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
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