“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Friday, 12 July 2013

Making sense of nature.

The current issue of The Land focuses on two perennial favourites of the radical wings of both the horticulture and the conservation movements; permaculture and rewilding. It seems to me, and I'm gratified to see that the good people who write The Land seem to agree, that both permaculture and rewilding suffer from being driven by ideology rather than being the products of pragmatic trial and error practise. I have to admit that permaculture has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Working with nature rather than beating it into submission seems such an obvious "good thing" but permaculture has yet to show that it can come up with the goods and produce high yields with low input while minimising environmental damage. No idea should be blamed for the people who promulgate it but some permaculture enthusiasts seem to have little real understanding of basic growing techniques. They hold forth at length about various "zones" and the benefit of deep mulch and forest gardens etc. but frequently the actual projects are weed and slug infested. The old maxim of a good load of muck, a spade and a bottle of embrocation may not go down that well with permaculturists but it is the way to get something to eat from the plot. Growing food is hard work, and the less you want to rely on industrially produced herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers the harder it is. Yet all over the country allotment societies are responding to the huge waiting lists by cutting plots in half. The rational for this is that people these days don't have either the time or the gumption to tend a full plot. The answer to small scale food production and all those overgrown vegetable plots is not permaculture but back to basics old fashioned growing followed by individual trial and error experimentation.
The debate about rewilding,  allowing areas of the land to "revert to nature", has been rekindled by George Monbiot's latest book Feral in which he makes the case for doing away with Welsh upland hill farming, reforesting and replacing sheep with tourists who would come to gawk at the resulting wild wonderland and put money into the local economy. The roast lamb served at the tourist hotels would presumable be imported from some other less "wild" and less wealthy country.
We will never make sense of issues like permaculture or rewilding until we get to grips with what we mean by "natural". So much that is written and talked about the natural world seems to suppose that we are not a part of nature. We can't undo history much less evolution. We have emerged as a dominant species. We manage land. It's what we do and we have been doing it since our ancestors first cleared forest glades to encourage game to graze. All that we do is an intervention and that includes re-wilding and perma-culture. The project is to ensure that we manage land in such a way that we can fulfil our varied needs into the future and for the benefit of all rather than for a small but powerful elite.

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