This Land is Our Land

 

Bakersfield August 2016

I learnt to love nature in a place like this. How about you? 

In this month’s edition of The Land magazine, George Monbiot draws parallels between the struggles of indigenous people stripped of their tribal land by unscrupulous corporations and the road protesters at Twyford Down in the nineties who fought to protect chalk downland and Iron Age remains against an unscrupulous government intent on handing out road building contracts to their development buddies.

As Berengrave Nursery, an area of scrubland on the edge of my town, home to some of our rarest and most endangered wildlife, is granted planning permission for 120 houses. It strikes me that we are in a new era of land grabbing.

As a child growing up in an East London suburb my love of nature was created by exploring the former airfield and quarry at the end of my road. A world of wetland, scrubland and hedgerow now designated a SSSI. Yet everywhere I look these urban nature reserves are being cut down and concreted over to make way for completely unaffordable housing which no one trying to get on the housing ladder can buy.

These housing developments are doing nothing to solve our countries supposed problems which rest in inflated housing prices, lack of affordable rent in London and the 90,000 houses which are owned by foreign investors and sit empty for most of the year.

They provide nothing for local communities other than tailbacks caused by temporary traffic lights and more cars on unsuitable roads yet they take away our precious edgelands full of hedgehogs, badgers, nightingales and turtle doves. They take away the countryside on our doorstep and move it to somewhere else. They take away spaces which generations have used to walk their dogs, let the kids run wild, pick blackberries for jam.

It strikes me that our edgelands are the new commons, places which exist in our shared culture which are being surrounded by steel fences and destroyed for massive financial gain by wealthy land speculators.

Berengrave will be destroyed as every other scrubland in my area has been destroyed. Rich men will get richer and some environmental consultancy firm will get fat off of helping the developers to remove the wildlife and dump it elsewhere.

I’m pretty sure this is happening in your area as well as mine and with each piece of scrubland that vanishes we becoming more divorced from our countryside, more urban, more cut off from wildlife.

This land is our land and we are loosing it faster than every before.

 

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An evening with George Monbiot

George and me

George and me

Last night I got drunk on free wine and accosted celebrated journalist George Monbiot. It was maybe not my finest moment but I was drunk not just on the wine but on George’s message. I had gone to the Guardian’s Masterclass in column writing expecting a distant formal journalist and a life story of how he made it through good contacts and persistence. The persistence was certainly true, no one makes it without this key attribute of dogged tenacity but George’s message was far more personal.

It was a message of how to live a decent life.

“Live frugally,” he told us. “If you need to earn £30,000 a year and want to be a campaigning journalist then you are going to struggle. Save the money you have for when times are lean. Make sacrifices. If you can live on less you can be free to say no.” It was an evangelical message.

The man in front of me, nodded enthusiastically, “Yes,” he mumbled. “You’ve got it right.”

I felt if we stayed much longer he would be punching the air and shouting ‘halleluiah.’ But in some ways I wanted to do that too.

George Monbiot seems to be that rare thing, an authentic individual. A man who is making sacrifices, getting criticised, getting hate mail, probably getting a price on his head but who is sticking to what he believes in. George is a preacher with a mission to tell the stories that other journalists won’t touch. Just that day George had received a barrage of abuse from readers over his exposure of research that suggests that once people get beyond a certain level of obesity there are no diets on earth that will help them. That the body undergoes certain biochemical changes and can’t change back.

“Some of the stories I tell, people just don’t want to hear,” George admitted. “They will ridicule you and tell you that you’re mad but even if someone is vehemently disagreeing with you they are still reading what you say.” Be true to yourself, be true to your values, that was George’s message. “There are people out there who are professional liars. Who are paid to discredit research and twist facts to benefit those in charge. You have to be prepared to get into a fight with these people. Don’t frame your arguments around the values of your opponents, it just gives weight to their values. Stick to your own values.”

I thought of all the times I had been told to find the middle ground, to appease the people who were opposing me, to be realistic. I thought about the director of a project I had worked on who had told me that “Conservation is compromise.” and I felt validated for all the times I had stuck my ground and said. “No, this is simply wrong and we should expect better.”

After the break, George told us how he goes about writing his weekly Guardian column. Days of research are followed by a breakneck rush for a deadline at 3.30pm on Tuesday afternoon. Many gasped when he told us he didn’t even begin writing his article until 10am on Tuesday morning and then intersperses his writing and editing with bouts of twenty press ups. He told us that there are days when his discovery of the dark plots of the world gets him down, that he needs to compartmentalize his knowledge of how the world works and get on with his life regardless.

“I get to see through some of the deceptions,” he said. “Most of us never do get that chance but I am very thankful for the chance to be paid to read about the world and this is something we should all do. Even if no one ever reads your blog or your articles it still has value. The act of discovery is part of the process of being a human being,” George said, “and that has value in itself.

Learn from the master

Learn from the master

George Monbiot

George Monbiot

Don’t miss this chance to learn how to put your arguments across from the master of environmental journalism. George Monbiot has been one of the most outspoken journalists in recent years, creating well formed arguments on everything from re-wilding, flood management and climate change in his Guardian newspaper columns. This masterclass, taking place in London in mid August will help anyone wanting to create well structured and professional opinion pieces either in print or online. I for one, snapped up the opportunity to book a place. http://www.theguardian.com/guardian-masterclasses/2015/jun/16/column-writing-with-george-monbiot-journalism-course1