An essay on trees and the wider environment, and on becoming a reluctant environmentalist
It appears we are a nation of animal lovers. Millions of us own dogs, animals arguably with an IQ of about one, and have no problem with scraping their poo from pavements. Thousands more own horses, which is the whole dog thing writ large. Millions of us can sit through TV programmes like ‘Autumnwatch’, and even David Attenborough programmes without falling into a catatonic stupor. And yet we seem not to like animals beginning for instance with the letter ‘B’. Take bees. Wild bee numbers are declining year on year. Bird numbers too, are declining. Beetles and bugs have also declined. Bats have declined in the past half century. Beavers and boar (wild) are functionally extinct. In regard to badgers, it seems as though dairy farmers want to shoot most of them. I can understand the antipathy towards bears, but what is wrong with butterflies? Overall 76% of butterflies in the UK have declined in either abundance or occurrence in the last four decades.
There is nothing sacrosanct about the insidious inexorable degradation of the British countryside and seas. My contention is that nothing good has come from the industrial model of fishing, farming and food companies. In regard to public health, two thirds of people in this country are either overweight or obese. The treatment of Type-2 diabetes, a disease caused almost exclusively by the consumption of processed food, accounts for ten per cent of the £116 billion NHS budget. Modern industrial farming largely supplies huge food and drink manufacturing companies responsible for the production and marketing of unhealthy products.
Farmers often refer to themselves as custodians of the British countryside. The definition of a custodian is someone who cares and protects something, but given the intensification of farming and abhorrent animal cruelty, in reality they are only custodians of their own bank balances and shiny four by fours. Nothing can change until the asinine subsidies can be extricated from the avaricious grasp of the landowning clique, and this public largesse given to those who really need it. Then perhaps this present model of over-exploitation will change to a more enlightened, dignified and sustainable form of farming. Some fifty years ago, Rachel Carson wrote about the dangers of modern industrial farming. We didn’t heed her words then, it’s time we did so now.
We need an absolute wholesale root and branch reform of this nexus of fishing, farming, and food companies; in order not to leave a legacy of, to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘After-comers cannot guess the beauty been’, but to retain what’s left of the beauty present. What annoys me most about the trajectory we are on is the sheer gratuitousness of it all. We gain nothing from the present system apart from slightly cheaper food – but we lose so much. British nature is going down the proverbial plughole.
And how does this all relate to trees? Simply put, cherish them.