GOB 123 Nifty Grades of Shade
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2019
As climate change brings 50MPH winds rattling my windows and rain running down the hill outside like a mountain torrent, it’s easy to think about shelter, but not so much about shade. Yet the same extreme weather pattern meant that a couple of weeks back I was thanking providence that I had taken the plunge and spent my hard-earned on air-con for my office and bedroom. My seventieth birthday coincided with the hottest day on record locally and driving to a family get together the motorway tar was melting in the 35° heatwave. I’m pleased too that my air-con is drawing its power only from sustainable ‘green’ energy. Had the government not taken away grants for solar panels I might also have afforded them too, to power my home. When your roof faces the wrong way and the payback period is a matter of decades not years, its hard to justify ripping further into meagre savings.
I live in a town where the council’s wisdom had them aggressively hedge thrashing in May… more of which later (I hope) as some local birders get together to present a green manifesto to the local ‘cabinet’). I’ve twice now had to petition against the removal of trees in my street that a neighbour wants to fell. Shade is at a premium as local authorities pull the plug on urban planting because they cannot afford to the maintenance. Indeed, the Guardian called recently for us citizenry to use our ‘grey water’ on any newly planted trees in public places. Half of trees planted fail in their first year as it is ‘cheaper’ to replace them than look after them!
But shade is not just a welcome respite for parents watching their kids in the playpark. It’s a mind-set that we lost sometime between the disappearing land-bridge to France and gearing up for the Armada when any oak would surely have been trembling in fear of imminent demise. The ‘wildwood’ sustained our simpler lifestyle and could again if we but let it.
For almost two decades it’s been possible to buy ‘shade-grown coffee’. Mature rainforest can be under-planted with that cash crop, sustaining habitat and producers alike.
There have also recently been calls to return to the sort of pasturage that produced the pork and mutton our ancestors ate. Even as recently as my childhood the cherry orchards of Kent doubled as pasture for sheep. In the New Forest there are still a few ‘sounder’ of swine living on its roots and acorns and in other parts of Europe passels of farmed hogs keep ancient forest healthy.
The tipping point for a return to sensible farming is, of course, cost. If its ‘cheaper’ to cut grass in orchards or grow cordons of tiny trees that never exceed picking height, that’s what will happen. But intensive farming methods cost more, they cost the earth.
Just this week a report called for us to eat less meat and consider veganism for the sake of the planet. The worst of animal husbandry is cow farming. It matters not whether it’s for meat or milk, cows use too much land and produce too much gas and we need to aggressively cut back on numbers. Less land could sustain more people if we eat differently, and, at the very least, shaded pasture offsets carbon use to a degree.
Much of the world can rarely afford meat and most that can have it no more than once a week. So, as well as only eating sustainable meat, it should be a weekly treat putting gluttony in the shade.