This morning, I enjoyed once again reading George Monbiot on what’s wrong with UK nature conservation – this time on Martin Harper’s blog.
George as you would expect barred no holds, and laid into RSPB for culling buzzards, and promoting deforestation of the uplands. He also repeated the argument that we place nature in a prison by favouring open early successional habitats, rather than the Atlantic Rainforest.
And he returned to a central theme in his book “Feral”, which is the concept of Self-willed land. The idea has been put to me thus by Ginny Batson, in an earlier comment on this blog. This is blog is partly my response to you Ginny (sorry its late.)
“The will of the land (or life), is the green fuse of all life. With or without humans, right now, life would continue to adapt and evolve, so I would argue in that sense that the land (in all its complexity) does indeed have a will. Yes, we are integral to nature, not separate, and with our will & understanding of environmental science, the state of environmental decline and our union with the land, it’s exactly why we should not dominate. That doesn’t mean to say we have to spare and NOT share (purported by GM’ers). It means we can spare (make space) AND share (agroecology). We have a duty (because of the intrinsic value of all life of which we are a part) to make conscious decisions that will have positive consequences on, say, climate and biodiversity as well as social justice, welfare (inc non-human life)…etc.
Modern conservation in the West has been influenced by the work of Pinchot (neat summary http://www.ithaca.edu/history/journal/papers/sp02muirpinchothetchy.html) although both Muir and Pinchot were essentially anthropocentric in argument. Muir for human soul, Pinchot, essentially, for humans as consumers. Problems on both sides! And so, here we are, the Planet is now seriously Under Pressure despite their influence. There is good reason to look at a more ecocentric or biocentric outlook whereby non-human life is viewed as having a value all unto itself. Nature for nature’s sake, as well as ours.
On re-introductions, to be honest, I’m still grappling with the ethics of it all…. ‘by human hand.’ But it certainly seeds the imagination of what ‘could be’ as opposed to ‘what is’.
I looked up Self-Willed land and also found this website.
Here I discovered that self-willed land is a modern translation of the old English word Wilderness. Like so many other things, we have exported an idea to the States, and it has returned in an evolved form. It was also interesting to note that the idea of Self-Willed Land is closely linked to the Earth First movement in the states.
I wonder whether these ideas would have developed here in Europe, in the absence of our American colleagues? The reason being as Ginny said, conservation in the States was born in the crucible where Muir and Pinchot clashed. Their conservation history is different from ours, because their landscapes were seen as and celebrated as wilderness. Ours were recognised as having a long history of modification by millennia of agriculture. Theirs were shaped primarily by the actions of hunter gatherer societies, ours by farmers.I sometimes wonder whether subconsciously conservationists are actually in two camps, the wannabe hunter gatherers, and the wannabe farmers.
We mustnt forget that there is also a darker history to wilderness – the expunging of native American cultures and societies and the removal of their history from colonial American history. Wilderness has dark political undertones when it’s the result of genocide. Native Americans were removed from National Parks in the US to ensure that the land became wilderness. We need to tread with care.
What does self-willed land mean? If as Ginny suggests, there is some form of consciousness in the land, then the debate becomes akin to the animal rights debate – animals with some form of consciousness have rights because they feel pain. Can the land feel pain?
My late father was a zealous atheist, a follower of the Apostate Dawkins. I don’t have his certainty. I’m a governor at a C of E school. I’m not Christian myself, and I don’t have a belief in a greater power. But I do respect my fellow Christian governors and teachers. I love sitting in ancient churches and get a wonderful feeling of tranquility even meditative calm. I guess that’s the idea!
It strikes me that the notion of the land having a will is a religious one, a new Animism. Animism was the original religion – a belief that all natural objects (and indeed human artefacts) have a life, a will, a power. This is where the word Fetish comes from – an object being imbued with supernatural powers.
The only problem with this is that Religious beliefs require faith and faith is something beyond debate. I can’t make a rational argument against the idea of self-willed land because it is not a rational position, it’s a position of faith.
In that respect I don’t find it a useful notion when grappling with scientific concepts such as functional ecosystems, trophic cascades, or reintroducing large extinct megafauna. And I doubt very much that it would have any traction with policy makers or politicians.