Land, identity and a new environmentalism

Environmental campaigning needs to re-connect with the land and people’s attachment to their local environment. This is one of the most important conclusions of the Fabian Society’s report ‘Pride of Place: land, community and a popular environmentalism’ which was launched last night.

fabian-report-image

L-R: Natan Doran, Fabian Socierty; Mary Riddel, Telegraph; Jon Cruddas MP, Head of Labour’s Policy Review and Ruth Davis, Greenpeace.

That the work has been supported by such a wide grouping as Marks and Spencer, Groundwork, The National Federation of Women’s Institutes as well as the Woodland Trust and the RSPB is in itself revealing. The work was born out of a growing recognition that for many, environmental politics and environmental campaigning has been too technocratic and remote from the reality of their everyday lives.

Last night’s launch event in Parliament was attended by a range of opinion formers from across the spectrum and took the form of a presentation of findings by the author, Natan Doron. This was followed by a Panel discussion, chaired by Mary Riddell of the Telegraph, then a key note address from Jon Cruddas, head of the Labour policy review.

Some key areas that were debated included the neglected importance of ”the land beneath our feet’, the need to better encourage community participation and lessons that can be applied when building new towns.

The work included a number of focus groups across the country interviewing people from a range of social backgrounds and both urban and rural locations. The research uncovered that people think of the environment in terms of the place they live and the people they live there with, not carbon emissions and climate change.

The report argues that it is only by restoring faith in the power of collective action in a specific locality that we can restore the momentum environmental politics needs. This means a strong focus on enabling people to take action for their local environment. The public reaction to the botched sell off of the public forest estate gave a strong demonstration of the potential that exists in this regard.

The Woodland Trust has championed trees and woods at a community level for years – providing millions of free trees to schools and communities. Where we believe Government – both local and national – can do more is through enabling people to better engage with the natural green space that is there and to demand better provision where it is presently inadequate.

Another key conclusion is that people feel a strong sense of loss, believing that community spirit has declined over time. Addressing this means recognizing that trees and woods are often defining features of an area. Ensuring their protection is the securing of a community asset.

The task of creating more resilient wooded landscapes able to withstand the range of future challenges they face requires people to be able to feel they can effect change in their own backyard. Becoming involved in our Enough is Enough campaign or becoming an ancient woodland Threat Detector are pretty good places to start.

Given all the benefits to society it delivers and people’s attachment to it as evidenced by this work, the natural environment has been far too neglected in the political discourse of recent years. We hope this report helps to turn that around as we head towards the election and parties develop their manifestos. With a strong emphasis from all parties on the need to build more homes there needs to be a recognition that building community at the same time requires well designed natural green space in new developments with which people can easily engage. It also means better protecting and giving people more of a say in relation to existing natural green space.

I’m pleased to have been involved in such important work for the future of the sector. Protecting and enhancing nature and re-building a sense of community are intertwined. It is a connection that has been ignored for far too long.

Dr James Cooper, head of government affairs

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Land, identity and a new environmentalism

  1. JulieT says:

    I don’t know if anyone else spotted the irony in that phrase “the land beneath our feet”? That’s the same land beneath our feet that we are now desperately trying to prevent from being fracked without our express permission as Parliament seeks to change the law to disenfranchise us.

  2. sherwoodforestcommunityvision says:

    Reblogged this on Sherwoodforestcommunityvision’s Blog and commented:
    Sense of place builds action for environment.

  3. andy white says:

    The Fabians have ‘discovered’ what every indigenous native person simply feels in their bones, that we belong to the earth and not the other way around. Its no more poignant and disturbing than a child ‘remembering’ that it has a mother.

    The environment does not exist independently of us. When a natural habitat is destroyed, the wellbeing and belonging of the community is also destroyed. You may as well take a chainsaw to your own cerebral ganglion.

    Compensation, ‘jobs’, faster trains and offsetting are like promising to give someone a fancy funeral if only they would agree to kill themselves. Nothing is worth further loss of habitat. And the problem is not the politicians. We put them there after all. The problem is that us civilized folk are actually missing something of crucial importance. Reverence.

    We’re so pumped up with how smart we are, how superior and holier than thou that we are descending, at lightning speed, into a collective psychosis rooted in the arrogant inflation that we can wreck our world without wrecking ourselves.

    I once witnessed a mum flying down a hill on her bike with her white knuckled two year old in the basket up front. As they wizzed by at break neck speed the kid shouted out, ‘Mum if we crash all I’ll do is….’ and then they were gone.

    We are collectively like that child, desperately imperiled, teetering on the edge of calamity but somehow ….. confident, ‘All I’ll do is… offset….vote in another leader…carefully weigh up the interests of various parties…… fly out of my basket and grab onto a lamp post.

    We are condemning our children, not only to a world bereft of Nature but souls bereft of Nurture.

    Andy White, psychotherapist and author.

    • barcombeboy says:

      Very well put. Reverence, yes. Wonder and awe, the face of God. Hard to experience nature to any degree without realising at the same time, one’s insignificance, the interconnection of all things and that there is an awful lot we just don’t know (and probably never will).

      Ben Elton puts it nicely in his book Stark (or was it Gridlock?) where he likens the trajectory of the human race to a runaway train on a crash course with all the passengers scrabbling to get to the last carriage.

      I am surprised by just how many people around my age (mid fifties) casually admit that they see little future for the human race.

    • Jacquie Cox says:

      Eloquently stated as always Andy!

  4. barcombeboy says:

    Not wanting to dampen optimism but isn’t this a problem that can only going to get worse as our offspring increasingly submerge themselves in the world of screens, devices, alarmingly realistic games, shared video experience, online communities/chat etc? Add in the population explosion and our propensity to live in crowded towns and cities with sterilized man-controlled surroundings and the numbers of people who have any experience of nature (and certainly on a day to day basis) is becoming alarmingly reduced.

    The next generation is unlikely to include many who have any connection with nature and the natural environment. If you know nothing of nature you’ll not have any grasp of its value… and have no need to protect it.

    I’m afraid the writing is on the wall.

    • Jacquie Cox says:

      But that is also an opportunity to engage with younger people in their own sphere of influence using technologies that they are dependent on. Many organisations, Greenpeace being notable among the, have been quick to get to grips with ‘social media’ in order to engage with younger tech savvy generations. Your ‘reach’ as an org is exponentially greater on ‘social media’ compared to traditional methods of snail mail, telephone calls and sending out armies of ‘chuggers’. It is also a much more economical use of donated funds which NGOs depend on. Again especially so for orgs like Greenpeace who accept no government/EU funding.

      I suppose the trick is to engage people in a way that means something to them. Where they have little experience of nature, you have to find innovative ways to make it relevant to them. That’s the hard bit.

  5. Peter Kyte says:

    Everything is interconnected with everything else, it is just that many people, at all levels have forgot that and are convinced that their own little bubble, is the only reality that exists.

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