The Green Belt looks permanent, but is coming under increasing threat…

A Look At Life: Nature Lovers

7th October 2011

We’re all nature lovers at heart… or are we?

Jack Watkins

In the unexpectedly lovely late summer weather recently, I headed off for nice quiet stroll in the park. It was a soft day, as the Irish would put it, and many other people were out too, enjoying the sun and the birdsong. There were ducks on the lake, and a few jackdaws were pecking at the ground ahead of me. A perfect idyll. A little way off to my right was a father, with a young boy in a pushchair. The child, curiously, was carrying a toy horn: not, I thought, necessarily the best accessory for a soothing excursion to the park.

The serenity of the scene clearly wasn’t enough for the father, who suddenly decided he’d have a crazy dad attack. “C’mon Danny,” he cried, “chase the birds away!” and began rushing forward at the jackdaws with the pushchair. The startled creatures scattered and came down a little further on nearer the lake. Mad Dad now launched a further sally – “C’mon Danny, blow your horn! Chase the birds away!” The boy had more sense than the father, clearly, because he never did blow that horn, but I felt like grabbing the pushchair, and hurling it in the lake.

What a nation of nature lovers we have become! I remember an archive interview clip with Sir Peter Scott in which he expressed his belief that we were evolving into ‘environmental man’. Now it seems that any nature sensibility we possess is about to sink to an all-time low as credit crunched Britons understandably watch their own purses, headbangers cackle and laugh and deny the reality of climate change, and the Government plans its bonfire of the countryside by loosening the planning laws, with grave implications, not least for wildlife in the Home Counties’ Green Belt countryside. Where now stands Mr Cameron’s vow to make his government the greenest ever?

The previous administration effectively neutered Natural England (supposedly the national advisor on nature, with a mission ‘to conserve and enhance the natural environment’) – and the present one has followed this up by muzzling it completely. Wherever you look, wildlife is on the back foot. In the countryside, farmland bird numbers, notably yellow-hammers, corn buntings and lapwings, continue their decline – evidence that the Higher Entry Level stewardship schemes of the last decade are failing to work, or are too complicated and under-rewarded to induce our time-pressed farmers to take up the options.

In towns, our gardens are turning from green to grey. This is not just because of developers taking advantage of lax planning to squeeze in denser amounts of building on what were once spacious plots for a detached villa and its gardens. It’s because we’re busily increasing the area of hardsurface with decking and paving. London has been especially blighted, with the amount of green space being lost at the rate of two-and-a-half Hyde Parks a year, says the London Wildlife Trust. At a wider level, a study by Plantlife estimated that some counties are losing an average of one native flower species a year.

Of course, that unpleasant father in the park is not directly to blame for any of this, but he struck me as a symbol of the way things are heading: Tough times for Brits, so batten down your hatches, but as for the sweet little birdies and the rest of nature’s innocent troops, they can go and jump in the lake…

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