In this one-day event at Shoreham Wordfest, West Sussex, on 2nd October 2021, speakers included Isabella Tree, Tony Whitbread, Nicola Peel, Paul Hannam, and Henri Brocklebank.
Tony Whitbread of the Sussex WildlifeTrust spoke of the human dominator culture that began in earnest with the Industrial Revolution and has been stepped up in the last two generations, the “Great Acceleration” tracked by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. We have emitted more CO2 since then than ever before. The recent Dasgupta Review, The Economics of Biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury, asserts that we need to find new measures of economic success, as GDP does not take account of loss of biodiversity; indeed GDP was never intended as a measure of national economic welfare.
Isabella Tree then spoke about, and presented slides on, the Rewilding project at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Over time there has been a loss of hedges and woodlands, wetlands, and lowland heath. Along with this there has been over production of food, with grain being fed to animals, which do not naturally eat grain, to keep the market for grain going. Knepp has turned out to be a case study of how things can be changed; previously a loss-making arable farm based on clay over limestone, over 20 years the land has been restored and helped restore the general area. Polluted runoff from pesticides and fertilisers used by neighbouring farms is being purified by Knepp’s soil and vegetation; holding back water from the River Arun so that houses downstream no longer flood. They are now sequestering carbon where they were previously an emitter. Isabella also spoke of the need to create wildlife corridors and hopes that the Environment Bill will be passed before the COP26 negotiations [this was eventually passed about two weeks after].
Nicola Peel is a hands-on biodiversity worker and self-styled Solutionologist, working on practical methods developed in the UK and over many years working in the Ecuadorean Amazon. She spoke of her most recent visit, where she was holed up after her stay in Ecuador in the Los Cedros cloud forest reserve for several months instead of the planned few days, when the Covid lockdown struck! The cloud forest is even more biodiverse than the Amazon, and yet both areas are being targeted by mining and for logging, the latter aimed at an income of $500 per hectare for cattle farming [since the event the mining has been banned; let’s hope that becomes a reality]. Nicola is now working on a valuation of the biodiversity of Los Cedros. She finished by saying a few words about Biomimicry [the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems, according to Wikipedia]. I went on a fascinating Biomimicry Walk in Pulborough, West Sussex, organised by Nicola recently.
Paul Hannam is a psychologist and environmentalist, and part of Your Better Nature, “a new group of committed environmentalists from West Sussex”. He spoke of a need to live in harmony with nature – technology won’t stop the climate emergency. We’re locked into a dysfunctional system and we are the problem. We’re hard-wired to deal with immediate, concrete issues – basically we are “cave people with iPhones”, suffering with affluenza and guided by the Selfish Gene as expounded by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book of the same name. We need a new story about the good life and what matters most, a story about Our Better Nature, contributing to the Earth and not just consuming it.
Henri Brocklebank of the Sussex Wildlife Trust covered recent successes of Help our Kelp and the creation of a Marine Protection Zone along much of the Sussex coast, effectively rewilding the seas and pushing the mega trawlers out. The kelp is already coming back and will be a massive boost for sequestering carbon. She next spoke about Wilder Horsham District. As with Paul Hannam, she believe that the biodiversity crisis is perceived to be not here, or not here yet – people think it’s hard to visualise and remote in time. Wilder Horsham District project is all about individuals and the willingness to do something different from what people have always done. Lastly she mentioned the United Nations Association Climate & Oceans group’s #GenerationRestoration as a personal decade of hope.
All powerful speakers, and much food for thought.
Author notes: Diana Morgan is a freelance blog post writer and eco-retailer. Having been concerned about the environment since her teens, she is one of a team of Climate Ambassadors for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. She is also an introducer for the Full Power Utilities commercial energy brokers, focusing on green energy suppliers and their Future Net Zero program, all about reducing carbon footprints in business.