I live in a little village, (population 836), in the Vienne, France. It is not a renown area of France in terms of heritage or landscape. It is textbook ordinary rural France. The village sits on a promontory of the River Clain and the surrounding horizon is an unbroken line of tree canopy. Within the village there is a plethora of ornamental trees, including many pollarded Limes and Atlantic Blue Cedars.
There is also a huge ‘Maison De Retrait’ – retirement home, and together with the busy small school, Mairie, Church, Village hall and library, it is heated by using a biomass wood heating system, predominantly waste from local agricultural or forestry work. The roof of the building in which the wood chippings dry out is covered by solar panels.
In the UK this village would be hailed as an ‘eco village’ or similar and would have cost considerable amounts of money to exist. Here it is just like all its neighbours – sustainable practice is the norm because it is cheaper than any alternative.
This sustainable practice extends into the surrounding countryside, (asides from the areas devoid of wildlife due to the over enthusiastic ‘chasse’), farmers simply cannot afford many of the pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals – thus I can walk in real wildflower meadows, swim in unpolluted and rich rivers and lakes and savour the cacophony of natural sounds that sing me to sleep.
We moved here so that I could allow my son to experience nature and a landscape that I was able to enjoy when I was a child, (my father was a geographer and we seemed to spent every weekend and holiday traipsing the UK landscape). I am still in my thirties, just, and the harsh reality was that these experiences are now largely impossible in the UK for the average citizen. The silent spring arrived and yet is still being quoted as being on the way and despite huge amounts of money ploughed into an assortment of Quangos’ and initiatives the fact is that the monsanto inspired agriculture and the construction industry have done their damage. The last resort were the woodlands and forests, either in the hands of the Forestry Commission or in the case of the majority in the ownership of trusted private landowners and an industry regulated well by the FC.
As I have heard many state, when was the last time you had to stop en route somewhere in the UK and have to wash your windscreen clear of bugs?
I am overjoyed to witness the Save Our Woods campaign as it seems to be wakening many up to what has gone and helping return the British psyche back to its associations with the arboreal world and with luck the threats which have overtaken much of the UK landscape in a very rapid way.
As with so many strains of modern science the UK holds a natural flow from East to West that encompasses most of the temperate geological, climactic and biological spectrum in a relatively short distance. The growth of these sciences have allowed the UK to become an international standard and the reputation of its academics and practitioners allow for a welcome anywhere on this globe. Yet its own natural environment has continued to diminish in ecological, environmental and social terms with little sign of halting.
As a land based practitioner myself, I have watched my industry suffer greatly, diminished, largely due to poor public perception. Fire brand media, reluctant government and growing cynicism about all traits of traditional life have seeped into virtually every psyche in the country and allowed for a general connection with the natural world to vanish. The landscaper, forester and those with traditional skills and knowledge have been at best ignored and the wages reflect this despite being as well qualified and usually more than other professionals.
The Quangos’ have to be quiet, any complaint is restrained by their connection to government and with huge looming budget cuts ever omnipresent, who can blame them. But why, despite the huge amounts of money, have they failed to gain ground over the last 20 years in wakening the British to the issues. Is it simply that anything associated with government links back to the cynicism and is thus ignored. Maybe it is simply the attitude ‘we pay the tax, which pays them and they do their job, thus we no longer need to worry about our natural heritage anymore’.
Literature and the arts play a huge role, modern British literature is cynical, fast, exciting and often gruesome in the whole. In 2007, Richard Maybe published Beechcombings and Roger Deakin‘s Wildwood, yet unfortunately a kickstart into a romantic renaissance failed to happen. If the likes of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Hardy et al., were around today they would not believe that anyone had ever read their work. And if those many struggling artists who exist in abundance who regularly redefine landscape art were able to be championed on a par with those who now dominate the upper echelons of the art world, this would surely help swing public consciousness back to its roots.
My favourite writing about trees is a well known modern short story, originally written for ‘readers Digest’ – ‘The man who planted trees’ by Jean Giono. If I could I would sit the whole cabinet, the whole civil service, indeed all the British public down with a tipple of choice and get them to read this – The Man Who Planted Trees