BW: If we have 75% of the world’s heather habi­tat in the UK, where have we gone wrong? GM: BW: GM:

Bird Watching (UK) - - Parting Shot -

and bare rock. And there are few sig­nif­i­cant moves by the Na­tional Trust to do any­thing about it, be­yond En­nerdale. Worse still, the Trust tells sto­ries about the land that are sim­ply not true. For ex­am­ple, it says: “In­creas­ingly we recog­nise the value of places such as this for clean wa­ter, for stor­ing car­bon in pre­cious peat-rich soils, for food and for na­ture, and of course for recre­ation, tran­quil­lity and in­spi­ra­tion. Farm­ers are crit­i­cal for the de­liv­ery of many of th­ese things.” In re­al­ity, the best pro­tec­tion for clean wa­ter sup­plies, soil car­bon and na­ture is the re­duc­tion or ces­sa­tion of farm­ing in cru­cial places. For ex­am­ple, if you want to pre­vent floods and en­sure a steady sup­ply of wa­ter down­stream, the best means of do­ing so are to al­low trees and other dense veg­e­ta­tion to re­turn to the hills, to get the sheep off (which compact the soil), to stop the dredg­ing of trib­u­taries by farm­ers and to de-canalise the rivers. Why does it tell th­ese tales?

BW: Ru­mours have it that the Govern­ment is still try­ing to sell off the Forestry Com­mis­sion. How can we stop such a Govern­ment? GM: The fight­back against the first at­tempt to flog the for­est es­tate was im­pres­sive, not least be­cause it was started and led by an in­de­pen­dent cam­paigner. I think the Govern­ment would strug­gle even more were it to try again, not least be­cause some key NGOS, which should have led the first fight, have now been shamed into de­fend­ing the forests. Let’s hope so at any rate.

BW: Your ar­ti­cle The Pop­u­la­tion Myth talks about how see­ing pop­u­la­tion growth as the num­ber one en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue shifts the blame from the rich to the poor. Is there not the same prob­lem for Bri­tish wildlife, with the rich dic­tat­ing what lives on their land? GM: Yes, there’s an anal­ogy to be drawn there. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally (though not ex­clu­sively) large landown­ers are far more con­ser­va­tive and hos­tile to wildlife than the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion. Their slaugh­ter of Hen Har­ri­ers and other rap­tors, their ex­treme hos­til­ity to the rein­tro­duc­tion of wildlife that so many peo­ple would love to see (such as Beavers and White-tailed Ea­gles) is as stupid as it’s un­pop­u­lar. There are a few more en­light­ened own­ers, and I hope very much that the ethos be­gins to change. But we also need far bet­ter regulation and en­force­ment.

BW: Why are more com­mu­ni­ties not tak­ing the ‘Mull ini­tia­tive’ and pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing their birds and wildlife? GM: Good ques­tion. A lack of aware­ness, per­haps, Writer, jour­nal­ist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Ge­orge Mon­biot of how ef­fec­tive it can be in terms of cre­at­ing and sus­tain­ing lo­cal em­ploy­ment. I hope very much that oth­ers learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence. Heather is typ­i­cal of the veg­e­ta­tion that oc­cu­pies land that has been re­peat­edly de­for­ested. You can see sim­i­lar land­scapes of low scrub all over the trop­ics, where re­peated cut­ting and burn­ing has taken place. There it is lamented by con­ser­va­tion­ists. Here, we fetishise it and main­tain it by cut­ting and burn­ing. Imag­ine what a Brazil­ian con­ser­va­tion­ist would say if she saw that this is our favoured method of pro­tect­ing the nat­u­ral world. She’d think we’d gone mad, and she wouldn’t be far wrong. I see the mo­not­o­nous, mono­cul­tural moor­lands that con­ser­va­tion­ists cel­e­brate as a mark of fail­ure: fail­ure of vi­sion and fail­ure of ecosys­tems.

If all farm sub­si­dies were stopped and each farm given a hive of bees to man­age the land for, do you think farm­ing could change its di­rec­tion and sur­vive? With­out farm sub­si­dies, farm­ing in the low­lands (which tends to be prof­itable with­out them) would re­main more or less the same, ex­cept for one cru­cial dif­fer­ence: the value of land would fall sharply, al­low­ing new en­trants a foothold. Farm­ing in the up­lands would cease overnight: it is wholly de­pen­dent on pub­lic money. I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing that, but I am sug­gest­ing that we should be ask­ing some search­ing ques­tions about what we are get­ting for our money, and why we con­tinue to pay a for­tune to have the nat­u­ral world wrecked, our homes flooded and our car­bon stores de­pleted.

BW: Could a dif­fer­ent Govern­ment do any bet­ter than the present one in look­ing af­ter our birds of prey, which are be­ing slaugh­tered on grouse moors? GM: It couldn’t do much worse. The cur­rent Govern­ment has not only turned a blind eye to the abuses per­pe­trated by large landown­ers, it has ac­tively col­lab­o­rated in them, dur­ing the at­tempts to kill Buz­zards on be­half of Pheas­ant shoots. When the min­is­ter for wildlife and bio­di­ver­sity is one of the largest landown­ers in the coun­try, with a Pheas­ant es­tate and a grouse moor among his prop­er­ties, and blocks any leg­is­la­tion (such as the li­a­bil­ity of es­tate own­ers when their game­keep­ers kill pro­tected rap­tors) and hob­bles any agency which might cur­tail the de­struc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties of the class to which he be­longs, any change has got to be an im­prove­ment.

CON­TRO­VER­SIAL Some con­ser­va­tion groups seem to be en­gaged in lit­tle more than slightly mod­i­fied farm­ing

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