Terence Blacker: Let's take a look at life in our own backyard

Fewer picture of polar bears are needed, and more of bees and dragonflies

Share
Related Topics

In the happier days when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown once made a rather good joke. During a speech at the party celebrating this newspaper's 20th anniversary, he confessed that at times he had been exasperated by his hosts' editorial policy. He had unveiled some great economic policy, only to find the next morning that The Independent had devoted its front page to a "Save the Sparrow" campaign.

Behind the jape, one suspects, lay genuine bewilderment, perhaps laced with a certain contempt. In a busy, crisis-filled world, why on earth would serious, grown-up people run a lead story about a small bird in preference to a government initiative?

The ruinous effect of that approach, that inability of policy-makers to understand that environmental concern is about caring for the small and local as well as the global, is to be found between the lines of Natural England's State of the Natural Environment 2008 report. When its chief executive, Helen Phillips, writes that "for too long the natural world has been treated as a luxury, a nice-to-have optional extra", she could be describing her employers in government.

The report's argument – that it is time to stop taking nature for granted, to recognise that it provides the necessities of life and is an essential part of our cultural identity – might usefully be pinned on the wall beside the desk of Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary. He, neatly proving the point that was being made, greeted the publication from Natural England with the now-obligatory blather about global warming. "Climate change is presenting us with a new challenge in conserving biodiversity and managing our landscapes," he intoned.

This is government by greenwash. The state of the planet is used as a way of diverting attention from the particular to the general, from the local to the global. The problems which Natural England highlights – pollution of land and rivers, disastrous flooding and drainage policies, the effect of chemicals on the ecology of arable land, the neglect of woodland and rivers, poor management of wetlands – have little or nothing to do with global warming. They are the result of economic greed and government indifference. When Helen Phillips points out that, while wildlife in areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest is on solid footing, the diversity of species and landscape outside "nature's gated communities" is in decline, it is government policy to which she is referring.

For too long, the countryside has been seen by urban decision-makers as somehow beyond the normal, civilised, everyday experience of urban life – a fine setting for a weekend break, a walk or a second home, but little more. One after another, whey-faced junior ministers, usually residents of north London, have been charged with responsibility for something in which they have not the slightest interest or knowledge.

The result has been a vague awareness of the generalities of rural policy and a profound ignorance of the specifics. It can be seen in the cynical promotion of "eco-towns" – new towns with a light green makeover – and in open contempt for any group that has dared to argue that a much-loved part of the landscape is unsuitable for industrial development in the name of renewable energy. Supporting the idea of placing vast housing estates on what is now open country, the Housing Minister, Caroline Flint, deployed a cliché beloved of all vandals of the landscape. "Beauty," she said blithely, "is in the eye of the beholder."

We urgently need more biodiversity in government – a different species of decision-maker. For years, the wildlife and nature of these islands have been treated by ministers like the "optional extra" to which the Natural England report refers. If, as it suggests, there is a need to "hard-wire concern for the natural environment into all aspects of public policy", the first step is surely to find politicians who are not trapped in an urban mindset. Only when people who understand, and preferably live in, the countryside are involved in decisions affecting it will the problems identified in the report be addressed.

There is a cycle of ignorance about life outside cities, for which our politicians are largely responsible; we could use some education. Our schoolchildren, currently scared out of their wits by the spectre of the planet being burnt to a crisp, might learn more about the real natural world around them – why it is important and how they can help it.

Fewer pictures of sad polar bears on ice-caps are needed, and more information about dragonflies, honeybees, rivers and woods; fewer anguished generalisations about the state of the planet, more detailed policies to protect, conserve and encourage the natural world in our own national backyard.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The centenarian age is upon us. History will now live for ever

Boyd Tonkin
 

International Women's Day: If you want to celebrate women give us true equality

Alice Jones
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable