The environment is clearly set to be some kind of weird battle line drawn between the conservatives and the others leading into the next general election.
We have the Tories sinisterly arguing that anyone who is against new licenses for fossil fuel exploitation is Pro-Russia and that anyone who doesn’t think small children should die of poisoned air in our cities and towns is anti-business. This is set against the hottest month the planet has ever recorded so much so that the UN have declared that we’ve entered a period of global boiling!
Ironically the sad reality is that at least the environment is being talked about and perhaps that’s a step towards genuine discussion and engagement on the subject. As the climate worsens, the more acutely we all feel the impacts. Appreciating those impacts are in no way felt proportionally by all, the more aware, the more agitated, and the more angry people, especially young people (and those with young people) will become.
I’m therefore increasingly hopeful that this will be one of the last elections fought on anything but an environmentally regenerative platform where all parties are arguing who will do more to build a thriving natural capital economy.
This politically focused opening links seamlessly with time spent at our incredible Estate at Leighon this week where we welcomed the Chairman of Natural England and a group of his colleagues.
Leighon is an incredible space occupying almost 800 acres of East Dartmoor and home to one of defra’s pilot landscape recovery projects, a title some locally find offensive because it suggests the land needs to recover. It does. Most wonderfully its home to almost 120 acres of incredible Atlantic rainforest and the most spectacular array of flora, fauna and funga.
In the eighteen months since we’ve purchased the property we’ve learnt a huge amount, listened to a huge number of divergent opinions, made many mistakes, and tried to rectify as many of the immediate challenges facing the landscape as possible.
We have improved and continue to invest a huge amount in improving the infrastructure on the site including the historic private water supply. As a result of these, and other works we are delighted to have welcomed three new families to our built properties on the Estate. We have also supported a local family business in securing a long-term tenancy on a growing space to provide food to the local community. We have started organic transition and experimented with the use of conservation grazing pigs and ponies. Most impactfully perhaps we’ve battled against some of the most archaic practices and now ceased all burning on the moor. All this has been done alongside a wide array of environmental and ecological surveys to better understand the baseline of this incredible part of Dartmoor.
As we’ve seen the landscape relax a little, become a little scruffier, and a little more welcoming to wildlife one of the most pleasurable things has been welcoming people back to the Estate. Leighon and Hound Tor have provided the perfect backdrop to begin explaining a little about Oxygen Conservation and this week we had the pleasure of welcoming Tony Juniper and his colleagues from Natural England to the Estate.
As many of you reading this will know I’m not overly complimentary of the public sector. I think it is an institution no longer fit for purpose, considers its primary role as stopping anything from happening, is largely devoid of inspiration or ambition, and attracts people that are waiting to retire and consider hard work to be a dirty word.
However, I think it’s time we acknowledge that the job they’re being asked to do is both impossible and when they come anywhere near doing it they are criticised and attacked. This week has been no exception with the newspapers attacking noted conservationist and environmentalist Tony Juniper for being… wait for it, an environmentalist!
The combination of government restrictions, risk aversion and bureaucracy combined with media scrutiny and unreasonable public expectations, that none of us can ever meet, has resulted in a situation where the traditional environment sector, public or charitable cannot win. There is no opportunity for innovation, no praise for doing good, just the potential of criticism for having tried and potentially failed, or not succeeded in the exact right way.
They are forced to try and find consensus in a complicated world, one where we need people to change the way they live and use the land but where entrenched, protectionist voices either refuse to accept the presence of a problem, or slightly better, acknowledge the need for change but passionately argue that the solution isn’t found through change here.
That’s where private business needs to step up! Businesses must be the vehicle of change (and an electric one at that). Business can and must succeed to exist, they can and must make a profit and if they can do that by delivering positive environmental and social impacts, we can create a natural capital economy that can herald a bright future for everyone, or at least a future of some kind.
It was a pleasure to walk and talk with Tony, sharing stories of birds, beetles, butterflies and beavers (now rumoured to be present in the Bovey Valley). I hope the time at Leighon, wandering through the rainforest and picnicking beside the online ponds provided a little nature-based rest and recovery. We are very grateful to him and his team for doing what they can to advocate for the environment in the face of ridiculous and often personal attack, largely for doing exactly what they’re employed to do and what more of us should be doing.
For my part, I’m going to encourage the increasing number of businesses appearing in this space working hard to build a natural capital economy, to raise their voices, to speak louder, and to advocate more for the natural world.
We need this to be the time of the activist founder and business leader. You’re supposed to end an article with a call to action, here’s mine – hold me to this standard!