Thursday, 29 March 2007

Home Counties Wildland: new nature, old continuities?

(An abridged version of this exchange appears in ECOS 28 (1))

David Bangs responds to Peter Taylor’s article in ECOS 27 (3/4) on the wilding project at the Knepp Estate ...

Peter Taylor’s eulogy on the re-wilding experiment at the Knepp Estate intrigued me. I have known that countryside intimately for over 40 years. So we rushed to return there to look at some of these changes. What we saw depressed us at least as much as it excited us. To be sure, we, like Peter, had ‘The Tamworth Pig Experience’. We came across them in a park woodland where they nuzzled us and let us scratch them and won our hearts. Their welcome, though, was not replicated by the park’s human inhabitants. We were challenged by two separate people for straying from the footpath, though we were in the open park on improved pasture in full view, where we could not possibly have been up to harm. The Exmoor ponies did not seem to mind our presence. We left with a vivid impression of kilometres of high deer fencing around the boundaries and within the woodlands.

Just four miles to the west of this estate another square kilometer of attractive Low Wealden oak-and-pasture countryside has been recently enclosed and a new stately home built to grace a new deer park. And four miles to the east the most intact relic of the old healthy wood pasture of St Leonard’s Forest is surrounded by similar excluding deer fencing, though it was a candidate open access site. You have to pay proper money to visit that place unless you are prepared to do risky fence climbing. To the south east you cannot now enjoy the ordinary woods-and-hedgerows countryside round Glyndebourne because the same two meter excluding fences keep us out and exotic llamas and alpacas in.

I share Peter Taylor’s passion for ending our alienation from nature. I think, though, that his piece misses a whole other dimension of our alienation. That is, our social and economic alienation from access to resources which should be our ‘common treasury’. And unless that alienation, too, is addressed squarely by us wildlifers, then the crisis of the countryside and of nature’s survival will be resolved – yet again – at the expense of ordinary working people and the poor. The countryside and nature will continue to be re-made in the image of capital’s needs, not of the needs of capital’s servants.

Knepp’s core business – wildlife or property?

The example of the Knepp Estate shows this plainly. The loss of farming’s profitability was resolved by the sacking of existing farm staff. Like any other capitalist enterprise this estate solves its problems by sacking the ordinary foot soldiers, not the generals. The estate had previously laid the groundwork for this straightforward solution by widespread conversion of its tenanted farms to in-hand management. The estate has taken full advantage of the Countryside Stewardship scheme and Single Farm Payments. They are, after all, not means tested, though every poor pensioner or benefits claimant has their paltry earnings and savings means tested and monitored up to the hilt. Charlie Burrell is entitled to state support to staunch the failing profitability of his landed property on a scale that no ordinary poor family could dream of, except by a lottery win.

And, in any case, as Peter himself puts it, “the estate’s core business is now property management”. Indeed so. Its website advertises a three bedroom village cottage for rent for £3,500 per calendar month (for god’s sake!), and a lovely old farmhouse with dressage square, 37 acres of paddocks and all posh mod cons for a rental to be revealed, modestly, on application.

Playground for the rich

Peter on his visit will have seen what is happening to this wider local countryside. It is a landscape which is being transformed into a playground for the rich. Mostly you cannot live there unless you are already well-off or (for a minority) servicing the needs of the well-off. Public housing has largely disappeared, though it was always inadequate. And those attractive cottages, villas and farmhouses smell far more of money than they do of woodsmoke and chickens.

Most of the folk of London, Crawley and Brighton who are Knepp Estate’s real neighbours do not visit this countryside, would mostly not imagine that such visits were a rewarding option, and would not have the cultural or financial resources to enjoy it if they did. That is the real alienation from nature that we must address.

This estate’s choices are traditional ones. They choose to continue shooting and polo-ing (sorry about the hunting!) and enjoying nature as their pleasure ground as their forebears did. Whilst this land – low-grade though it may be – could still make a significant contribution to local food needs and provide honourable work in its production, we are invited, instead, to collude (and dig into our pockets to do so) in the re-wilding fantasies of its owners, though we get precious little public benefit from it. (We did not even bother to visit the few acres licensed for public access around the paltry remains of the Norman castle – the noise pollution from the A24 made that anything but a tranquil piece of re-wilded wilderness).

Meanwhile, Peter’s way forward suggests no real challenge to the main motors which drive the profit or loss of our countryside – the shifting fortunes of different capitalist blocs and sectors, currently dominated by the madness of global free trade and the yawning inequalities between rich and poor countries. His article is about a very tame re-wilding indeed – one that offers no fight against the existing global madness of GATT and our very own EU.

Sadly, though, there is no way round these big tasks that history dumps on us all. If Peter is to see the revolutionary ending of our alienation from wild nature that he so plainly yearns for then we will all have to help get that revolutionary inversion of the present relationship between the excluded majority (both locally and globally) and the owners of capital in land and elsewhere. Without that we will all just have to put up with the horrible dawning global reality - one in which a major part of the world’s population will be living in gigantic slum cities, in a sea of ecological desolation, whilst the rich live in their fortresses of relatively-preserved nature.

Our best allies in the preservation of nature are not those same rich folk. Our best allies are those who have little or nothing, and thus have nothing to lose in the task of re-working our damaged world.

David Bangs

An active example of positive change - Peter Taylor replies …

I find myself in a paradoxical position responding to Dave Bangs – having been further left than Mao Tse Tung as a young man, determined to bring some political as well as environmental enlightenment to the ordinary working people (and the poor) he also wishes to enfranchise, yet I also support Charlie Burrell’s private initiative, including the deer fences.

It is not that I have given up revolutionary yearnings, more that I have seen how change can come from unlikely quarters. Like the corporate executives I met in the power generation industry who were diverting profits to sequestrate carbon and regenerate degraded ecosystems in South America long before the public had heard of such schemes. The other side of the coin was my beloved RSPB becoming rich enough from its burgeoning mass membership to buy up the gem of mystery and isolation that was Leighton Moss and turn it into a visitor centre with hides and boardwalks through the reed beds – the birds did not mind, but the intimate contact with nature, including the teenage thrill of dodging the old gamekeepers, was lost.

Landowners are ahead of the game

I understand the unease with respect to wealthy landowners leading the dreams of rewilding – whether, as at Knepp, entirely for its own sake, or as in Paul Lister’s Alladale safari-enterprise with its equally high fences, but I do not see anyone else taking these steps. The National Trust and its alliance with the Forestry Commission and United Utilities in Ennerdale have chosen a fence-less middle road with tame herbivores and continued low-intensity farming, and the John Muir Trust, despite its wild image and wide-ranging popular support has no dreams of restoring ecological health to the degraded wildernesses it purchases, mainly in Scotland and Wales. Somehow, the more support an organisation gets from a broader public base, the less innovative it can become. It then falls to private individuals with some power to make decisions to engage in innovation. The introduction of beavers to Lower Mill Estate in Gloucestershire is a recent example.

It is one thing to be involved in mass access as a political issue – quite another to work for innovation on a rewilding that includes the human heart and imagination. Sadly, the masses and their representative organisations are not taking the lead and it is falling to private landowners who at least are spurning the diversification opportunities of mega-golf or the subsidised lure of GMO bio-fuels.

I agree entirely that a great madness faces us – with Third World city slums coupled with globalised food production continuing the process of alienation with the land and nature. And I am no advocate of a depopulated unproductive countryside in this country as a result, however many wolves and lynxes it might support, but when it comes to allies in the process of rewilding, where are the urban or rural activists that advocate organic production, wildlife corridors, eco-tourism, and a healing contact with the land? And how many farmers think beyond their role as another industrial concern in the general business economy? At least in these respects, Charlie Burrell offers an active example of change.

Peter Taylor

David Bangs’ follow-up response …

I’m sorry Peter is so despairing about the possibility of working people being the social agents of change to protect nature and end exploitation.

Yes, we are, indeed, in a period of deep defeat.

This period, though, is one of continuing possibility as well as continuing disaster. The Russian and Chinese revolutions blossomed out of the wreckage of two consecutive world wars. Venezuela may see a Chavez-inspired revolution flowering in this present neo-liberal desert.

I feel more than “unease with respect to wealthy landowners leading rewilding”, for they are part of the problem, not the solution. It is the irrationalities of capitalism (of competitive production for profit, of massive waste and duplication, of cyclical collapse, and of profound global and local inequalities) which power the destruction of nature and natural systems, create unsustainable consumerism, and foment wars.

Of course, there is an ongoing debate in the owning class between those that value nature as a locus of consumption of profit (such as, perhaps, Paul Lister of Alladale and all those rich folk who value preserved nature for their lifestyle) and those who emphasise nature as a locus for the production of profit (such as agribusinesses, other extractive industries and developers).

The problem with allying with the former is that it is so easy to forget that they, too, only enjoy their ownership of nature with profits gained from its exploitation and damage elsewhere.

Peter’s strategy will only blind him to those forces that do exist and which need leadership and victories to give them the confidence to rebuild a project for a world free of exploitation of both nature and humans.

He would do better to remember the model of the Green Bans movement in New South Wales, where building labourers’ unions led a huge movement against environmentally and socially destructive developments in alliance with middle class groups and inner city communities. For half of the 1970s they had the developers pinned to the wall. He is old enough, too, to remember the Lucas Aerospace trade unions ‘Combine Plan’ of the same period, which united a 14,000 strong national workforce in a plan for converting weapons production into socially useful products from kidney machines to low pollution cars and energy saving household goods.

Judi Bari the American socialist Earth First! activist fighting to preserve west coast old growth forests is a better model than a thousand landowner wildlife hobbyists. She did the hard slog of making the links with hostile logging communities, not wasting her time courting rich patrons.

Of course, most owning class people do not wish to commit collective ecocide (though there will always be Dr Strangelove’s and George Bush’s). They will make what environmental reforms are necessary to preserve their way of life and they will preserve sufficient of wild nature to enable their continued enjoyment of it.

But that will not be a world most of us can enjoy. It will be a world vastly reduced in biodiversity and wilderness.

Peter needs to choose some different friends if he wants to help us avoid that eventuality.

Dave Bangs


Is Sustainable Development an Oxymoron?

by Ralph Underhill

The ‘exciting’ world of planning can be incredibly frustrating, even when you discount the ridiculous management speak, lack of humour and excessive use of acronyms. The frustration I am talking about is that which comes from knowing that, each time there is a significant step forward for the environment, the balance will be redressed quicker than you can say ‘sandal-wearing hippy’ … and economic considerations will once again prevail.

The balance is likely to see another dramatic shift towards the interests of the economy in the forthcoming planning White Paper. This White Paper is likely to be heavily influenced by two key reports: the Eddington Transport Study and the Barker Review of Land Use Planning. The recommendations of Eddington and Barker are definitely causes for concern for environmentalists. The environmental agenda has not simply taken a step backwards, it has been kicked in the privates, pushed over, stamped on a few times and then had its wallet/handbag stolen (which would probably be empty anyway).

Throughout her review of the planning system, Barker views environmental legislation, such as Environmental Impact Assessment, as time consuming and overly restrictive. Barker also feels that uncertainty should lead to a presumption in favour of development. She suggests that if local planning policy is unclear or out of date then a development should be given the go ahead … so in other words if you haven’t planned for something it must be good and should be given permission. This leap of logic manages to turn the planning system completely on its head and undermine one of the central tenets of the planning system, which is that development should be planned (I suppose the clue is in the title).

“So what qualifications do these two authors have?” I hear you cry (or at least mumble … come on, stick with it! I know planning is boring, but it has important implications for conservation), making them so well suited to reviewing the plan-led system? Barker is an economist, while Eddington is the former head of British Airways (therefore a great advocate for sustainable, reduced-carbon transport). It is reassuring to see that such experts in planning and sustainable development get to decide how the planning system should be reformed. It is hard not to view this as a laughable double standard – just imagine if the government had announced that the planning system was going to be reviewed by an environmentalist, perhaps George Monbiot, Jonathan Porritt, or even Swampy of Newbury bypass fame (Note to self: find more easily recognisable environmental role models). Of course it would never happen. The mere suggestion would cause a huge outcry, but why is it so unthinkable?

Most definitions of sustainable development state that economics and the environment must be given equal weight. Giving an environmentalist control could, if the right candidate was chosen, mean a strict regard to environmental limits and better assessments of what is really needed. It is unlikely that any environmental candidate would be so radical as to deny the need for any development at all (OK, maybe Swampy would), but they would be likely to demand that such development must be carried out with a long-term view. Until someone who understands the environment is given decision-making power, sustainable development will never happen. The real problem is that economic considerations are often very short-term and unsustainable. When markets change, the developments associated with them also change. The simple truth – from my heavily-biased perspective – is that twenty years’ worth of employment will always trump millions of years of evolution.

With the recent changes in understanding of our impact on the planet, it is possible that environmental and social justice will finally be seen as being as important as the economy. This challenge has become increasingly difficult as money has become the only way we have of valuing anything, to the extent that we put approximate values on individual species. Even if something is not quantifiable in economic terms, we are still forced to put a monetary value on it. How many jobs is a great crested newt worth? How much money does a national park designation bring to the local economy? Conservationists must use these monetary values if they are be taken seriously and have their voices heard, and I am certain that adopting this stance has been an important advocacy tool. However, I think it is fair to say that by doing so we may end up paying a much higher price in the long term. We have been forced to play a game that was not created with conservation and wildlife in mind. It is possible that we will come to a point where there is nothing left that can be considered to have its own intrinsic worth.

If all Barker’s and Eddington’s changes where adopted, it would certainly call for a restructuring of the Government’s definition of sustainability. Currently the Government’s sustainable development strategy states that social justice, environmental limits, wise use of resources and economics are all supposed to be equal supporting pillars of sustainable development. It seems that economics is, like Orwell’s pigs, more equal than the others. One thing is for sure: if sustainability is a table, the dinner plates are sliding rapidly towards the floor. Quick, someone shove the fork of long-term sustainable economic goals under that plate! Okay, so it’s not a great analogy, but you get what I mean.

With the other, less fundamental changes proposed for the planning system, the worry is that it will be hard to tell how damaging they will be until they are actually implemented. The Catch-22 here is that, once these measures are implemented, the chance to influence them will already have slipped away. Many of the recommendations could be positive if implemented by a government that truly considered each component of sustainable development equally … doh!!!

I am off to listen to some Joni Mitchell … paradise, parking lot? No? Oh, well never mind …

Useful links ...

CLG News Release 21May07:

Barker Review of Land Use Planning:

Eddington Transport Study:

NGO response to proposals:

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Warming or Cooling?

by Peter Taylor

An almighty battle is about to be engaged between proponents of solar theories of climate change and adherents to the supposedly standard carbon dioxide model. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to issue its fourth scientific assessment - a summary was published in February - and this argues that solar effects are minimal. Meanwhile solar scientist Henrik Svensmark, funded by the European Space Agency, has demonstrated a mechanism that will explain the thinning clouds phenomenon picked up by satellite data, but not as a feedback to carbon’s increasing concentration, rather as a primary driver which leaves little over for carbon. In other words, the human influence on climate has been seriously over-estimated. If Svensmark’s theory is accepted, less than 30% of the changes we see are due to human activity (and only 15% due to fossil fuel burning). If the sun’s magnetic field drops, as some scientists expect, it could dramatically cool the planet.

Surely, two thousand of the world’s top scientists cannot be wrong? Would that this were so. Not so long ago, select UN committees were locked in an argument over the effects of low-level radiation and a stolid defence of the widespread practice of X-raying pregnant women. They - and all of the top scientific institutions - were wrong, but it took Alice Stewart, a ‘maverick’ scientist, ten years to persuade them. In the end, it was steadily-accumulated, contradicting evidence (leukaemia in the children) that won the day, along with Stewart's dogged determination against funding cuts and mud-slinging from people who should have been the first to support her. She saved hundreds of thousands of lives, yet received no honours, while her chief detractor was knighted.

Something similar is afoot with global warming. The standard model may be flawed. It relies on assumed water vapour feedbacks that have not been validated. It was pointed out at the first IPCC meeting by Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, that if the water vapour turned to cloud, the feedback could be negative. He later resigned when he failed to get this caveat written in to the first IPCC report. The real rise in global temperatures has been taken as validation of the model, but Svensmark’s work suggests that this rise is due to another factor: an increased solar electromagnetic field thinning the cloud over the oceans, which then receive more sunlight and so heat up. Satellite data analysed in 2004 support this theory. Moreover, following a dip in the sun’s field, global ocean temperatures have been falling after the El Niño peak in 1998, something which is difficult to explain with the standard model. In fact, during the two years 2003 to 2005, the oceans lost one-fifth of all the heat accumulated in the previous fifty years.

Over 75% of the planet’s surface is ocean. The defensive response to this ocean cooling has been to refer to it as a ‘blip in the general trend’ and ‘we have seen such blips before’. Yes, but only after major volcanic eruptions ... and there were none in the period 2003 to 2005.

The oceans are cooling and, according to oceanographers (who, along with solar scientists, are being ignored by the IPCC), it is due to changes in low-level cloud formations that correlate with solar cycles. There is a time-lag as the oceans release their heat and it is that heat that is melting the Arctic rather than any greenhouse effect.

But what about all these sophisticated computer models? Well, they have had their critics - always ignored by the scientists seeking ever greater funding for their models - and the main criticism has been that they are unable to model cloud responses. Now, the new science cannot be ignored. Henrik Svensmark, after beavering away quietly since 1991 on his theories of solar influence, has discovered the mechanism (published on 22 February 2007 as The Chilling Stars), namely a modulation of cloud seeding over the oceans by the electromagnetic field. As the sun’s field builds up, cosmic radiation is deflected and less clouds form because the ionising radiation field controls cloud seeding. The sun began to ramp down in 1990 and, although there is an oceanic time lag, the globe is cooling, more so where the currents disperse the heat rapidly, as in the southern hemisphere, less quickly in the northern hemisphere.

We will know the full extent of the cooling this year. If El Niño fails - the US specialists think it will, whereas British commentators think it won’t - the oceans will cool further and, if the next solar peak (on an eleven-year cycle) is lower than the last, even more cooling will follow in five years time.

So, we can relax? No more need for ugly wind turbines on blue-remembered hills and no more excuse for revamping nuclear power? Yes and no. Even the most optimistic emission controls will have virtually no effect this century on atmospheric carbon levels anyway ... and the only proven mechanism for reducing demand for fossil fuels was always price, so the oil ‘peak’ expected in 2015 will see to that. But the real challenge is going to be feeding the extra one billion people who will be born in the next thirteen years, most of them into food-deficit countries, which currently cannot compete in a globalised food market and are very vulnerable to climate swings in either direction. Global cooling will compromise the productive northern grain belts upon which a world food surplus relies - and probably more so than continued warming. The paradigm is shifting rapidly. If Svensmark is right, food and water will be the big issue in five years' time and nobody will talk then of global warming.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Climate Change, Scientific Consensus & the Media

by Peter Taylor

Ed. - Peter was prompted to respond to a slide from an internal presentation by a UK agency which presents and compares the following statistics: (1) of 928 peer-reviewed articles appearing in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none were "in doubt as to the cause of global warming"; and (2) of 636 articles in the US popular press between 1988 and 2002, 53% were "in doubt as to the cause of global warming". The original sources of these data are (1) The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, by Naomi Oreskes of the University of California at San Diego - see; and (2) Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias: Creating controversy where science finds consensus by Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff - see

Of course, it depends upon what is meant by 'in doubt as to the cause of global warming'. Anyone who gets to write a peer-reviewed article knows full well that 'global warming' is caused by BOTH natural and human factors and that the key question is 'how much of each'? Almost all accept that warming prior to 1950 (about half the rise) must have been caused by mainly natural factors, that is to say, cycles of solar activity. The crucial question relates to the post-1980 warming (there was a worldwide drop between 1945 and 1978 that is not explainable by aerosols or volcanoes, but correlates to a downturn in the solar cycle). Computer modellers believe that the post-1980 rise cannot be explained by natural factors and is the signature of human emissions, but there are many in the oceanographic, solar-terrestrial physics and paleontology community who have published their doubts about the strength of that signature, as well as the scale of 'warming' compared to previous warm periods. The problem is: scientific papers use very diplomatic language and for good reason.

If someone would like to fund me a very small amount, say £1,500, I will go down to the British Library (BL) and look at every one of those 928 peer-reviewed papers, extract the conclusions and analyse them for the following:
  • the number that do not question the consensus, but suggest that solar factors can produce a signal as great as carbon dioxide (I know of at least three), thus implying, but not stating, that carbon dioxide is not the main driver;

  • the number dealing with satellite data on SW (short-wave? ed.) flux to the oceans and land surfaces that show significant cloud thinning and give data on the size of the effect, which implies, but does not state, that this mechanism must be the main driver (another three);

  • the number that question whether the current warming is unusual on a longer timescale of 10,000 years, representing the natural cycle of an inter-glacial, that is, the Holocene post-glacial optimum, the Roman warm period and the medieval warm period (another five at least);

  • the number that state that 'the cause' is BOTH natural and possibly human but that the ratio is still unclear (another three);

  • the number that show correlations of solar cycles and sea surface temperatures, as well as other oceanographic phenomena that cannot be explained by the current CO2 model (perhaps ten or so).

I know of these papers: I read them in the BL last spring. There are, I would estimate, at least another twenty that I have not seen.

Of course, it may be that the researchers who wrote the '928' assessment did not include these papers, or if they did, did not understand them. But if you search for a phrase, 'we disagree with the current model', you are unlikely to find it: science papers in these political times are seldom so bold (there are a few).

There is one paper in the BL - I can't recall immediately in what journal - that analyses the sudden surge in peer-reviewed 'climate' papers in relation to the sudden surge in money spent on computer modelling. I would guess computer-modelling papers outnumber other climatology papers by 10-to-1.

The most telling of Svensmark's* non-computer-model papers produces a watt/sq. metre estimate of the solar cloud effect at 1.4 and comments: 'this is a significant finding, comparable to that claimed for carbon dioxide'. Now that sentence might not be construed as doubt as to the cause of global warming - it depends upon the intelligence of the reader.

If you want an explanation of why Svensmark should be so careful in not overtly criticising the consensus, read his book, The Chilling Stars, and you will see how much trouble he had funding the research, even with his head well down below the parapet.

It's cheap propaganda - the sort that Al Gore is using - and it does not become the debate in our circles. Let's talk instead of the quality of cosmic ray data, the flux over the last century, oceanic time lags, the cloud cover data, NASA's GISS files and their failure to update them after the "instrument error" that detected a massive LW (long-wave? ed.) pulse to the upper atmosphere at the same time as oceanographers were logging the one-fifth loss of all the heat accumulated in the past fifty years of ocean monitoring, and the albedo readings for the year 2003-2004 that also shot off the scale, indicating massive cloud changes, and which are also now claimed as instrument error ... all of which cannot be explained by the CO2 model, but which are predicted by solar models.

Let's, for science's sake, get scientific about this and devote some resources to thinking, reading, listening to the scientific debate, instead of dutifully accepting authority from above like little boys at school. The RSPB, the Environment Agency, Greenpeace, WWF and FOE all have the resources critically to review the science - and I mean critically review it - but that attitude seems to have died out in the late 1980s. Now it is more convenient to jump on the climate-modellers' gravy train and chant the scary mantras about melting ice-caps and dying puffins, whilst coining it with specially adapted credit cards that tie-in to renewable energy companies - I call it 'corporate creep'.

Having bought into the mitigation nonsense that is peddled by governments who have absolutely no intention of significantly reducing demand and who, in time-honoured fashion, go for 'supply options' because that is where business can profit and government can be seen to be doing something - check out the stats for Spain, the world-leader in renewable supplies, with a doubling of CO2 emissions - the environmental groups are now reaping the fruits of their Faustian bargain. The monsters of supply will consume not just sea eagles and the incredible scenery of Skye and the Hebrides, geese and tranquility on Romney Marsh, and sustainable community in the Mendips, but eventually the whole Severn estuary with a tidal barrage ... and add another ten nuclear reactors to churn out their wastes and dangers. And that is just in the UK, because we will also extend our decarbonised ecological footprint to the forests of Borneo, the Amazon and Latvia in search of biofuels and woodchips.

I am sorry to get steamed up - particularly since I have just carbonised my dinner in the process ... can I put in a claim for sequestration credits under the Kyoto protocol?


*Ed. - For more on Professor Svensmark's work, see, for example,, and, for the more inquisitive,