(This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant created the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. Between 1905 and 1909, several European countries also established them, more as symbols of national pride than of conservation. In 1914 Lenin established several parks in the Soviet Union. Britain had none until after the WWII.
In 1928 Stalin implemented his first ‘five-year plan’, a set of economic and social goals for the state and its populace to aspire too. As his grip tightened and his rule increasingly relied upon fear plans were fulfilled to the letter often against the spirit they embodied. If the plan required a certain ‘tonnage’ of production, and you were falling short sheer terror led you to start making beds out of lead rather than steel! So it was that ‘state planning’ got its bad name. It seems to have consequences nearly a century later, as UK politicians seem incapable of agreeing long term goals and play politics with sticking plaster solutions to more and more problems.
We NEED some integrated national plans to save peoples lives and livelihoods let alone protect our biodiversity.
Several years of flooding has led to knee-jerk plans to dredge waterways. A drop in the price of oil has led to delays in creating long-term energy solutions, just as the hike in prices let to primary forest being ripped up to plant oil palms.
Why do we need plans? Because the problems we face are complex and so are the solutions, what may help solve one problem can banjax another unless things are looked at together.
Take flooding as an example. Rather than build ever-higher walls to protect lowland property we need to slow the flow of water. To do this we need to enable highland to retain more water and let it flow out slower by re-cladding the hillsides with woodland or scrub. We must stop draining wetlands but see them as sponges that can soak up excesses and supplement shortages when there is drought. We have to stop building on floodplains and manage them to flood in a controlled way by planting retaining hedges and increasing the number of seasonal ponds.
All well and good until you look at farming subsidies, planning permissions, etc. ALL subsidies should depend on signing up to stewardship agreements that reward hedge planting and upland deciduous forestry. Flood plains need national designation and planning permissions need to be subject to overall national aims.
If we had created proper long-term house building plans a few decades ago with tough insulation rules we would not need to create ever more power. Even now it is not too late to impose new building regulations to save energy and include in it all refurbishment too.
Farming should, once again, be about the nation feeding itself and protecting the land and wildlife. Organic farming should no longer be seen as a health or fringe issue but as integrated into the national plan to conserve and in some places re-wild this land.
Power production should be integrated so that harnessing the power of our rivers, wind and the sea is wildlife-friendly.
Concepts like ‘environmentalism’ are about the complex and integrated nature of, well, nature, which we fiddle with at our peril.
As a nation we need the guts to say, loud and clear, we should grow what we can, not import it because its cheap. To say, there are too many of us and we need to champion childlessness and anything else that stops the population growing. Our plan must start putting right what we have been getting wrong for two generations. Short term profit is creating long term poverty.
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