I think “what a year” is how most people feel about 2020.
It started with us wondering whether we would crash out of the EU without a deal, and ended with a deal being rushed through Parliament not only without our elected or un-elected politicians having any way about its contents, but also with them being effectively held hostage and forced to introduce sweeping and deeply undemocratic powers to the Executive.
It started with alarming stories coming from a Chinese city about a mystery virus…and ended with over 86,000 dead in the UK from Covid19 and perhaps another 200,000 chronically ill with longcovid; a mental health crisis the like of which we have not seen since the Second World War, with millions left without a job as their sector of the economy collapsed, many of them destitute.
These two calamities are how 2020 will be remembered – the year the UK finally ended its dysfunctional relationship with the rest of Europe (a 60 year project) and the year we were hit by the biggest pandemic since the deadly 1918 flu. The effects of both will reverberate through British society for years, perhaps decades to come. Of course the much bigger calamity, Climate Chaos and the global extinction crisis, will be with us for much longer and have a magnitudes greater impact on society, both here and abroad. And perhaps, just perhaps, the crises of Brexit and Covid, have brought this fact further into the front of people’s minds, or at least the very small group of people who now make the decisions about such matters, in what is fast becoming our post-liberal democracy.
There are some small signs that this may be happening – for example the Government’s decision to bring forward the phasing out of fossil fuel driven vehicles to 2030 (apart from hybrids). The new Agriculture Act, which replaces the Common Agricultural Policy and will primarily pay farmers and landowners for providing society with “public goods” like clean water, more wildlife, more carbon sucked out of the atmosphere and so on. Not that any of these things are happening anywhere nearly fast enough to address the crisis which is here with us now.
Another sign of encouragement is the public’s shifting attitude towards environmental damage – I have written a number of times this year about the damaging impact from the wrong kind of tree planting – most recently the terrible case at Berrier End farm in Cumbria. The public reaction to this was impressive and undoubtedly brought about the Forestry Commission’s decision to reverse ferret and work with the landowner to start restoring the land – not that they’ve agreed to restore all of the damage, but it’s still a serious victory against the dinosaurs in the forestry industry. Similar scenes played out in Herefordshire when it was discovered that a local farmer had laid waste to the River Lugg SSSI north of Leominster. Public outrage quickly translated into criminal investigations and we shall see how this one proceeds in 2021.
And of course thanks to lockdown; and people’s inability to travel, initially anywhere and then abroad for holidays, interest in nature in Britain has mushroomed this year as never before. I don’t mean rare species but common ones, ones that might be seen on a daily local walk. The appreciation of nature in people’s back yard and the recognition that being out in nature is good for you – this has been one of the highlights of 2020 for me. Yes we have seen some examples of people who are not used to being out in the countryside or at beauty spots behaving ignorantly, abandoning their camping equipment after a weekend as if they have just left a festival site. Yes there has been more litter (mainly discarded face masks). But overall there has been a marked increase in the number of people visiting nature places and appreciating the nature that is there. It will be interesting to see whether this interest is sustained next year.
We will also eventually see the multiple vaccines, that have been developed at remarkable speed, deployed so that the pandemic will be controlled. Given this Government unprecedented combination of grift, corruption and ineptitude, there’s every possibility that the vaccine deployment will be screwed up (eg). I’m anticipating some combination of Serco, Baroness Claire Fox and Chris Grayling being given the job of vaccinating the population, with inevitable results. Regardless, eventually by the end of 2021, it is highly likely that covid19 will be under control in the UK. Assuming it doesn’t have a really big mutation which renders our current vaccines useless. And that indicates something else. We’ve seen how the virus rapidly replaces itself with new variants – it’s happened twice already this year. As we start to tackle the virus with vaccines, that will drive viral evolution perhaps even more quickly. The idea that covid19 will become a distant memory is unrealistic. It’s going to be with us for a very long time, perhaps in a milder form, and as a seasonal virus like seasonal flu. Personally I would like us to adopt the East Asian approach to wearing face masks in the winter, every year. I expect that this year we will have a non-existent, or very mild, seasonal flu season. But we have anti-maskers, just as we have anti-vaxxers, and these are the same people as the climate denial people. They will always be there, but can we hope that the media will stop giving them a platform? That may be too much to ask.
I can’t say I’m looking forward to the next few months – the dark cold rainy days of Winter, a rampaging deadly virus, the children missing more of their education; and work continuing to be pretty restricted (though I am lucky to be working on a local project.) Still, Spring is now just around the corner and perhaps by then my 90 year old mum will have had her vaccination. I am really looking forward to catching up with friends and spending lots of time in nature, perhaps having a bit of a shindig somewhere. And getting back to playing live music again.
Whatever happens, I will continue to write about stuff that interests me, and hopefully interests you. I will continue to fight for the importance of nature in people’s lives, as I have been doing for coming up to 35 years now. Why would I stop now?
Happy New Year and thanks, as always, for reading.