The Glorious Twelfth: What the BASC Aren’t Telling Us

The Glorious Twelfth has passed. Which means that for the next 25 weeks droves of white, upper-class, tweed-adorned cronies, sharing in their conceited politico-moral sensibilities, will make to the Scottish Highlands, the Peaks and North Yorkshire (and anywhere else that’ll entertain them) to take part in a legalised blood frenzy.

It’s not that I have anything against the upper-class per se. It’s the corrupt, plutocratic manner by which many of them reign financially supreme that I detest. Yes, I’m sure many less-advantaged folk fancy the idea of blood ‘sports’ too, but that shouldn’t deflect from the fact that, for the most part, game shooting just isn’t an activity accessible to the masses. With a day’s shoot likely to cost £20,000 to £40,000 (in some cases up to £70,000), membership to this exclusive club is granted almost solely to the conservative financial elite.

This wouldn’t be so bad if ordinary taxpayers weren’t forced to foot the bill for their fun – or at least a large portion of it, as I discovered with a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: Throughout England, Scotland and Wales there are roughly 300 grouse moors. The average size is 2000 hectares. Notwithstanding moorlands used for field sports other than grouse shooting, with moorland subsidies being ~£54 per hectare taxpayers subsidise this faction some £33,600,000 per year (in 2011 Animal Aid calculated a figure closer to £37,000,000). Is this some sort of sick joke?

Ironically, for some of the beneficiaries, oracularly denouncing benefits claimers has become a casual past-time. They conveniently fail to recognise that they’re the same as those they condemn. You see, despite the fact that they’re given a different name, subsidies (in this context at least) are nothing more than benefits for the rich. Benefits exploited by incredibly wealthy grouse moor proprietors, such as the Daily Mail’s editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre (who earned £5.36m in 2014-15) and pub-chain owner Michael Cannon (who’s net-worth is £240m), who’ve evidently already been heavily advantaged by a vastly disproportionate wealth distribution system. These plutocrats just don’t need the help. While benefits are cut and living standards for the lower classes continue to decline, the country’s richest are given pocket-money and told to go out and play. Adding insult to injury, these subsidies propagate financial inequality and miss-educated bigotry. It’s entirely unnecessary, offensive and damning to the every-day taxpayer.

What’s more, these ‘sports’ wreak havoc upon our environment, consequent to the pseudo-conservationist land management techniques used to maintain their requisite landscapes. One main such technique is swailing: the burning of mature heather shrubs in order to make way for newer shoots (which many gamebirds feed upon). Yet, despite that “[t]he burning… can lead to increased flooding, decreased biodiversity, more carbon being released into the atmosphere and increased water pollution. And [that] we have to pay for the water to be treated, and we pay higher home insurance bills because of that increased flood risk.” (Which is far from the propagandist assertion it has been described as (1, 2, 3)) – Despite that, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) insists that the pros of this archaic practice by far outweigh the cons.

But their arguments are about as logical as those in favour of witch-dunking (i.e., they’re incredibly illogical). In their recent white paper, the BASC insinuates that unscorched terrains are bad for the environment; that any collateral damage resulting from land management, however immense it may be, is positively justifiable on the basis that denser populations of some red-listed wader species are found on moorland sporting estates. It’s absolute poppycock! Socio-economic injustices aside, what about the rest of our natural world? Why does the BASC disregard our depleting populations of hen harriers (1, 2), skylarks, or whinchats, of which all are red-listed also? What about the meadow pipit, the golden eagle, buzzard or carrion crow (1)? What about foxes, badgers, moles, voles, pine martens, weasels, pole cats, adders, mountain hares? All of these creatures suffer to the prevalence of blood sports, despite their legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Since the establishment of gaming estates, the continuous decline of this country’s wildlife has been less attributable to collateral damage and more to all-out assault (as is eloquently detailed in Roger Lovegrove’s Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation’s wildlife). Indeed, there is much intention to the BASC’s general omissions of the wider facts. 

Why does the BASC value some creatures less? The answer is simple. They find them economically undesirable. They’re a hindrance to gamekeeping. They out-compete and at times prey upon gamebirds, ransack nests and feed upon their young. Unhabituated to human linearity (the human obsession to organise and manage everything), and unfamiliar with the concept of arbitrary borders, they wander, nest and predate wherever they please. Consequently, gamekeepers regard them as vermin, failing to recognise that the backbone of our world economy relies heavily upon a relatively healthy and stable global ecosystem. Yet, in our progressively liberal world, with laws prohibiting the senseless killing of wildlife, groundskeepers, the BASC, indeed all blood sports enthusiasts cannot risk being seen to denigrate any creatures, given the possibility of wide-spread public denouncement. Instead they sell falsities, hoping to foster a culture of ignorance, so that they can continue to exclusively quench their everlasting thirst for blood.

Occasionally, when they realise they’re opposition is qualified enough to expose their quasi-logics (as Chris Packham recently has) they resort to elementary politico-economic arguments, appealing to fear rather than reason. They argue that particular rural communities would fall apart if the shooting industry ceased to exist, since much of their income relies upon the industry. But this line – that there exists no alternative method of financial stimulation in rural areas other than by the running of killing estates – is a fear-mongering fallacy. We don’t permit human trafficking because failure to do so would put many people out of work. We disallow it because it’s wrong, inhumane, entirely immoral. And the same logic should apply to blood sports. They form a barbaric and damaging industry, and ought to be relegated to the history books.

When I first heard of this day, the glorious twelfth, I wondered what I’d been missing out on. I was ready for some sort of personal enlightenment. Instead I found disappointment, a deep sense of discomfort. For me the glorious twelfth celebrated something exceptionally inglorious. It celebrated wide-spread naivety, extreme social and environmental injustice, and a common indifference to the needless slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of birds.

#NotSoGlorious.

A.C. Stark

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In-Out, Shake it All About

History seems to have taught us nothing. Those who experienced the world wars have almost all departed us, and with them we’ve lost the memories of what a divided Europe looks like. We forget why the EU was established in the first place.

Originally formed to increase European cohesion through geopolitical and social inclusivity, the EU is now seen predominantly as a platform for economic gain. Reductions in the scale and regularity of conflicts between European states are seen as merely incidental. But in a world torn by scores of armed conflicts (1, 2,), by the effects of corrupt and mismanaged plutocracies (12, 3), with Russia roughhousing it’s neighbours, with the emergence of overpopulation and climate change, cohesion is crucial. It’s plain to see that if we are to stand even the slightest chance of surmounting these obstacles, we desperately need to enhance our unifications, not divide them.

As our biggest global challenge, the inevitable effects of climate change in a world of broad geopolitical division are huge. With increasingly sporadic and extreme weather events, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, the collapsing of ecosystems, consequently diminished crop yields and fish stocks, economic ruin, together with a plethora of other issues all causing the displacement of communities and wide-scope civil unrest, tackling climate change requires a great deal of collaboration. If our efforts are not collaborated, we risk intensifying these already inexorable natural disasters, not to mention humanitarian crises. Yet, heedlessly, the majority of discourse surrounding the in-out debate mentions almost nothing of the importance of the union the EU is supposed to embody. Instead, it obsessively procrastinates over conjectural economics.

But the truth is economics are nigh-on redundant in this debate. This obsession with financial gains is de facto a primary cause of the climatic mess we find ourselves in. For many this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s almost tautologous that capitalism produces climate change, which eventually comes with the added cost of complete economic collapse. This is just the paradox of capitalism: As an economic system which necessarily commodifies nature, capitalism relies on the destruction of nature for its own development. While innovation speeds up market efficiency, the speed of nature’s regeneration remains constant. Without curbing innovation, without slowing down market efficiency, our natural resources dwindle and the complex tapestry of our biosphere begins to rapidly unravel. In other words, “the Earth is f**ked unless somehow the market can be prevented from working so well.” So, clearly, focusing on the economic aspects of the in-out debate is not only imprudent but entirely absurd.

On the rare occasion when economics is not at the forefront of the debate, patriotic calls for sovereignty tend take the spot light. Similarly, this argument can be severely damaging to the war on climate change. After all, it consists in the very antithesis of unification. But the flaws in this argument run a little deeper.

Putting aside the many psychosocial aspects of patriotism (how and why it develops etc.) – many of which I respect and find fascinating – as a phenomenon, I find it deeply disturbing. Just thinking about patriotism one can sense it has something strangely sinister about it. It’s designed to promote a sense of national individualism, a sense of national pride. A sense of self-worth. The perverse and competitive sense that we are better, superior, more valuable. In this way patriotism is comparable to ordinary pride; it’s one of arrogance’s inconspicuous siblings.

“[E]ach person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride… Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”C.S. Lewis

So these calls for sovereignty aren’t just damaging because they reject the value of geopolitical unification. They’re damaging because they foster a culture of narcissistic individualism. And this is so clearly undesirable, because any system of people joined by common aims is automatically disadvantaged by it. The soldier that puts his pride before the ambitions of his army tends to die and/or frustrate his army’s efforts. The footballer that puts his pride before the ambitions of his team gets dropped to the bench and/or sold. Only once they becomes a little more modest and trust in the abilities of their colleagues do their partners better utilise them and discover their full potential. After all, there is no in ‘team’ (or ‘army’ for that matter).

In short, the value of unification is much greater than economics and sovereignty. Unification breaks barriers. It re-enforces bonds. Union will help us navigate the minefield of issues facing the world today. Most importantly, it’ll allow us to hone our efforts in the fight against climate change. Let’s learn from history. Instead of building walls, let’s knock them down

We are all Stronger In.

A.C. Stark

 

Vertical Farming: A Huge Piece to a Gigantic Puzzle

Our beloved British landscape is withering. It’s on its knees, begging for relief. It’s pleading for freedom, longing to be rewilded. The countryside is dying. With less than 3% of Britain built uponthis is a difficult truth to accept. But our country, celebrated for its ostensible natural beauty, is almost entirely engineered. It is, quite paradoxically, exceptionally unnatural.

The farmlands, which constitute a significant portion of the patchwork-landscape we call our countryside, are barren. They’re agricultural deserts; wastelands, inhospitable to a huge fraction of our native fauna. The handful of creatures capable of living a solemn existence resultantly overwhelm the heaths and woodlands and are persecuted as if they were at fault. Yet, we made our country this way.

Man-made monocultures specialising in crops inedible to pollinators (particularly our chief pollinators, the beesbecome impotent as they fail to house the creatures upon which their cross-fertilisation relies. Those crops which could otherwise provide nourishment are usually doused with pesticides, poisoning their prospective residents, killing them. With 87% of all flowering plants relying on pollinators these methods of farming are ecologically disastrous, and broadly so. Causing drastic reductions in pollinator populations, and thus reducing pollination in our few remaining non-agricultural countryside areas, they foster environments incapable of sustaining even moderate levels of wildlife.

But more than just damaging to ecosystems, these farming methods are both operationally and economically unsustainable (especially given the projected growth of our population). After all, “[c]rops relying on animals for pollination account for about $1 trillion of the world’s $3 trillion annual sales of agricultural produce”.

The Chinese are already having to adapt to this reality. With bees entirely extinct in certain regions of China, many farms have resorted to hand-pollination. That is, equipped with feather-tipped paintbrushes, labourers young and old are forced to pollinate every single flower individually by hand. An exhausting, inevitably underpaid and, frankly, unnecessary task. But the problem is not exclusive to China. Almond farmers within central California, relied upon for some 82% of the worlds Almond produce, spend $290 million annually hiring bee hives in order to make up for the lack of natural pollinators. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these costs are passed down to the consumers.

Considering that wild bees are capable of providing pollination services for free, these measures are nothing short of farcical. What a phenomenally effective way to waste money – destroy the natural, free and sufficient processes and then pay to replace them. Yet these examples outline fiscal procedures soon to be employed domestically, unless drastic action is taken.

Another paradigmatic example of how we are destroying our countryside, which is attracting more and more attention thanks to the work of George Monbiot and Chris Packham, is seen in the state of our highlands, hillsides and woodlands. As a result of having to keep their lands in ‘good agricultural and environmental condition’ (as mentioned in my previous post, Ramble On) farmers are literally paid – with public money, nonetheless – to prevent the growth of vegetation. Their sheep ransack our pastures, preventing woodlands from advancing, reducing the availability of potential habitats, preventing the growth of our most effective natural carbon capture and storage sinks. All the while these farms are paid subsidies in order to remain economically profitable. Its a fiscal, ecological, climatic nightmare.

We need to fundamentally rethink how we approach farming, making it compatible with an economics which doesn’t take the environment for granted (an environmental economics‘ – see Tony Juniper’s ‘What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?’  for a fantastic introduction). Do I have the answer? No. Most definitely not. This deeply complex issue has nuances too delicate to mention upon without sufficient research and deliberation. But I do believe that a huge piece to this gigantic puzzle has already been discovered. And it’s called vertical farming.

Vertical farming, as a component of urban agriculture, is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, integrated within urban structures. The general idea is to bring agriculture into the urban sphere, for the benefits this offers are unprecedented. Grown inside controlled environments, crops require no protection against ‘pests’ and thus produce no contaminated runoff. Internal climate control enables year-round, rather than seasonal, harvesting of crops – creating more and cheaper produce. Situated inside buildings, crops are inherently protected against severe weather events. They also use less than 10% of the water typically required in open-field farming. And, most notably, vertical farming radically reduces the amount of fossil fuels required in the production and transportation of the harvests as their produce is locally consumed.

Moreover, entwined within all of these advantages is a grand opportunity. An opportunity to return some our countryside back to nature. An opportunity to rewild our deserted landscape, or to at least allow it to rewild itself. An opportunity for nature to re-establish itself naturally. Pollinators, big and small, could greatly prosper and, with them, our wildlife could flourish.

With less demands upon rural farms, we could utilise unneeded land. We could reforest vast areas and allow natural floodplains to return. All the while we’d tremendously increase the capacity of our carbon capture and storage sinks, helping the fight against climate change or/and mitigate its effects. There’d be room for urban developments. Room for new towns, new houses, new opportunities to create jobs, to redistribute wealth. Vertical farming provides so many solutions.

Despite being relatively young an idea, vertical farms are already starting to spring up around the world. However, no government or city is yet committed to, nor explicitly supports, a complete transformation of their agricultural infrastructures. I expect most of them are too scared or lazy to seriously consider fundamental change. Who knows what our government here in Britain thinks of the idea. But I reckon it’s about time we asked them.

An agricultural reform is needed now more than ever. Let’s save ourselves from the inevitable collapse of our current agricultural system. If we’re lucky, we might just liberate our countryside in the process. Let’s give Britain a new lease of life.

A.C. Stark

 

 

 

Ramble On

The UK produces somewhere in the region of 500 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions annually. Mature, dense forests are amongst the most effective carbon capture and storage sinks that we know. Paul Lister, the heir to the MFI fortune, having already planted over 800,000 trees, intends to reforest and rewild some 50,000 acres of Scottish highlands. These facts speak for themselves. Regardless of what you think about Paul Lister – madman, businessman or philanthropist – what he is doing is nothing short of exceptional. Though, for some reason a naive group of ramblers tend to disagree.

Now, we’ve heard it all before, the incessant humdrum tones of free-thinking, liberals badgering on about the importance of tackling global warming. As they tell us again and again the same old hypotheses of what’ll happen if we fail to take it seriously, it’s easy to switch off. It’s not that we don’t believe them. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we feel un-empowered, entirely incapable of contributing toward any significant change. The fact that the UK has approximately 220,000 farmland holdings which cover roughly 71% of the land mass, underscores the issue. With a population approaching 65 million, this equates to roughly 0.34% of the population controlling what we do with the vast majority of our countryside (and country!).

Unfortunately for us, our farmers are encouraged to keep their land in ‘good agricultural and environmental condition’ (GAEC) in order to receive full government subsidies. Which, skipping all the technicalities, requires keeping the land clear of any foliage to enable grazing, water flow, land conversions, etc. Whilst many farmers argue for the necessity of vast grazing pastures, the evidence is heavily stacked against them (see George Monbiot’s Feral or his blog for details). Ultimately, this means that taxpayers, the un-empowered majority, are paying farmers to destroy the land. We finance a subversion of landscapes which are, or could quite easily become, effective carbon capture and storage sinks. In turn, we create broad, bare and lifeless areas, uninhabitable to the majority of our native fauna.

This is why we switch off. When presented with the facts about global warming, most would agree that creating carbon-absorbing landscapes should be at the top of our priorities. Mitigating the inevitability of widespread population crises, the consequence of a world torn apart by extreme weather systems, with food and resource shortages and inexorable political mismanagement, is clearly in everyone’s interest (mine, yours, all systems, states and businesses, even ramblers; everyone’s!). Yet, it appears we’re doing quite the opposite. Far from mitigating, we’re proliferating, and it feels almost impossible for us to do anything otherwise.

And that’s why Paul Lister’s plans are admirable and why the ramblers ought to retract their condemnation of his work: Lister is going against the grain. He is doing what the disenfranchised would do, had they the power. He’s building something that serves the interests of everyone. He’s building a carbon storage sink, and we ought to encourage more people in comparable positions to do the same.

In an attempt to avoid appearing entirely biased I will concede that the subject of the ramblers discontent truly is an issue, albeit one of far less magnitude. Lister’s vision of rewilding his Alladale Estate is controversial for a variety of reasons. Not least being his plan to fence off the entire area, which currently spans 23,000 acres. Not only would this cut off a number of public footpaths (potentially contravening The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) but having recently applied for a zoo licence, some believe Lister intends on creating a lucrative paradise for native fauna, simulating private South African wildlife reserves which allow access exclusively to those wealthy enough to pay a hefty premium. So, those who disregard Lister’s plans do so for reasons of law, liberty or equality.

I tend to sympathise with these arguments. I think it’d be an incredible feet if were able to ramble on throughout a rewilded highlands. Just imagine walking through a vast densely packed forest with trees as thick as coaches are long, exploring natural marshlands, rivers and lakes, following the tracks of elk or wolves even, watching nuthatches break nuts upon the trunks of trees older than our great-great-great… great grandfathers, or sea eagles plummeting through the canopies; imagine being able to appreciate the true honesty of a healthy and diverse natural woodland. That being said, tackling global warming clearly supersedes any desires we have to explore an enchanted wood or quell issues of liberty and equality. It’s not that liberty and equality are unimportant – far from it! It’s that when sacrifices are necessary, we mustn’t sacrifice our chances of escaping the event horizon of global warming.

I’m not entirely sure what Lister’s bigger plans are. I’m also undecided as to whether he yet deserves the title of philanthropist. But I do know that his rewilding projects are extremely commendable and serve to preserve something much greater than a mere walkway.

Quit rambling, ramblers.

A.C. Stark