Economy, Environmen​t – but where is Society?


Sustainable Development is dying in England and the conservation and heritage NGOs are as complicit as Government both local and central, because proper public engagement simply doesn’t exist.

SD was based on the fact that not only do societal needs have to be included into a future for all but were an absolutely essential component to achieving SD. Such a notion tied in very nicely with the concept of ‘landscape’ (which does not exist without people) as a basis for policy making in a locality or place and also ‘site specifics’ – a practitioner approach, well established and based on recognising the complexity and diversity of landscapes.

Public engagement should be assured as the UK signed the Aarhus convention and the European Landscape Convention, which also provided a platform to work from.

I live and work in France where public engagement was assured in all land management planning following the 1999 Loi d’aménagement et de développement des territoires (LOADDT) known as the ‘Loi Voynet’. Subsequently a landscape approach was embraced because it offered an easy method of adhering to this law and providing a truly integrated approach. This has guaranteed the preservation and increased biodiversity from the urban centres outwards. There are many things that can be criticised about France and indeed biodiversity still faces huge threats, but you still have insect splattered windscreens (even in town centres), wild flora and fauna populations are on the increase and soil (already enjoying an ‘intrinsic’ connection with all people due to Terroir principles) is firmly established as the base to work from. Fragment the soils you not only fragment the landscape including its people but cut the circle of life for all biodiversity. Many nature conservationists holiday in France and wonder at how and why the biodiversity seems intact despite obvious heavy human interaction – it is because decisions and management at all levels include humans, it is not unusual to attend ministerial high brow conferences and find a significant proportion of public and practitioners not only sat in the audience but actually invited to speak.

People and soil is the key, all people and all soils. As such a precautionary principle extends well beyond the limitations of what the English have defined it. And science over rides commentary at all times as it should.

forest ecosystem bus stop

This mural of a forest ecosystem is painted on a bus stop near Cannes

England has lost it’s way and I blame ‘stakeholders’ – what a presumptuous term – and an installed and heavily flawed system staunchly defended by experts whose goal is ego driven to appear on TV or be quoted in newspapers who have their agenda to follow and only use what they need to attack whomever they have chosen to. Government policy is bound to be flawed with such a system based on everyone wanting to have their voices heard.

Everyone is talking, no one is listening to anybody and consequently the people are ignored, practitioners disenfranchised and biodiversity suffers.

Forestry and forests offers a route out of this situation as when the public forest estate and those who manage it, was threatened it was the public voice that secured public forest estate for the public, although the future management of the public forest estate is not yet assured. As NGOs and others realised what was happening during the campaign they jumped, or tried to, on the bandwagon or dismissed its importance. But it was moving too quickly, with grassroots activists keeping their feet hard down on the accelerator. The British have an intrinsic link to trees and woodland as much as the French do for soil. the result is a real chance for the first time to see public engagement at the forefront of future policy making and planning for England’s forests.

The NPPF, the text of which includes SD heavily (with 3 different definitions), was subject to a campaign of disapproval also. The NGOs CPRE and NT headed the charge of this campaign and largely got what they wanted – but for all their talk of SD they seem disinterested in the huge land grab going on in urban and peri urban landscapes.

England is now building again, but not sustainably and as many guessed without much impact on the economy also. Allotments and other urban open space is threatened as it never has been before. But it doesn’t matter to the NGOs as they have secured more specialness for their special landscapes and might even make even more money to preserve this specialness even further by way of ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’ (BO), which is the antithesis of sustainable development, defies Landscape and worst of all ignores people.

Whilst nature conservationists are busy discussing how to progress and the possibility of mega NGOs or dividing into smaller outfits, could they not finally admit that they have to sign up to SD also. Or do we need a new NGO based solely on campaigning for landscapes & SD?



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

5 responses to “Economy, Environmen​t – but where is Society?

  1. Roderick Leslie

    In a way its even worse than you paint it.

    I remain staggered by the absolute resistance of the nature conservation NGOs to learn lessons from the forests debacle – they are as resistant, if not more, so as Government to real people intruding on their tidy, insider settlement even when its all going to pot with a Government that simply isn’t interested in what they have to say. Maybe its because the settlement cast trees & forests as victims – and no bully likes the worm turning !

    However, a big and soluble problem exemplified by the planning debate is that, yes, NGOs are objecting and checking some of the current ‘economic’ lunacy but what they are not doing is providing real alternatives – like you, I don’t count off-setting as an alternative. Why is it that noone is prepared to take up and develop some of the marvellous work that has gone on around our towns and cities ? The germ of a completely new way of living is there and bodies like RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts are part of it – but they just don’t seem to be able to see they could be part of a bigger picture delivering across human health and happiness, a wide range of ecosystem services and renewable energy.

    The land is there, the influence is there – NT in particular must be in pole position, not least because, like the Forestry Commission, they are themselves involved in development. I don’t criticise that but what is wrong is the lost opportunity to demonstrate how it SHOULD be done – and surely that is the best way ?

    • One thing I learned from the forestry debacle was just how fragile some of the large NGOs really are and this again highlights the danger of ignoring people and concentrating on their purses instead. And the power of the web, as shown by SoW, cannot be manipulated nor can there be an assumption that big = high visitor numbers (it surprised me when a WT tweet congratulating themselves on reaching 10,000 visitors which was a third of what my blethering on here had reached, heaven knows what numbers SoW were reaching!). And there are now considerable amounts of independent and academic commentators of high caliber, including yourself, now gaining higher profiles than whole PR teams of an NGO. When you add this to a growing concern by many of the almost misanthropic comments that bubble to the surface from inside some this organisations and there is a real threat to these organisations’ existence.

  2. I’ve re-blogged this -let me know if you’re not happy with that -will remove if so.

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