2020 – a big year to face up to some rocky issues, explore new ground, and re-frame narratives while avoiding going down rabbit holes.
Last year has been large for many. Too obvious to name, but here’s an eclectic take on past and future issues to kick off the year.
- Most unexpected result – after my talk at an international rewilding conference – an interesting number would wear beaver hats to celebrate its return in numbers! Perhaps there’s more in common if we sidestep ideological rabbit holes.
‘Beavers need to be managed. If dams are in the wrong place, nudge them elsewhere and appreciate the beneficial ones’ A pragmatic ecologist
2. Purist over tree species? This tweet – treating woodland as “just another seasonal upland crop at harvest time” – confused many.
3. My most acerbic letter in The Times on the subject of trees (While also chuffed to reach 120 published letters since 1999).
4. Influencer opinion – this article, with exclusive quotes, on the transition away from lead shot seemed to garner traction. A matter best ‘owned’ from within the shooting community – good news since updated here.
5. Most complex blog – lessons learnt over a 25 year upland demo project between the RSPB, GWCT, Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England. Grouse shooting is a subject of rabbit holes too oft little to do with
wildlife conservation, environment, or local people but more about animal rights, value judgements, and political leverage. Yes, serious change is required but smarter social science and tougher regulation (mediated grit, burning) are more useful than pointed-stick warfare-based campaigns.
6. Oddest phone calls – “Will you cook grey squirrel live on Jeremy Vine Channel 5?” and “Can you talk about trophy hunting on Turkish TV with Born Free Foundation?” (A short work trip in Namibia, with a conversation with a man from the UN, informed me of many relevant issues).
7. Newly learned skill – chairing conferences is like conducting. Containing repetitive loud voices (tending towards ‘rabbit holes’): encouraging quiet informed ones (facing up to ‘rocks’) enables a wider range of views to be heard. Plenty of roving mics, no mission statements, cabaret table layout: all help positive disruptive thinking, less confirmation bias agitation.
Rocks to think about and not avoid
8. Agro-chemicals – Rothamsted Research has warned of resistance by weeds to herbicides. Question your agronomist closely. Min till, zero till may/may not be the panacea but gear up to doing things differently to your predecessors. Look even closer at insecticide use.
9. Meat – read this Prof David Hughes interview. Listen to trends. They may not be a fad. But it need not be a threat to UK livestock farmers if sell their story better. Not easy – as the UK is a highly urbanised savvy society prone to rose-tinted glasses – but there’s room for indoor chicken, grass-fed beef, vertically farmed veg, smarter sheep grazing, home-grown bacon, and onshore fish farms.
10. Trees – too simple. Too populist. Too purist. But with plenty of potential for shelter belts, urban fringe forest, planting bracken infested slopes with mixed conifers/broadleaves over less paperwork better lead by government policy. Oh, and look after hedges. Especially old ones.
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