Brexity credentials by framing the issue as “Brussels decrees and we obey”. This is arrant nonsense, but just the sort of thing Today listeners have come to expect from Humphrys, reportedly causing many life-long Today listeners to abandon the programme in protest. The BBC reported Cabinet arguments over the Green Plug, including complaints that the new Regulator would prevent the claimed Brexit Bonus of freeing up red tape.

There’s a delicious irony here, in that the Tory MP who caused Michael Gove to make the commitment to the Green Plug in the Commons was my own MP, Sir Oliver Letwin. Letwin also set up the supposedly neutral Red Tape Initiative, which was criticized soon after its creation for having a bias against regulation. The RTI has yet to publish its recommendations and it remains to be seen whether it will challenge any environmental protections provided by EU law.

Apparently the Treasury is worried about how much Regulation would cost the economy, while others (perhaps in the Housing Department) feel Ministers should be free to decide policy, unfettered by pesky regulators. And this is a story which has been running for many years, because the EU has successfully protected the environment against house-building and other infrastructure projects – Dibden Bay being a good example. The fact that sensible regulation helps the economy and society, seems to have slipped by the more fundamentalist free-marketeers in the Cabinet – again.

I can see you’re all on tenterhooks now, wondering – tell us, tell us, what will the Green Plug look like? I’m afraid it is, as you would expect, a paper tiger.

Brussels could levy fines totalling tens of thousands of Euros a day for repeated and gross infringements of EU environmental law – and it did. Just the threat of proceedings was often enough to achieve change. Having said that, Brussels could be a lot tougher as an environmental protector.

The epic battle between Client Earth and Defra over the UK’s abysmal air quality continues to run, despite repeated Court judgements against Government inaction. In this case, the EU summoned Environment Ministers from several countries to Brussels in January, giving them one last chance before court action. (It’s worth noting that in Germany, a Court threatened the Bavarian state Environment Minister with prison if he failed to act on Munich’s air pollution).

Could such a thing happen here? Could the Green Plug take Michael Gove to court under threat of imprisonment should he fail to implement an environmental law? Let’s just say that stretches the bounds of implausibility beyond breaking point. No, the proposals are that the Green Plug would issue “advisory notices” for failures. If they were ignored, then, as a very last resort, it could issue “binding notices”. But as there are no Muscles from Brussels waiting in the background to enforce these notices, they will mean nothing.

And actually it’s considerably worse than that.

Under EU law, environmental law could not be ignored on the grounds of simple short term economic interests. The Green Plug proposals seriously weaken this position. The needs of the environment will have to be “balanced” against economic competitiveness, prosperity and job creation. This completely undermines the principles of Sustainable Development, which sees the Environment as being at the heart of the economy, a key element of prosperity and helping create sustainable jobs. The Green Plug then, is a recipe for ignoring the environment when it gets in the way. It takes us back to the point before 1980 when EU environment laws started to apply in the UK.

Once again the public and Civil Society will have to use its meagre resources to advocate what is needed, to try and defend the very hard fought victories of the last forty years. I’ll update you regularly as this campaign develops, so you can all play your part.

 

this post first appeared in my No Tern Unstoned column at Lush Times

Posted in Brexit, European environment policy, Lush Times, No Tern Unstoned | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Five Years….

 

 

Yes today I’m celebrating five years of a new nature blog. I can’t quite believe it myself.

Five years seems like a long time, perhaps because so many things have happened in that time, with the big one of course being Brexit. Looking back, I see I have written a great deal about how rubbish the Common Agricultural Policy was  – and now, assuming we are actually going to leave the EU (still a big question mark there), we are going to say goodbye to the CAP.

I’ve also written at length about the rise of the Far-Right in Britain. UKIP has come in for some bashing by me, for various reasons. Indeed, some of the most well-read posts of all time are about UKIP, including this one on their bizarre former environment lead, Doctor Earth.

And then there’s the frankly awful record of the Coalition Government; and then Cameron’s short-lived majority Government, on the environment. Considering just how useless or actually malign characters like Owen Paterson, Liz Truss and Andrea Leadsom were, Michael Gove does appear to be quite good – or at least knowledgeable. Still the proof of that particular pudding has yet to be determined; and we must not forget where he has come from.

I’ve covered in depth a few cause celebres – including Lodge Hill – whose fate still hangs in the balance, and Rampisham Down, which has become a significant victory for conservation. Natural England played their part in both these campaigns, but whether they will survive in their current form for another five years (or even another year) is moot.

And I’ve also looked at particular issues in depth, like flooding, biodiversity offsetting,  biogas Maize and dogs.

Who would have thought, five years ago, that the Government would be seriously considering a widespread reintroduction of the Beaver to England? That perhaps above all symbolises how rewilding has captured the imagination of the public and the media, and therefore politicians. Long may that continue and other species also deserve to return – including the Wisent.

And I’ve also indulged myself with some frankly silly articles, and some think pieces – thinking about how the ghosts of Elephants and Rhinos still stalk our landscapes.

Along the way I’ve had my own fair share of personal triumphs and setbacks. I have set up People Need Nature, and we are starting to make a bit of an impact – especially with the Pebble in the Pond report on farming post-Brexit. How much further we progress will depend on the success of the current fundraising campaign. I lost my brother to cancer at the ridiculously early age of 52 and then had a brush with death myself thanks to a septic kidney.

I had no idea at the time that writing this blog would lead to opportunities for writing (some even paid!) but this is what has happened and it’s been great to write for British Wildlife (where I will continue to contribute occasional articles) and other blogs like Mark Avery’s and Green Alliance. I find I am enjoying writing more than doing conservation now. Should I admit to that?

For the last year or so, I’ve been splitting my time between People Need Nature; and researching and writing for Lush Times. I write a weekly column called No Tern Unstoned (the silliness never quite goes away) which I am really enjoying writing. I’m also working on some other projects for Lush, more of which anon.

So it just leaves me to say a massive thank you to all of you – readers, and especially those of you who leave comments. It’s been great and I hope to continue writing here, and elsewhere.

Posted in blogging | Tagged , | 13 Comments