• Ancient Woodland, Modern Minds

    So we live in a world where existence for so many species we happen to share this planet with is in jeopardy, or has already been denied. And here at home our ancient woodland - supporting at least twice the amount of rare or threatened species than any other UK habitat - is being wiped out at a rate faster than that in evidence in the Amazon itself. So here at least, in knowing this, we’re given something like a greater clarity, that if we can get beyond the myth that the world was made solely for our benefit we surely have a duty to protect those whose lives rest in our hands, in our ability and willingness to speak and act on their behalf.

    So where do we start in such a monumental mission? There are the obvious candidates of course – the HS2 line that threatens twenty one ancient woodlands for a scheme whose money would be better spent on improving and maintaining our existing railway tracks and which, if built, would scar a wider Chilterns landscape that has so far through accident or luck escaped too much encroachment by the infrastructural outrider that so often heralds more and more development. The protests against this particular project seem set to run and run.

    Then we have the sorry story down in Kent of Oaken Woods – 81.5 acres of ancient woodland due to be swept aside for a ragstone quarry, a decision which goes against not only the county council’s minerals plan but also policy of central government towards ancient woodland. And there are no shortage of other threats – road widening programmes, pylons, new houses, even oil extraction.

    There is no doubt these woods need all our help and that campaigning in all its forms is now as necessary as ever. But perhaps the greatest threat to our old woodlands – and everything else – is simply the mentality that lets us think that their removal is ok, that they and the species they support are somehow secondary to our own human concerns. They are not, in our common culture, in any sense inviolable. They are, or so the logic goes, the pretty chattels that adorn a landscape loved by sentimentalists and precious few besides. There is simply no room for such pleasant irrelevancies if we want a modern and functioning nation. So the roads are ushered in, high speed lines are laid out as some kind of sleek and greener future and the end justifies any means because industry and commerce must win out, because these are the wheels that keep our world turning even when such cogs drive our own end as much as the scraps of habitat that happen to be in the way.

    We can fight any number of projects and - where they threaten precious ecosystems, protected by laws that are routinely deemed fit to be overidden – it is right that people should do so. But if we are serious about preserving them for good, if we are serious about somehow grappling with the underlying assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and even that most unmodern of mindsets: the stories we tell ourselves, we have to see more clearly the ancient change in attitude - what you might even call the original sin - that let us think this world was ours to do with as we please. Without the shift in perspective such insight would hopefully bring, we will ultimately still be simply pushing at revolving doors, or banging our heads against walls. If we do not change the state of mind that underpins each push then even immediate success in any campaign will be rendered temporary because the beast would still live that breathes life into yet another threat and then another.

    A long time ago there was no need to sweep aside the plants and animals that did not appear to matter to our immediate concerns. The day such acts became permissible was perhaps the inception for the sorry times we face today. The more we can all recognise that and struggle to imagine a way beyond it is perhaps the greatest and most important challenge we face. Until then nature will remain apparently expendable as will our own lifelines that she carries, a reminder if one was still needed that there is no boundary between us and the world around us except that which we have created in our minds. Demolishing that arbitrary and hitherto all too powerful border has never been more urgent or more vital.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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