How many people will seek information on a website rather than dig a hole to investigate the soils on their land?
How many people would follow the far too heavily edited advice of a TV celebrity, invariably and subtly selling products as a lifestyle choice, over and above the advice of an old boy who has been working the land next door since he was old enough to use a spade?
In a rush to provide answers to providing real sustainable land management, we are all too quick to dismiss the simple fact that it had already been achieved across most of Europe for most of its history and it is the research of these techniques that should provide a platform for future sustainable land use management. The world has moved on, our lust for energy and need to continue economic growth means that innovative measures are required but this should not be at the expense of traditional knowledge and certainly should not replace it. The transfer of knowledge from the wider land industries and academic research is vital and a valuable tool in land management but it is at risk of being far too easily hijacked and diminished by incumbent corporate models which have sometimes and increasingly been swayed to adopt centralised policies based on a deep ecology standpoint as the back bone for absolutely all land management ignoring completely the needs of a human population.
The internet provides a resource beyond our wildest dreams of ten years ago, but much of the world wide information available has absolutely no bearing beyond the landscape relevant to it. In looking at research as case study we must concentrate on the research technique – NOT the results.
‘No tillage’ experiments in Asia are simply inapplicable on the rich agricultural land of Lincolnshire. ‘Biochar’ projects in Madagascar are irrelevant and dangerous for land management in Devon.
Whilst a felled area of monoculture Sitka spruce in the UK may evoke emotions on a par with those who witness the felling of their primeval range in North America, it is not the same. As with the persistently high standards of ploughing in the UK to minimise sub soil consolidation and maximise distribution of soil nutrients cannot be equated to the one level deep ploughing of relatively virgin soil seen in developing countries.
Yet regularly UK farmers and foresters are demonised as a result of people reading research and trying to equate it with what they witness within their own landscape. It is regretful that many NGOs and others are all too wiling to follow this wrongful public perception rather than try to understand local land management issues better.
Further damage is caused through the misinterpretation of ancient or traditional techniques twisted to suit a lust for mysticism in regards our natural world and our connection to it; an example of this is ‘Lunar gardening’, which actually works. It works because it is based on systems that had been honed throughout most of land management history, when people did not have watches and used the night sky as their source of time and date. There is absolutely no way that the moons gravity can affect plant growth but this is still read, absorbed and believed by the most sensible of people who are at risk of using the techniques wrongly and thus reversing the wealth of benefits which can be gained by using this system properly. We hear what we want to hear, we are impatient and practice according to social stereotype and in doing so dismiss many good practices and introduce catastrophic practices.
Soil is the victim in this. Soil research is still lacking and as with all elements of science trying to uncover the complexities of natural processes is in its infancy and therefore it is very bad practice to immediately commence new management regimes based on theory alone.
‘Soils are formed from a stew of geological ingredients or parent materials (rocks and minerals), water, and billions of organisms. The interactions between climate, parent material, organisms, landscape, and time affect all major ecosystem processes which leads to the development of soil properties that are unique to that soil type and climate.’
All the variables at play make each location in a landscape unique. As policy making is basing itself around ideals which in themselves are based on case studies from a handful of locations we are surely heading unwittingly for a massive car crash.
There are already in existence many areas where bad practice in the belief of doing good have destroyed soils, thankfully this is largely confined to gardens and the peri urban environment but we are seeing demographic shifts which suggest that it is only a matter of time before major damage is done or discovered in the wider landscape including that most revered landscape the traditional English countryside.
Land management practitioners, foresters, farmers and gardeners, are a dying breed and their skills and knowledge are fast disappearing also. They cannot be easily replaced by NGOs and the armies of volunteers they are reliant upon. This is believed to be a straight forward demographic shift resulting from economic progression, but economic progression will not get very far if these skills disappear because there is simply no tried and tested methods in place to ensure the very base of human existence is maintained for us all at present, let alone an even greater population.
Localism is not a political ideal in terms of land management. It is and should be treated as the base for all future decisions relating to a specific location as the sciences at play and the biodiversity that roams in a specific location is what determine the land management for it both historically and in the future.
It is the same with Europe; take the PFE disposal and ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’ both took case study from distant locations. If you ignore the politics of Europe and concentrate on the shared cultural and natural history then case study becomes relevant.
Archaeology has an importance in local based land management of soils, to know what our predecessors tried and maybe failed out is of huge benefit. Climate change may well be altering local situations dramatically but unless we understand the other variables at play and work from them as the base we cannot hope to tackle the effects of a changing climate.
We must continue to monitor the wealth of information available but we must start by seeking out every local variable in our own landscape to understand how to move forward. And in doing so we must trust practitioners and their knowledge and protect traditional skills before they die out completely.