This Is Winter Too, (This is Nature Too)

Filed in Episode 3 by on February 16, 2017 0 Comments

This started out as a photo essay on winter. And then I read an article that disturbed me.

I’m a strong supporter of rewilding. I think organizations like Rewilding Britain do great work, so it may seem strange that I was unhappy with this article about them.

Near the beginning there’s a quote from George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot):

“Rewilding holds out hope of a richer living planet that can once more fill our lives with wonder and enchantment.”

Taken out of its original context, this quote may have lost its nuances, so I  hope George won’t be offended by what I’m about to say.

The implication seems to be that we cannot find wonder and enchantment in what we encounter every day. I find that disturbing and dangerous. It says that the world is in fact disenchanted, that we can only re-enchant it by an escape into “nature” – that enchantment is only to be found where we don’t live and work.

No matter how much rewilding we do, most humans will always, short of a devastating reduction in population, live in predominantly “cultural” landscapes – including urban landscapes. And there is much enchantment (and much “nature”) to be found in such landscapes – even in winter. My last little photo essay was an attempt to show this as was an earlier paean to “ordinary things”.

So here are some more winter photos taken on a walk I took yesterday, through an old cultural landscape of mixed wetlands and meadows, alleys of now mature oaks and birches marking boundaries and providing access to the nearby stream. Cows graze here from spring to autumn – not large herds, just small groups moving from one meadow to another.

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Later in that article the author writes

rewilding gives power back to nature, setting the wheels in motion for the wilderness to grow without human intervention.

Maybe I have the advantage of living in a country (The Netherlands) where we’ve been doing this for longer but it seems obvious to me that “without human intervention” is not a meaningful concept. Rewilding takes place against a background of human intervention. We can’t recreate the conditions that existed before we first intervened (even if we knew what those were). Our forests, for example, are full of non-native species. These affect how “nature” now develops. I’ve seen how in some cases we do have to intervene simply in order to give nature a chance to develop and not be overwhelmed by what has managed to survive our impact through the centuries. Elsewhere the article mentions how large grazers have been introduced in order to support diversity of habitat and species. That’s great. All in favour. But then what we are creating is a cultural landscape, not a wilderness. Why don’t we call it that?

A cultural landscape is a recognition that we are part of nature. That’s something else that the article, I hope unintentionally, seems to deny:

rewilding can provide economic opportunities in rural areas, providing a benefit to people as well as nature.

“people as well as nature” – why the dualism? And why would “benefit to people” only be measurable in economic terms?

Now I doubt that’s what Rewilding Britain actually thinks but it is what’s written – in more than one place. And that’s dangerous. Why on earth do we have to justify investment in natural beauty in terms of financial returns? It undermines the whole objective of regarding nature as having its own value (for human and non-human alike).

One last point. I read

water security, and flood mitigation (are) all results of rewilding

Here too The Netherlands (a country in which wildlife is also under serious pressure, by the way – I don’t want to romanticize the situation here) provides an example of how it’s exactly cultural landscapes that provide water security and flood mitigation. Not that having a few beavers to help would do any harm but I don’t see beavers managing the water levels in the Rhine.

I’ll close, however, with some shots of an area of rewilding where I had walked the day before. Here the forest is being largely left to its own devices but in some parts there are are adventure areas for kids and there’s an exercise circuit for runners. And mountain bike trails. So things to draw people into nature next to nature in its own right. By no means a wilderness and home I’m sure to no large mammals.  It’s an interesting combination. I’m not entirely sure what I think of this kind of thing. The photos say a lot about what I was most drawn to. But I was struck by how many more and varied were the birds I saw and heard in yesterday’s walk. That’s not a value judgement – just a warning (to myself and others) about generalizations.

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