“What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them” Bertrand Russell.
When asking an awkward question, walking in the shoes of others, speaking unsaid thoughts others might think, hanging out with diverse company at farming conferences, be prepared to hold onto your briefs.
At a talk I was giving at a farmers association, one of them took umbrage at my even daring to mention an alternative upland vision. Contrary to another occasion when I felt compelled to remind a room of ecologists, baying for “farmers who had trashed the land”, of post-war policies which drove both farming practices and farmers to dark places.
‘Get off the fence’… is a refrain sometimes aimed at me (see here). Social media is no friend of nuance. Let alone those with different values or politics, but perhaps common interest over conservation. Glyphosate is important, used judiciously as per the label, for a range of uses from lowland minimal farming cultivations, to upland tree planting on bracken hillsides (see here). Both locking up carbon.
Or even to stop great-crested newts vaulting over newt fences (pic of ecologist spraying grass on a pipelaying scheme).
I’m a big fan of Leopold. Many are. A conservation hero lionised by both hunters and wilderness-seekers for different reasons. His early works on a refreshingly self-critical ability to adapt and change his thinking over his lifetime (read his book Southwest), have inspired me.
Forestry is good for mitigating effects of climate change and enabling woodland wildlife. As long as it’s not on ‘deep’ peat or near open land with ground-nesting wading birds of conservation concern. Shooting can play an important role in conservation land use. As long as it works on a few issues such as lead shot and game bird release densities.
Both examples highlight how public benefit outcomes and private enterprise can align. Especially when public expenditure on conservation decreases, private spending on conservation is increasing.
What’s not to like when wild areas created by landowners for wildlife may also offer brilliant sustainable hunting opportunities?
There’s form on this. Hard at times to express under today’s sharp optic of “all hunting bad” reductionism. Sir Peter Scott’s love of shooting ducks lead to his founding the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust honed on naturalist skills.
“Evidence is important, but perception matters” RY
I encourage my children to be curious, inquisitive, even to the point of contrarian, in questioning authoritative-sounding views. They’ve learnt to smell hint of reductionist fervour seeking attention, observe ‘backfire effect‘ playing out. Or even split the subtle difference between an agitator (for the hell of it) and a disruptor (seeking new ways to think or act).
Science is more about perpetual curiosity and uncertainty rather than definite evidence-base. It should inform adaptive action, set within competing narratives and objectives all within the same space. Rather like the conditions applied to this forestry planting consent and its ‘impact’ on hen harriers – see pages 19 and 24 here.
Tolerating “other possibilities or points of view, scrutinising old conversations, while maintaining lines of dialogue, are important. There much to collaborate on across the conservation sector – without a need to take all the credit or ‘own’ the process. Co-design only works if you co-construct from the start. Make elbow room on the table!
We can question each other without falling out or always having to tell everyone on Twitter how we think, vote, align, associate with all the time. Some tricky disruptive questions I pitched at Gove (2018), Goldsmith (2019) or Monbiot (2013) don’t necessarily hold a mirror up to my own beliefs. Though they do sneak out occasionally when provoked.
Popular I’ll never be. Free to think, always.