2014 © Graham Rabbitts [You are welcome to use original material from this site, but the source should be acknowledged]
On Dec 23rd 2000 I was in a meeting at the English Nature marine office in Peterborough. We were trying to reason with the conservation bureaucracy. The details do not matter. For 10 years I had been setting up the environment department within Associated British Ports ( a group of 22 ports that handled 25% of UK seaborne trade), and watching the inexorable acquisition of power by the environmental agencies and quangos and major professional environmental charities such as RSPB. Half way through the meeting I leaned back in my chair and thought ‘I do not want to do this any more’. Fortunately I had already told the company of my intention to retire, which I did in May 2001.
I care about the environment, but as the Duke of Edinburgh said in a recent BBC interview that “there is a difference between being concerned about the conservation of nature and being a bunny hugger”.
The conservation bureaucracy has extended its tentacles into many areas, often through the use of pseudo science and appeal to an emotional reaction to environmental events (for example by building their case round ‘cuddly’ species such as seahorses). No matter how much power they have the environmental professionals have sought more.
The situation is frustrating, and it is hard to see why it has happened. So for about the sixth time I re-
“… I bumped into two friends who are quite senior in the Forestry. As the rain splashed in brightly lit puddles in the street, we discussed the problem of conservationism in the Highlands. Why has something so beautiful and wise in theory turned to dust and ashes in practice?
Jim, a forthright Scotsman , was of the opinion that it all came down to the peculiar character of the people that idealised nature, but from an emotionally safe distance. He gave the example of modern wildlife magazines which, he said, have evolved into a form of non-
John, an astute Englishman….took a thoughtful sip of his drink. His explanation was completely different. ‘The fact is that in Scotland today we have a sort of one party state’, he said. ‘There is only one view of conservation issues, whether it is birds, which I do not know a lot about, or Forestry which I know quite a lot about. This country is run by the Scottish Office so that, at a political level, it is not government and opposition, it is just insiders and outsiders, like a medieval court. Its not exactly democratic. Groups with serious lobbying power find it easy to get the inside track, whereas others, like your crofters, find it almost impossible. The result is that power devolves to careerists, like Jim and me, who have wives, children and mortgages and work for the quangos and the big charities. Local communities didn’t fight to begin with, when they might have had some effect, because they trusted us. Now we are solidly entrenched and they don’t fight because they know it is hopeless. We can do more or less what we like, or should I say what Edinburgh likes. The Scottish Office loves it.”
Provocatively, Iain then pointed out that “In another country at another time both nature conservation and forestry had been popular concerns of a well-
I believe the same sentiments apply with equal force in England.
I can also recommend Iain’s second book “Isles of the North” in which he cruised to Orkney and Shetland before crossing to Norway and discovering the more flexible and people friendly ways the environment is managed there.
I am not optimistic seeing much progress in my lifetime.