Sunday, 16 June 2013

Feral – a book about rewilding by George Monbiot

Kayaking out of the Dyfi in pursuit of non-existent mackerel; reassuring to know it’s not just me who can’t catch them but I’m worried that no-one seems to know why.

Rewilding the seas is probably the easiest to achieve, just exclude commercial fishing from a percentage of the seas and stocks will recover. Fishermen protest that they will be out of business but examples around the world show that short term loss is soon recouped with abundant and sustainable stocks. The economic cost of making and policing exclusion zones would be quickly offset by a healthy and productive fisheries industry yet governments around Britain are just dithering. To authorise scallop dredging in the Cardigan Bay SAC, our highly prized and most strictly protected bit of the sea, is a ministerial decision rightly ridiculed in the book. 

Rewilding the land is more problematic with upland farming and sheep coming in for much flack. I met George to interview him for Radio Wales (Country Focus, Sundays 07:00) and he took me to a hillside from where we could see the Cambrian Mountains. There’s a website promoting this wonderful area as comprising ‘some of the most beautiful, unspoilt landscapes in Europe, as well as rare wildlife habitats’. As far as George is concerned this is a green desert munched by sheep into a bowling green with contours .... ‘with the exception of the chemical monocultures of East Anglia, I have never seen a British landscape as devoid of life’.

As a person surrounded by upland farmers, whom I like very much, I scarcely dare mention the maths in Feral. On average our upland farmers receive £53K in subsidies and at the end of the year earn £33K i.e. the contribution farmers make to their income by raising sheep and cattle is minus £20K. This vast expenditure of public money (£3.6 billion a year in UK) supports the private businesses of a very small proportion of the rural population, just 5% in Wales, and delivers ecological destruction.  It’s a light the touch fuse and stand well back sort of opener to a conversation.

Between the maths and the science there’s some interesting history and surmise about the plants and about the animals that once roamed here. Rhododendron Ponticum was with us long before the Victorians but why was it not such a problem as today? Could it be that our long gone elephants and rhinos grazed on it? To me this conjures up a fantastic picture of safari in the blooming purple foothills around Beddgelert.

This book will provoke a lot of debate for sure.

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