Howard’s way

What have a Lou Reed record and beavers got in com­mon? They would make per­fect Christ­mas presents for our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, as Philip Howard ex­plains

The Field - - Contents -

If I asked you to pro­vide me with three in­ter­est­ing facts about beavers, could you? And let’s keep Boris John­son and Don­ald Trump out of the an­swers. Here are my three. firstly, they are her­bi­vores, so they don’t eat fish – ri­par­ian own­ers, of­ten their most vo­cif­er­ous pro­tag­o­nists, please note. Se­condly, like the Bee Gees, their front teeth never stop grow­ing. And, thirdly, it was es­ti­mated that just 100 years ago there were more than 60 mil­lion Amer­i­can beavers. Cur­rently, the fig­ure is less than 12 mil­lion. The cause of their de­struc­tion: man. We have killed them for their fur and de­stroyed their habi­tat for our own plea­sure and com­mer­cial gain.

A friend of mine in the North of Eng­land is look­ing into rein­tro­duc­ing the beaver as part of a post-brexit rewil­d­ing project. He wants to re­move sheep from a large area of fell land, elim­i­nate fer­tilis­ers and sprays and take out 22 miles of fenc­ing. The aim is for the land to re­vert back to a more bal­anced en­vi­ron­men­tal state. A sim­i­lar con­di­tion, he told me, to what it was in 1947. That was when his fa­ther was of­fered sim­i­larly large gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives to achieve pre­cisely the op­po­site. Then, the fu­ture panacea, un­der­stand­able for the time, was a head­long rush to mod­ernise and pro­duce food for post-sec­ond World War Bri­tain. frankly, this was land that never should have been in­ten­sively farmed.

But my friend is also look­ing to plant up large ar­eas of com­mer­cial forestry, cre­ate tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties and add in­fra­struc­ture into the com­mu­nity. He is re­struc­tur­ing all of his es­tate to try and pro­duce some­thing sus­tain­able with sep­a­rate sources of in­come that do not just de­pend and rely on the agri­cul­tural sub­si­dies. He might well suc­ceed be­cause he has vi­sion but, most im­por­tantly, he has scale. But, ul­ti­mately, he re­alises that the fu­ture for farm­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment can­not be based upon the cur­rent style of Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy (CAP).

for most of my work­ing life I have tried to man­age land with which I have been in­volved sym­pa­thet­i­cally. But, in­evitably, I ended up play­ing the sub­sidy sys­tem and have pros­pered fi­nan­cially. Sadly, I can­not ig­nore what I have wit­nessed over the past 45 years. Dec­i­ma­tion of num­bers of all sorts of wildlife species, from waders to song­birds to birds of prey, and the trans­for­ma­tion of di­verse habi­tat to ster­ile, man­aged mono­cul­ture.

Of all the dis­as­trous con­se­quences of the 2016 Euro­pean ref­er­en­dum the worst has been the paral­y­sis of the po­lit­i­cal process. In­stead of work­ing to­gether to cre­ate a raft of new, bold and bal­anced en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies, all that has hap­pened has been squab­bling and re­crim­i­na­tion. Oc­ca­sion­ally there is dis­cus­sion about an­i­mal sen­tience, plas­tic bot­tles and cof­fee cups. Wor­thy top­ics but all ir­rel­e­vant un­less we ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem cre­ated by the cur­rent pol­icy sys­tem. We have chained and shack­led both agri­cul­tural pol­icy and its pro­duc­ers, Prometheus-like, to a huge, im­mov­able, gran­ite CAP boul­der. That has to change.

Our so­ci­ety has be­come in­creas­ingly risk averse. I re­cently read a fas­ci­nat­ing piece by Daniel finkel­stein out­lin­ing a piece of work by an Amer­i­can aca­demic called Troy Camp­bell. Camp­bell’s con­clu­sions were that peo­ple are mo­ti­vated to deny prob­lems when they are averse to the so­lu­tions de­spite sci­en­tific ev­i­dence sup­port­ing their ex­is­tence. He called it so­lu­tion aver­sion the­ory. Of course, so­lu­tions al­most al­ways re­quire change. If Camp­bell is right with his so­lu­tion aver­sion the­ory, then we have our work cut out. It cer­tainly ex­plains ‘fake news’ and the in­creas­ing po­lar­i­sa­tion of views in a time of world­wide flux and change and speed of in­for­ma­tion ex­change. We are now liv­ing in the ‘Me Me’ mo­ment, in which peo­ple only ap­pear to lis­ten and re­spond to what they want to hear. No won­der there is so much frus­tra­tion and dis­con­tent, es­pe­cially from the young.

So, my vir­tual Christ­mas presents to Theresa and Jeremy are a home­less, habi­tat-less beaver and a Lou Reed record. Put the record on, play it and turn it up loud. Be naughty, really naughty – naugh­tier than even run­ning through wheat fields and al­lot­ments. find a home for that beaver. Go on T, take a walk on the wild side.

We are now liv­ing in the ‘Me Me’ mo­ment… no won­der there is so much frus­tra­tion

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