Sunday, 9 January 2011

Quintessentially English

Scott Ulla
Countryside Affairs
by Scott Ullah

Published in European Socialist Action No 31

I am currently enjoying my well earned day off and have just got back from a lovely walk at the local wildlife sanctuary. I didn’t spot anything unusual apart from two ripe Porcini mushrooms that I will cook with some garlic and cream and have it on toast for my lunch. We are all guilty, from time to time, of taking nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries for granted and readily assume they are there for our enjoyment as of a public right. I often visit them for that essential connection with nature and, inwardly, I am better for it. The mushrooms were delicious, by the way. Better than the supermarket’s.
However, I am disturbed to learn that this Coalition government will include natural conservation areas in its austerity measures. Disturbed, because some of the most beautiful areas could be sold off like everything else the Tories and their willing accomplices, the Liberal Democrats, deem ripe for privatisation and, therefore, exploitation for private profit. It is all in the interests of reducing our national deficit, they tell us.
Spending cuts are most likely to hit ‘Green England’ soon with proposals including selling off our beloved nature reserves and privatising the Forestry Commission. Over 2,000 miles of our canals and waterways will have all their grants removed, the consequences of which can only be detrimental to our environment and our enjoyment of it. The Environment Agency is going to be forced to reduce spending on such things as pollution and waste controls, spelling disaster for the biology of our waterways.
We are bound by very strict environmental measures from the European Union, measures that are still in force and will cost us further in terms of fines and other penalties. For example, there are strict EU Commission conservation regulations regarding wild birds and habitats. New marine nature reserves will suffer as well. The British government has legal obligations under European Union directives but it seems William Hague’s threat that the Coalition will not play ball with Europe over certain areas of our national life is to be casually realised ... but definitely NOT in the interests of our treasured environment, its wildlife and the preservation of everything else that makes England’s natural areas so wonderful.
What is the sense in depriving the natural environment of preservation and protection for the purpose of cutting our deficit when, on the other hand, such actions will only bring about enormous financial penalties?
The Coalition Environment Secretary is Caroline Spelman. She has already decided on the abolition of thirty environmental advisory groups which includes the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The damage predicted will set back environmental progress by at least forty years. Spelman backs the growing of genetically modified crops (Frankenstein foods) and backs the culling of badgers in England even though they are protected in law.
When you really think about it, the threat to our environment and, thus, the well-being of all the people in these isles does not come principally from ‘climate change’ but from an irresponsible government whose sole agenda is to attack the weakest and most vulnerable elements in our land. Unnerved that the public sector is not going to stand for any attacks upon its people, this government turns its sights on an important element that has no trade union power to defend it against cuts. That is the craven cowardly purpose behind hacking away at the resources of our natural reservations and the environment in general. It can not answer back!
The consequences will be disastrous. 25 conservation groups addressed the government with a statement saying, these measures “could have profound and perhaps irreversible consequences for wildlife, landscapes and people .... a false economy short-term savings would translate into huge long-term costs for our economy and our well-being”.
Those who signed the statement included The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and several others.
It said, “Reed beds are dry and clogged with brambles; heath lands have vanished as scrubs begin to take over. Wetlands have dwindled and rivers and canals have become clogged by invasive plants which threaten native species. The loss of money for wildlife-friendly farming has seen farmland birds resume their slide into extinction.
Bat populations are clinging on to survival in isolated pockets, facing starvation due to the dwindling insect populations, while the country’s flower meadows have all but vanished. England’s uplands have become degraded; their wildlife is in decline and their ability to lock away carbon and provide clean drinking water for millions sadly reduced.
There are fewer people, too. Without cash to keep paths and bridleways open, huge swathes of the English countryside and coast are effectively closed to millions.
Ahmed Djoghlaf, Secretary General of October’s United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, summed up the threat with, “It would be very short-sighted to cut biodiversity spending. You may well save a few pounds now but you will lose billions later. Biodiversity is your natural asset. The more you lose it, the more you lose your cultural assets, too.
To think that such near-criminal destruction is carried out in the interests of delivering sacrificial offerings into the gaping hole of the god of international banking, in order to appease it, is unspeakably obscene. This government, a coalition of Tory millionaires and well-healed Lib Dems, is prepared to destroy our natural heritage, a heritage that belongs to the people but soon to become another statistic in the bankers’ racket of debt-creation on a massive scale.
This Coalition government is not a product of the people’s will. It has no mandate nor any moral justification for destroying our natural conservation areas. It is the product of an illegitimate arrangement between two minority parties hungry for power. Well, they are not in power for any altruistic reasons, are they? They are not there for the purpose of improving our lives. More like improving their lives, that is for sure.
The next time I pick some Porcini mushrooms I must wonder how much longer I can do this.