Chasing the Wild

Us in LondonOurs is the story of two young London men who fell in love and decided to return to nature. We wanted to feel the seasons on our skin and to work and live in such a way that the hard grey lines between us and nature dissolved. We wanted to be self-sufficient, to grow all our own food and build our own house. We wanted to leave the city for the wilds.

Inside us, even in the metalscape of the city where seasons signify passing fashions, in our bodies’ dormancy, is a yearning. For some it sleeps, in others it stirs and kicks and for a few it pounds. We want to know that adventure and exploration still exists and that we ourselves might actually be able to do some of it. We need to feel that this drab world of ikea, i-pads, and immigration detention centres has not destroyed every last hiding place of nature and that we have not completely driven the wilds off the planet. We seek it out where the ecologies are thickest: teeming with layers of beasts, plants and spores. As humans we seek out the wild in the bleakest lands where fragile ecological networks scurry away from the burning sun or freezing wind.

My ancestors left the chase in my blood. I was born in the US. One half of my family is good old West-themed cowboys and indians; the other half is the American dream of poor Italian immigrants and Puerto Rican mulattos: its own healthy mix of indigenous blood, European rape and pillage and plantation slaves shipped from Africa. Andru’s family is English. On his father’s side, the Vallance name comes from indigenous peasant servants taken on by Norman masters. The Vallance family’s fortunes waxed and waned. When they had money they hobnobbed with prince regent George in Brighton and then slipped back down to working class folk when all the money was spent. His mother’s people come from Notthinghamshire of hearty working class stock: his grandfather a builder, his great grandfather, a miner. Before capitalism swept up the poor of the north into the great cotton mills the peasantry would have had their own humble homes and access to common land for firewood and grazing pastures. Life may have been hard, but they could survive on the land that these people had inhabited for thousands of years.
CommonsOf course all of that’s changed. Capitalism ripped them from the commons, put fences around it and called it private property so that these same people were forced to work in factories to survive.
These days people like Andru and I, who want a bit of land to grow our own food, don’t have a chance in Britain. We haven’t got the money to compete with Russian oligarchs, the Duke of Westminster and Tesco. As city boys trying to return to nature, returning to the land to feed yourself is very political.

Ivy on the roofSo, with a budget for land that looked like a middle class family’s holiday fund we drove up and down the bumpy roads of northern Iberia looking for a patch to make home. At the end of the trip we found a piece of land on a half hidden mountain that we couldn’t refuse and shook hands on a deal to buy it with an old anarchist peasant. This little slice of land hadn’t seen humans for around thirty years. It was overgrown, rewilded, and surrounded by humanless scrub-land hills. The squat stone structure, covered over by bramble and ivy, housed field mice, snakes and bats before that first night. We dragged the tiny broken metal-coil-couch into the middle of the dust floor away from the spider walls and huddled together listening to owls hoot and foxes scream wondering what the hell had we done.

BrambleIn those glowing early days of eden we eagerly dug our way through thick foliage with sickles to discover the wilds that would be our home. We foraged for soft-fruits and mushrooms, cutting through to reach new patches of forest each day. We shat in a bucket, saving up our wholesome poo to inaugurate our first humanure compost pile. The dumbing silence of a lightless sky of stars branded by the milky way’s thick streak, the shriek of foxes in heat and the mighty orchestra of night birds and beasts stunned us in awe. Two city boys had moved into the wild. In town we bought a camping stove, chopping block and knife to found our kitchen. Dust coated and slid into everything. We breathed and slept in it until inspiration struck and we set down cardboard neatly over the dirt floor and threw some sheets and rugs over the cardboard for a make-believe floor.
But one comfort led to another. With every day’s work at building a home the wild inched further away while we weren’t looking. We installed solar panels for electricity. Water from one of our springs was plumbed into the house and we had a nice wood burning stove for winter.

Clearing the WildThe wilds, much like anything else chased, runs away. Home is it’s antithesis. If we seek to make our home in the wilds it simply moves off, deeper, farther, elusive, shy. As we pushed back bramble and bracken to make garden beds and our dogs hounded the foxes and deer ever further from our new home, the wild ran away. Unwilding is survival. If the wild boar root up our vegetable garden or the foxes tear up our chickens we don’t have food.
There is still some wild to our lives, kind of. We haven’t yet built a proper shower or bath. Water runs into the stone cottage, but not out. To bathe, we tromp down to the stream at the bottom of the hill where there is a small waterfall pool. Many people come to visit us from the cities, to help us build and to spend some time out here, in nature, in the wild. Some of them love bathing in the cold stream at the bottom of the hill, some don’t. It may still be wild to them but to us it’s now home.

O CourelJust a day’s walk north of us, the hills steepen up and snow over in winter. The abandoned and dying villages in the mountains have hard, cold winters with more bears and wolves than make it down to our river valleys. We could continue our chase for the wild, but are we chasing? Those mountains are still someone’s home. Humans have made home in the great deserts, jungles and ice lands. Adventure tourists may chase the wilds deep into the amazon jungle, carrying cameras and diseases to uncontacted tribes, or to the far north where Sami, inuit or Siberians have lived for thousands of years. But the wild is not there, just someone else’s home.

The wild, the extreme edge of nature, seems to be the last surviving glowing embers of an ancient fire. Perhaps it is because we have changed what nature is so radically that we crave some wildness back in our lives. We’ve dug deep and changed the courses of rivers, blown up mountains and stamped factories, dams, bridges and cities in every direction. Even the great extreme wilds elude our chase. We’re collectively melting the arctics and may have just started a catastrophic poisoning of all ocean life in the deep Pacific. Less bleakly, it turns out the great Amazon jungle is really just a massive orchard planted by its first human occupants1. The extent to which we have arranged and rearranged nature has given birth to a great romantic longing for something untouched.

But nothing is untouched.

There is nothing novel about the move Andru and I made. The wilds is one of the great romantic ideals of our time; most of us crave some sort of hint of it. In our world, where bundled derivative trading based on high risk mortgages can throw millions out of work and home and into despair we crave the romantic idea like a drug. Modern life can be depressing, difficult and damaging. These romantic ideals plague us, which of us, in some dark moment, has not dreamed of the wild?

In another era of romanticism poets and philosophers summoned up the ideals of the time. The sublime was the thing to chase when the dragon wasn’t available. Beauty was, well, beautiful, but too gentle, soft and curvaceous. Too feminine maybe. The sublime took the wind out of your lungs. The dramatic peaks of the Lake District, exaggerated beyond realistic geography in romantic paintings, were sublime. Wordsworth and Coleridge, the great romantic poets, chased the sublime up and down the lakes and mountains of Britain. Soon tours followed in their wake. For a reasonable sum you could take the newly laid train line to Keswick a boater who would row you out to dramatic viewing points on the lake. The boater might even shoot a rifle in the air to bang across the mountain peaks, echo across the water and heighten the sublime effect.
The poets had summoned the chase but when the people followed they were horrified. Wordsworth recoiled at the vision of “cheap trains pouring out their hundreds at a time along the margin of Windermere”. The great romantic ideal was only theirs to enjoy. And just as Wordswoth and Coleridge turned from political radicalism to conservatism, so did they turn their backs on the working class readers of their poetry and anyone who did not have their means yet wanted to experience the sublime of the wild. The romantic wild was not for the poor. Throughout history this theme emerges unceasingly. An elite have access to the other: the sublime, nature, the wild, the forces that rejuvenate us, but the poor must be fenced out from it or the elite would lose their sublime silence and their traditional hunting grounds.
The more egalitarian our access to the wild, or the sublime, the more the wild seems to run away. Romantic era guidebooks set out specific stations where tourists should stop and collect a viewpoint, often looking at the peaks, with their backs to them, through a twisted mirror using coloured foils to set the mood. In my early twenties I once chased the wild to the great Serengetti plains in Kenya where our driver threw bananas at a lazy pride of lions in a vain attempt to get them to do something interesting. The wild had slinked off long before I got there.

In response to a continuing decline in the populations of endangered species many conservationists have turned to re-wilding. With attempts to reintroduce wolves to Scotland and beavers to Wales, re-wilders restore some ecological balance by reintroducing key-stone species. Some, like George Monbiot, argue that the Welsh highland farmers, who’ve lived there generation after generation, should come down from the mountains to allow Britain to have some wild spaces.
Monbiot’s call echoes the early conservationists and the creation of the great national parks. I was lucky enough to grow up travelling. When I was a child our family moved around much of the United States as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East. My parents would always take us to national parks when ever they were close by. Hundreds of miles of unpopulated wilderness: mountains, plains and deserts containing all manner of beasts from elephants and lions to bison, bears, mountain rams and soaring eagles.
Kruger parkWhen Andru and I made our tour over the northern coast of Iberia looking for land to settle on we drove up and down the spindly Picos de Europa and marveled at beautiful villages huddled in the mountains. We awed at how wonderful it would be to live in such a beautiful wild place. It seemed odd that humans should inhabit national parks. These areas of conservation should be areas of wilderness. What I didn’t know was that all those great tracts of wilderness from my childhood were completely fictiticous. The shoshone tribe had been kicked out of Yellowstone to make the world’s first national park and so it continued from there. The Makuleke, in South Africa, were evicted to make Africa’s largest national park, Kruger Park, named after Paul Kruger, then colonial president of the Transvaal Republic. From the Hopi in the Grand Canyon to the Utes and the Arapaho in the Rocky Mountains, indigenous inhabitants were kicked off their land to make wilderness parks. The wild is not for the poor nor the indigenous. Come down from your mountains sheep farmers.

Andru and I have done the opposite. We have returned to the depopulated, rewilding highlands. The land that we’re building on hasn’t been truly occupied and used for several hundred years, although the cows from the nearby villages were often brought here to pasture during droughts. The hill is stepped into hundreds of stone terraces built over the course of thousands of years. The monks and their wine had long left our hill allowing foxes and wild boar to run wild. We thought we were moving to Spain and had never heard of Galiza, a rain beaten country clinging on to the Atlantic Ocean and cut off from Spain by snowy mountains. Fiercely proud of its independent language and celtic ancestry, we landed here like a Spaniard anticipating England would land in the highlands of Wales amongst Welsh speakers.
Do we, two London lads, have a right to live here in the wild highlands of Galiza? If landless poor folk like ourselves will ever have a chance to return from the cities in which we’ve been rounded up it will only be to the scraps of land like ours— difficult to get to and difficult to work: the borderlands of wildness.
If we are to depopulate and ‘rewild’ the countryside then we must bunch up into cities, fed by mega-farms on the borders between cities and the wilds. But who must make the sacrifice? In an interview for Dark Mountain the former CEO of outdoor-gear company Patagonia now turned rewilding conservationist tells us “humans should be living more densely and leaving wildlands alone. Though you wouldn’t see me living in a city.” Naturally, this former CEO will never have to. I suppose rewilders would have us come down from our new hill home, back into the city where we belong. Wordsworth couldn’t stop the English from visiting the Lake District but today’s rich have been far more successful in fencing the poor off from nature. This is the horrible dilemma of our class: our souls crave something wild, but if we, bunched up in our cities, rush out to take it en masse, we destroy it. It disappears. And so the within our economic system the wild, with rare exceptions, can only be something that the superrich and the elite exploit. The very idea of the wild belongs to them. We should not be in it.

But their wild is a complete illusion. I was 18 the first time I made a concerted effort to set myself up for a wild life. I began to earnestly study rainforest ecology in Darwin, an outpost town surrounded by Australian bush and the Timor Sea. I yearned to be a field ecologist living in the wild. As it was my funds ran dry and I was forced to abandon my rooms and then shelter in a tree hammock hidden away in a patch of scrubland near the university. I fought for that terrain, an imperialist interloper, with a colony of green ants. You can tear off their bloated green abdomens for a tiny parcel of slightly sweet food. Then all my money ran out and I was forced to abandon my studies and my predatory colonialist diet.
Colonialism is the arrogance of power. Europeans decided that a great majority of the world’s inhabitants, including the aboriginal inhabitants of Darwin, very simply did not count as humans occupying land and that most of the world was wilderness: land ready to be raped, ploughed and flagged. The wild world is our playground to discover, explore and name in our own image. arrogance is also a very personal trait. When we write about our exploits in the wild we turn our quest for the absence of civilisation into a description of our selves, of our chase and, in that act, betray ourselves completely. The written word is not wild. The wild sits darkly in fury, ecstasy and apathy, surrounded by more wild with no will to translate itself into English. Why, when I read an account written by someone else of their exploits in the wild, do I feel embarrassed jealous and inadequate? The great romantic myth of the wild plays against our egos like a dark twisted mirror.

What distorted images a twisted, tinted romantic mirror shows. The chase for the wild is a rugged, individualistic romantic fantasy. One man alone conquers the vast wilderness like Jack London in the harshness of the Yukon in northern Canada where he found the spirit to write wild-infested books. Wild was the urge that drew Henry David Thorough away from town to Walden Pond to be a self-made man in the woods surviving by trapping, hunting and gathering. It spurred young Christopher McCandless on against the horror of his middle class privileged anti-wild to run Into the Wild, eventually to his own death. Conquerers and Explorers see themselves shining in the mirror, a mirror twisted just so to exclude their darker skinned guides. This allows the history books to say that William Janszoon discovered Australia and Abel Tasman, New Zealand and, of course, Tasmania. The distorted mirror shows truth, a twisted truth. Behind the mirror, on the side you can’t see, are the Shoshone, Makelueke, the Hopi, Utes and Arapaho. We may seek our fame in that mirror and add ourselves to the list of the arrogant. Or we can break it into tiny bits in the dust. That wild, their wild, should never be ours. It can never be ours.

And yet. The only thing more terrifying than giving into the fantasy is killing it. Even if it’s nothing but a romantic fiction, it’s a key-stone to our existence. The absence of wild is horrifying: a world made completely of office blocks and factories, marketing campaigns and xantham gum. The wild is beyond preserves, beyond economics. The wild is beyond good and evil. In it lies the cold blue hatred of others, the red-eyed passion in a person’s eye when s/he kills another. Yellow from pissing ourselves in terror. We can chase the wild into senselessness, passion and fury and if we catch it we will never speak to anyone again nor never love another nor read another poem.
Before the wild we are all equal. The wild is a leveller. The wild doesn’t care how much capital you have hidden on the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland. The wild doesn’t understand that some babies are princes from their first breath. The wild doesn’t know us as employers and employees, landlord and rentiers, working class and rich. The wild doesn’t understand claims to own millions of hectares of land by people who’ve never seen one stone or fistful of its dirt. As wild children we own nothing and face each other naked and equal.

Perhaps this is the key to the contradiction that separates us from the wild. The wild despises their contained arrogant wild. Our wild must tell no lies about humans and nature. Yes, we have brought ourselves to the point of destroying the balance in nature and nature will have to find a new balance which we might not like so much. But nonetheless, we, as animals, are a part of our wild. We have made our wild homes just as beavers make their wild dams, our wild trails and paths as wild boar make theirs. Never again can we allow this false wall between us and the wild; a wall that allowed us to kill and transplant millions of indigenous people from their homes in south america, north america, africa, australia and asia. The wild, for them, is something to protect from us. For us, the wild is the untamable force that may someday overcome them.
The wild is not in the wild; it can be anywhere. If they’ve imprisoned us in cities we must bring the wild into the cities and down upon their heads.
There is plenty of darkness in the wild, and sometimes we need it’s viciousness to sober us and strengthen us, but there is plenty of light too. We can dip into the wild like a pool of epiphany and madness. The wild is where the radical romantic poets went to find their inspiration. Wordsworth and Coleridge might have degenerated into a conservative sneering elitism but the light of romantic radicalism carried on. Keats, inspired by the radicals of his age burned bright and fast and gave us some of the most beautiful poetry there is. Shelley, the revolutionary, chased the wild to his own watery death, and perhaps arrogantly chased a few women into their own early wild graves too. Both of them dreamt of a free-er fairer world. Inside us we find the wild sense of injustice, the urge to repaint Barclays bikes pure blue or smear faeces on a mega-bank’s headquarters. The urge to make a fearsome free, inchoate sound. The hatred of inequality, the inescapable urge to feel the skin of someone’s cheek while they weep.

Of course, if we destroy the illusion between us and the wild we open eco-systems up to corporations, capital and the mega-exploiters. In rejecting their wild we make our ecologies vulnerable without a critical rejection of developmentalism and this economic system which requires infinite compound growth.We must grasp the wild, like nettles stinging in our hands, to transform the world so that this kind of destructive exploitation of our wild ecologies and our wild working souls is destroyed.
Rewilding does not need to be the anathema of the poor back-to-the-lander; it can be a part of poor people returning to the land, not a contradiction with it. The wild comes from within us; we are a part of it.
The region where we live has emptied itself of people rapidly and recently. The lands were either left feral, or pines were planted for a cash crop. Both the feral bushland and the pine plantations create the perfect food for fires in Iberia’s hot dry summers. Our own farm, surrounded by both scrubland and pines, is vulnerable; it could be burned in minutes. We often stand out on our roof and sniff the air, trying to determine how close the fires are. Rewild Europe has introduced feral horses and cows to graze the abandoned hills and mountains of Iberia reducing the risk of wildfire. They occupy the ecological niche of the old grazers, both those that accompanied humans and those from before, clearing out the vegetation in the bushland and removing the fire risk. Rewilding can be more than just romanticism; it can be a matter of survival for both us and the other species we share the land with.Fire in Galiza - carlosfolgoso.photoshelter.com

Andru provided the vision behind our drive for self-sufficiency. After volunteering on a permaculture farm in Wales where the farmer had reintroduced beavers into the ecology, he had a fire in his belly to live off the labour of his own hands, directly, in the dirt. We met, fell in love and left to find land.
We have many friends in London that ache to do similar. Some are lucky to have jobs, others aren’t but they all ache to repair their broken, fenced off relationship with nature. It’s a sore, rotten feeling knowing you’ve left loved ones behind you in the chase.
We did not deserve the chance we got. If I’d been working in the factory next to our offices instead of in the offices I never would have saved up the small amount of money we needed for this land. My colleagues in the factory did not work less hard. They worked harder; they just earn much less. We did not earn this incredibly fortunate life; we wear a moral debt around our necks to use this fortune for others and for a better future. We need some modern form of the old commons, where access to the land was shared and mediated between equals. It won’t be easy, but radical land reform is necessary on almost every part of this planet.
Capitalism is an enemy of the wild and an enemy of the poor, and both of those facts are becoming more and more evident. We and the wild must make alliance. We did not want our farm to be just another dead-end escape for the weary, just another couple escapting from capitalism. We wanted to keep it a part of this world, participating in changing the world for the better. For that reason, when we moved here, we decided our farm would be an eco-socialist farm and we set out to discover what that meant and how we could play our little part.
Having thought the chase for the wild came to end we find it only came to the beginning of another wild hunt. We need to find strength from that wild sense of injustice inside of us. Each step into the wild is a social one with endless repercussions whether we realise it or not. We have an obligation to use our fortunes to help each other change the world. We have returned to the land, so should everyone who wants to. This earth should not be a mine for the rich to extract every precious last drop of profit, but a home for everyone and everything: a common treasury for everyone to share, as the diggers used to say. That kind of earth would be full of communities that intimately understand the animals and plants they live with. Such communities would be more free, more tied to the natural world and subsequently more responsible to it, and far more wild. The time is ripe for the poor to reclaim the earth: a political struggle of unprecedented size, both desirable and necesary.

In this inward looking chase for the wild we may not be discoverers like Christopher Columbus, who discovered other people’s homes, but there’s plenty of wild to discover inside: ferocity and love and anguish, injustice and will. We may even find something that gives us the strength to dig in, fight back and build.

 

[1] Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage Books: New York, 2005). p351.

Many of the photographs provided thanks to Grace Wong Photography.

 

EarthLines Issue 8, March 2012 A version of this article was published in Issue 8 of EarthLines magazine.

EarthLines is a full-colour, thrice-yearly magazine for writing which explores our complex relationship with the natural world.

8 thoughts on “Chasing the Wild”

  1. Wow, spiritually uplifting and deeply fascinating. I both envy you, and I am happy for you that you are able to blend into the natural world so well and share every complexity with it!

  2. A really interesting piece that followed nicely a BBC documentary about a photographer who bought an area of rainforest in Peru and then began ti understand the difficulties in managing this for the good of it’s own biodiversity. You have thrown another angle on an already widely discussed topic that is close to my own heart. I hope to take similar steps to this in the future…….

  3. “Some, like George Monbiot, argue that the Welsh highland farmers, who’ve lived there generation after generation, should come down from the mountains to allow Britain to have some wild spaces. He doesn’t say where they should go and whether their exodus should be compulsory, only that they should leave.”

    I say nothing of the kind. Far from it: I propose new ways for people to stay on the land, whose current livelihood (sheep farming) is now failing catastrophically to sustain either income or employment, despite being heavily subsidised. I could not have been clearer in saying that nothing should happen without the consent and enthusiasm of the people who work on the land. I repeated this throughout the book, stated that I would not support any rewilding project which took a different view, and wrote a chapter entitled “How Not to Rewild”, that excoriates coercive projects which have taken place elsewhere.

    Instead, I propose that farmers should be given a choice they do not currently possess: that the subsidy system should give them the option of either continuing to keep sheep or of rewilding.

    When you claim “He doesn’t say where they should go and whether their exodus should be compulsory, only that they should leave”, this is wholly false. I do not say they should go. I make it abundantly clear that nothing should be compulsory. I do not want them to leave.

    Did you read my book, or did you just make all this up to improve your story?

    I would be grateful for a correction.

    Thank you,

    George Monbiot

    1. It is incredibly frustrating having one’s views misrepresented and if I got a key point wrong then I apologise without reservation. I’m going to get all the mea culpas out of the way up front. You are quite right, I am guilty of an incursion of bad etiquette. It’s a common enough sin, but it has no excuse. I have not read your book. I very much would love to, but we live on a financial edge most of the time and it’s very difficult to get access to books out here. I have tried to get as good an understanding as I could of your argument from the lively debate it inspired online.
      However, there is more than enough excitement in our lives that we don’t need to purposefully misrepresent anyone’s perspectives to make a better story. Nor would I want to be unfair or innacurate so I will happily correct the phrase which, correct me if I’m wrong, is inaccurate. “He doesn’t say […] whether their exodus should be compulsory”

      The topic is not just sensational for me nor even ideological, it is extremely personal. This is my life, and in our project we aim not only to help others return to the countryside but also aspire to a world where working class people and poor people can return to country and rural communities as they like.

      And that brings us to the conflict.The rewilding project, as I understand your vision of it to be, is to explicitly to return many of these highland areas to ‘unmanaged forest’, arguing strongly to bring back the wolf, the lynx, wild boar, possibly the bear.

      This vision, enticing and exciting as it is, creates tension with other needs, and necessitates human abandonment, or ‘coming down from the mountains.’
      The big landlords are sitting on swathes of land set aside for hunting that could be redesignated common land for a whole new generation of small scale food producers. We need to be producing a lot more of our own food, not less of it. Old traditional managed forestry, coppice work, charcoal burners, etc, could revive the countryside. There used to be a lot more humans living in the woods and country than there are now, for thousands of years we’ve been here. It’s not humans in the countryside causing the extinctions, it’s capitalism’s industrial, centralised methods.

      I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong, but, for your vision of rewilding to occur, human involvement must leave these highlands. Rewilding to ‘unmanaged’ forests means exactly that. Giving subsidies to farmers to sit on ‘wild’ or ‘rewilded’ land seems perverse to me. If they don’t work the land, or live on it, then why should it be theirs?

      We humans are a part of the wild. We have lived in it a very long time. I am genuinely happy to read your corrections concerning your adamant opposition to coercion and other problematic forms of rewilding; it’s kindled my desire to read the book even more. Nonetheless, I think there is a very interesting tension between your proposal and my (and Andru’s) life and the life we hope many others can have. A tension bound within the idea of the wild as alien to humanity.

      For those interested in the debate, here is a fascinating review of Feral. And of course, read Monbiot’s book! 😉
      I certainly will as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

  4. Would lend you mine but as paperback of Feral just out, I’m sure Amazon will do you a deal. Little more, personal background to Monbiot’s rewiding urge from my Countryfile interview http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/165357934?width=1280
    Question is – are those he ‘aims’ at (with machine gun rather than sniper rifle) engaging in the debate, attempting to starve him of oxygen or fearful of his erudite tongue?
    Rob @blackgull

    1. Can you substantiate that extraordinary suggestion? The review I linked to was a long, thoughtful response, full of examples, counterpoints and interesting thoughts. I don’t agree with all of it; I’m sure you and Monbiot agree with very little of it but that’s the point of debate: the clash of difference. Starving the oxygen of debate is the opposite: it involves silencing and ignoring difference. That is why I find Monbiot’s refusal to accept my apology so odd.

      He tweeted: @JackParis_ Doesn’t really sort it out when you link to a review that also misrepresents my position – in the same way!

      The correction and the apology stand, regardless of whether I link to other critical voices in the debate. The existence of dissent and differing opinions does not invalidate the correction and I’m disappointed that this is Monbiot’s only reply to it. Who is really engaging in debate and who is really trying to starve it of oxygen?

      I don’t fear Monbiot’s erudite tongue; I disagree with it. The question boils down to the human’s place in the wild. Monbiot dreams of the classic romantic wild with big beasts and human’s absent. The effect of this kind of rewilding would be to ensure that poor people, like myself, would continue to be shut out from nature. Our life out here is an anathema to this romantic wild idea. It closes off the possibility for the poor and landless to return to nature and rejuvenate our wild, natural economies. To rejuvenate woodland craft and for more people to grow their own food and to grow food for others, lessening our dependence on mass industrial agriculture or imports.
      In your interesting interview with Monbiot that you linked to you touched on the topic of coppiced woodland and species diversity. “Respected ecologist George Peterkensaid that some heavily wooded areas,such the Wye Valley, may not be so rich inwildlie as when the area was coppiced or charcoal.” You asked Monbiot if we could have both landscape and biodiversity.

      His response was that unmanaged forest has dead wood on the floor which encourages more biodiversity, and that, therefore, his ‘wild’ forests would be richer in species diversity. A great revival of coppiced forest would revitalise forest craft and could potentially give opportunity to a whole new generation of working class youngsters to return to nature, to take control of their own labour and make the mountains productive in a truly dynamic and diverse way once again. And what Monbiot ignores is that coppiced woodland, managed well, can allow for a large amount of brash and dead wood to be left on the floor to feed the forest. We human animals are one of the most magnificent keystone species of the forest when we are allowed to live in it properly. This is exactly what Andru and I have done; we have returned to the so-called rewilding hills and are rejuvenating them once again and we want this to be a universal opportunity, not an elite privilege.

      Monbiot’s response to the social and cultural angle is to offer subsidies to highland sheep farmers to rewild, if they wish to. But this policy would just create a new, absurd landed class paid rent by the state to sit on swathes of wild forest. His romantic dream of the wild needs us to come down from the highlands, and no new landed lords of the wild will help us feed ourselves, our neighbours, nor help us return to nature and turn coppiced craft into wooden houses, furniture, charcoal and more. Monbiot’s dream is very different from ours and that is ok. Difference is ok, it means we need to have a debate. So, are we going to engage in debate or starve it of oxygen?

  5. Nothing extraordinary. Just me not being clear (if only I had more time to pontificate on this or be paid to be a self styled troublemaker: alas a as rural surveyor/commentator, I lack both)
    ‘Aim at’ was not you but those farmers, conservationists, ecologists that Monbiot takes issue with, wishes to take with him but somehow alienates.
    We must be ambitious tempered with reality. Let us have the debate. Not just a fantastical debate. Till another time, just not during this lunchtime!

  6. Ola!
    I have just read your article.
    I felt really grateful but scared at the same time…
    I guess that everything sounds so familiar and far away in time and distance
    that I have to firmly close my eyes and open my memory draw to bring some of those faded mental pictures from london.
    Soon,every word brings “a something” back and my forehead starts to burn like a clay oven: something is cooking!
    Not understanding much of what is happening to me these days, I instinctively absorb the energy from an imaginary sun and breath deeply to prove myself that I am awake.
    Nonsense! I am scared to death!
    I have been so bored recently…that i relunctantly keep reading and the magnet draws my attention more and more…no intention of getting trapped in the text and eventually i start writing to you.
    I am suffering the sideffects of hating capitalism, of loving my freedom and all precepts I have followed are confronting me. I have become a contradicion in myself, a nonsense!
    I cannot help being human; the harder I try, the further I get from truth.
    Paradoxes…

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