Dave Bangs on the owning class & the masses alienation from nature & access to land

Mark mark at tlio.org.uk
Sat Apr 28 16:49:11 BST 2007

Dave Bangs article in the latest issue of ECOS (journal of the 'British
Association of Nature Conservation') - copied below - is a response to an
article by Peter Taylor in the issue before the latest one (ECOS 27 - 3/4)
2006, entitled “Home Counties wildland – the new nature at Knepp”.

First, though, this eloquent overview of the situation from Dave:

Final word on Peter Taylor’s response

I’m sorry Peter is so despairing about the possibility of working people
being the social agents of change to protect nature and end exploitation.

Yes, we are, indeed, in a period of deep defeat.

This period, though, is one of continuing possibility as well as
continuing disaster. The Russian and Chinese revolutions blossomed out of
the wreckage of two consecutive world wars. Venezuela may see a
Chavez-inspired  revolution flowering in this present neo-liberal desert.

I feel more than “unease with respect to wealthy landowners leading
rewilding”, for they are part of the problem, not the solution. It is the
irrationalities of capitalism (of competitive production for profit, of
massive waste & duplication, of cyclical collapse, and of profound global
and local inequalities) which power the destruction of nature and natural
systems, create unsustainable consumerism, and foment wars.

Of course, there is an ongoing debate in the owning class between those
that value nature as a locus of consumption of profit (such as, perhaps,
Paul Lister of Alladale and all those rich folk who value preserved nature
for their lifestyle) and those who emphasise nature as a locus for the
production of profit (such as agribusinesses, other extractive industries
and developers).

The problem with allying with the former is that it is so easy to forget
that they, too, only enjoy their ownership of nature with profits gained
from its exploitation and damage elsewhere.

Peter’s strategy will only blind him to those forces that do exist and
which need leadership and victories to give them the confidence to rebuild
a project for a world free of exploitation of both nature and humans.

He would do better to remember the model of the Green Bans movement in New
South Wales, where building labourers’ unions led a huge movement against
environmentally and socially destructive developments in alliance with
middle class groups and inner city communities. For half of the 1970’s
they had the developers pinned to the wall. He is old enough, too, to
remember the Lucas Aerospace trade unions ‘Combine Plan’ of the same
period, which united a 14,000 strong national workforce in a plan for
converting weapons production into socially useful products from kidney
machines to low pollution cars and energy saving household goods.

Judi Bari the American socialist Earth First! activist fighting to
preserve west coast old growth forests is a better model than a thousand
landowner wildlife hobbyists. She did the hard slog of making the links
with hostile logging communities, not wasting her time courting rich

Of course, most owning class people do not wish to commit collective
ecocide (though there will always be Dr Strangelove’s and George Bush’s).
They will make what environmental reforms are necessary to preserve their
way of life and they will preserve sufficient of wild nature to enable
their continued enjoyment of it.

But that will not be a world most of us can enjoy. It will be a world
vastly reduced in biodiversity and wilderness.

Peter needs to choose some different friends if he wants to help us avoid
that eventuality.

Dave Bangs
davidbangs at onetel.com

Dave's article as published in Ecos:

A response to earlier published article by Peter Taylor on the
‘re-wilding’ experiment at the Knepp Castle Estate

Home Counties Wildland – new nature, old continuities

Peter Taylor’s eulogy on the ‘re-wilding’ experiment at the Knepp Castle
Estate intrigued me. I have known that countryside intimately for over 40
years, though I have not walked the park for well over 5 years. So we
rushed to return there the very next day after my reading of Peter’s piece
to cop a look at some of these changes.

What we saw depressed us at least as much as it excited us. To be sure,
we, like Peter, had ‘The Tamworth Pig Experience’. We came across them in
a park woodland where they nuzzled us and let us scratch them and won our
hearts. Their welcome, though, was not replicated by the park’s human
inhabitants. We were challenged by two separate people for straying from
the footpath, though we were in the open park on improved pasture in full
view, where we could not possibly have been up to harm. The Exmoor ponies
did not seem to mind our presence. Though I take on board the estate’s
pride in the removal of many kilometres of old fenceline, the strongest
impression I was left with was of kilometres of high deer fencing around
the boundaries and within the woodlands.

Walkers are used to having to having to climb over ordinary barbed wire or
squeeze through gaps in hedging. It is impossible to properly enjoy the
English countryside without doing so. But it is not possible for most
people to negotiate two metre high deer fencing.

Just 4 miles to the west of this estate another square kilometre of
attractive Low Wealden oak-and-pasture countryside has been similarly
recently enclosed and a new stately home built to grace a new deer park.
And four miles to the east the most intact relic of the old heathy wood
pasture of St Leonard’s Forest is surrounded by similar excluding deer
fencing, though it was a candidate right to roam site. You have to pay
proper money to visit that place unless you are prepared to do risky fence
climbing. To the south east you cannot now enjoy the ordinary
woods-and-hedgerows countryside round Glyndebourne because the same two
metre excluding fences keep us out and exotic llamas and alpacas in.

I always read Peter Taylor’s pieces because his passion for ending our
alienation from nature is so clear. I share that passion. I think, though,
that his piece misses a whole other dimension of our alienation. That is,
our social and economic alienation from access to resources which should
be our ‘common treasury’. And unless that alienation, too, is addressed
squarely by us wildlifers then the crisis of the countryside and of
nature’s survival will be resolved – yet again – at the expense of
ordinary working people and the poor. The countryside & nature will
continue to be re-made in the image of capital’s needs, not of the needs
of capital’s servants.

The example of the Knepp Castle Estate shows this plainly. The loss of
farming’s profitability was resolved by the sacking of existing farm
staff. Like any other capitalist enterprise this estate solves its
problems by sacking the ordinary foot soldiers, not the generals. The
estate had previously laid the groundwork for this straightforward
solution by widespread conversion of its tenanted farms to in-hand
management. The estate has taken full advantage of the Countryside
Stewardship scheme and Single Farm Payments. They are, after all, not
means tested, though every poor pensioner or benefits claimant has their
paltry earnings and savings means tested and monitored up to the hilt.
‘Charlie’ Burrell is entitled to state support to staunch the failing
profitability of his landed property on a scale that no ordinary poor
family could dream of, except by a lottery win.

And, in any case, as Peter himself puts it, “the estate’s core business is
now property management”.  Indeed so. Their website advertises a three
bedroom village cottage for rent for 3500 pounds per calendar month (for
god’s sake!), and a lovely old farmhouse with dressage square, 37 acres of
paddocks and all posh mod cons for a rental to be revealed, modestly, on

Peter on his visit will have seen what is happening to this wider local
countryside. It is a landscape which is being transformed into a
playground for the rich. Mostly you cannot live there unless you are
already well-off or (for a minority) servicing the needs of the well-off.
Public housing has largely disappeared, though it was always inadequate.
And those attractive cottages, villas and farmhouses smell far more of
money than they do of woodsmoke and chickens.

Most of the folk of London, Crawley and Brighton who are Knepp Castle’s
real neighbours do not visit this countryside, would mostly not imagine
that such visits were a rewarding option, and would not have the cultural
or financial resources to enjoy it if they did. That is the real
alienation from nature that we must address.

This estate’s choices are traditional ones. They choose to continue
shooting and polo-ing (sorry about the hunting!) and enjoying nature as
their pleasure ground as their forebears did. Whilst this land – low-grade
though it may be – could still make a significant contribution to local
food needs and provide honourable work in its production, we are invited,
instead, to collude (and dig into our pockets to do so) in the re-wilding
fantasies of its owners, though we get precious little public benefit from
it. (We did not even bother to visit the few acres licensed for public
access around the paltry remains of the Norman castle – the noise
pollution from the A24 made that anything but a tranquil piece of
re-wilded wilderness).

Meanwhile, Peter’s way forward suggests no real challenge to the main
motors which drive the profit or loss of our countryside – the shifting
fortunes of different capitalist blocs and sectors, currently dominated by
the madness of global free trade and the yawning inequalities between rich
and poor countries. His article is about a very tame re-wilding indeed –
one that offers no fight against the existing global madness of GATT and
our very own EU.

Sadly, though, there is no way round these big tasks that history dumps on
us all. If Peter is to see the revolutionary ending of our alienation from
wild nature that he so plainly yearns for then we will all have to put our
shoulders to the wheel and help get that revolutionary inversion of the
present relationship between the excluded majority (both locally and
globally) and the owners of capital in land and elsewhere. Without that we
will all just have to put up with the horrible dawning global reality -
one in which a major part of the world’s population will be living in
gigantic slum cities, in a sea of ecological desolation, whilst the rich
live in their fortresses of relatively-preserved nature.

Our best allies in the preservation of nature are not those same rich
folk. Our best allies are those who have little or nothing, and thus have
nothing to lose in the task of re-working our damaged world.

Dave Bangs

(1181 words)

If you see fit to print this piece and offer Peter a right of reply (as
seems to be your practice), then I will willingly reply to his piece in
reply !!

Some of my recent ‘bona fides’ are:

Co-leader of the successful ‘Keep Our Downs Public’ coalition 1994-5,
which stopped the privatization of the 13,000 acre Brighton Council
farmland estate.
Co-leader of the successful direct action campaign against the ploughing
up of the Offham Down and Marshes part-SSSI’s
Co-leader of the successful ‘The Land Is Ours (South Downs)’ mass trespass
campaign 1998-9, as part of the agitation for the right to roam provisions
of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000).
Leader of the ‘Brighton & Hove Community Wildlife Groups Forum’s’ campaign
for an inclusive South Downs National Park boundary (2003-4).
Co-founder of the ‘Sussex Travellers Action Group’ (2002).
Currently co-leader of ‘Brighton, Hove and Portslade Defend Council Housing’.

In 2004 I sent a review copy of my book “Whitehawk Hill – Where the Turf
Meets the Surf” to ECOS, but it obviously didn’t meet your criteria for

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