[Diggers350] Reclaim the Fields Convergence in Bristol

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at gn.apc.org
Thu Aug 25 10:05:33 BST 2011

On Wednesday, August 24, 2011 08:34:25 pm you wrote:
> This instance has struck at the heart of the debate between land
> access versus land exclusion for preservation, and in weighing up
> between competing interests of access and conservation whilst we can
> concede that in some instances it may be an incompatible one
> (excessive density of numbers), responsible access cannot and should
> not be ruled as being some kind of alien activity.

The problem is that this whole approach to ecological protection -- the 
preservation of small postage stamp-sized areas as "reserves" -- doesn't have 
much support in ecological science.

The land you talked of would have been a semi-natural scrub up until 
inclosure. Much of the valued grassland that "naturalists" -- a perverse term, 
given that most "natural" landscapes they try and protect are man-made -- is 
not in danger from people sitting on it, but from industrial agriculture 
changing the regional ecological balance. By isolating these small pockets of 
land you prevent the natural migration of species that is necessary to ensure 
their survival. Even with climate change, species could effectively migrate 
north to preserving their existence if it wasn't for the barriers erected by 
industrial agriculture.

The debate about green belt planning, in the news at the moment, is equally 
perverse. The green belt designation has no naturalist/ecological basis -- 
it's purely anti-urbanisation. Therefore a large part of the green belt land 
around the UK has been denuded by industrial agriculture and minerals 
extraction because these are allowed to take place unrestricted -- for example 
Oxford almost has its own moat now as gravel extraction has completely re-
engineered the landscape north and south of the city.

> In an urban setting, this is
> also completely unrealistic. And as a landrighst campaign, whilst we
> would never condone willing environmental deterioration of an area of
> conservation value, we would also never counternance restriction on
> access. As such, as I said, access needs to be managed in some way.

In the late 90s I did the Hertfordshire Structure Plan inquiry. One day I had 
lunch with the chairman of the Chiltern Society -- the local CPRE group with a 
lot of power in local politics. He said that he was unsure about stopping a 
10,000 house extension of Stevenage because, to paraphrase, 'it would take 
away the pressure for development generally and stop the plebs invading the 
countryside' (and yes, he did actually use the "plebian" term).

Rather like the recent issue about DEFRA and prosecutions for animal cruelty, 
all the major conservation groups dare not tackle the impacts of agriculture 
because they rely heavily on support from farmers and farming interests to 
support their work. But more than that, if you look at the objectives of many 
leading conservation groups they're framed by the class interests of the 
farming lobby.

Within the whole conservation/landscape debate there's a strong class 
undercurrent; and if we engage in that debate on those terms then we defend 
that viewpoint. However, that need not be the case if we stick our principles.

The reason agriculture has done far, far more damage to the countryside and 
landscape than urbanisation is because to make the land workable by machines 
you have to re-engineer its shape and boundaries. If we opened-up the 
countryside to small low impact settlements and human-centred agroculture, 
we'd make the types of ecological habitat which people value viable once more. 
As people made that landscape, it's only by re-introducing such relationships 
to land that we create the conditions not only to protect that ecological 
diversity, but to allow it to thrive too.

The issue is not keeping people "off" the land. The issue is not the creep of 
urbanisation. The greatest damage done to the "natural" environment today is 
the result of taking people (and arguably animals -- since the Winter/year-
round shedding of livestock has equally grim effects) off the land and replacing 
their labour with machines. If we want to keep that ecological diversity we 
must reverse that process; and the best way to achieve that would be a radical 
reform of land rights to dismantle the historic concentration of land 
ownership that's existed since the Norman Conquest.




"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
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Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
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