Saturday, 5 September 2015

Why Do We Try To Harness Nature Rather Than Letting It Lead Us?


Tame your garden.

Get to grips with nature.

Face the wild.


My wonderful Grandad feeding a badger, taken by myself
Just some examples of rhetoric used relating human beings to nature. In a society swept by advertising and efficiency, the need to be the very best person we can be, nature often appears to be presented as a force to overcome.  I am writing this because I have noticed especially over the last few years, the apparent pejoration of nature in relation to society, especially through the word ‘wild’.   Revellers are often criticised for ‘wild’ behaviour on holiday. Perhaps you have been searching for a method to bring ‘wild’ hair under control. The word ‘wild in these examples holds negative connotations, and it can be seen there is a negativity transferred when we refer to nature in this way. An example is in terms   of the recent series ‘Running Wild’ involving Bear Grylls, where nature is depicted as something for human beings to exhibit themselves against.

The ultimate exhibition of man versus nature has received heightened media attention over recent months – that of hunting. Fox hunting has been especially prolific, with the government’s attempts to repeal the ban eventually foiled, and many   viewpoints, both for and against, raised. As someone who is opposed to foxhunting, I emphasized the weakness of pro-hunters appeal to ‘tradition’; ultimately empty language used to try and justify an archaic practice. The fox hunting some still romanticise, ultimately involves the breeding of dogs for sport, pursuing a terrified animal until an agonising death and destroying natural countryside in the process. Yet the culture of ‘taming nature’ still persists – in that culture where ‘modernity’ and ‘nature’ clash, striving to seek our superiority over the natural world.


Imagine if a pet dog was chased by other dogs, torn up and killed in the interests of ‘sport’. The sheer majority of people will consider my suggestion in disgust.


Yet a fox is in the dog family, will ultimately whimper and pine as it falls.

Of course we have a vested interest in our own animals. After all, we are in an age where
Photo taken by Brian Oldfield
acquisition and ownership is increasingly taken for granted, especially with the internet as the tool so we can possess information like never before. But when an animal crosses the boundary between ‘tame’ and ‘wildlife’, does this suddenly remove its moral status in our eyes? After all, an often-cited reason used by pro-hunt groups, is that foxes need to be culled due to the damage they inflict on livestock, especially lambs. In relation to lambs – oft considered domesticated farm creatures -, foxes are often alluded to as ‘pests’(1) even by those who do not necessarily favour hunting, and ‘vermin’ by those who hold more extreme  views. It seems odd that such derogatory language is so commonly presented as a reasoned argument, seemingly in favour of protecting our lovely ‘tame’ lambs against ‘cruel’ foxes. It also seems odd that those same lambs will be sent for slaughter, often enduring transportation and methods far crueller than a fox could conjure. (2)


Our behaviour seems contradictory and cold.


Furthermore, DEFRA statistics show that only 5% of lamb deaths are due to a combination of misadventure and predator problems, like foxes. In fact, the majority of lamb fatalities are through by inappropriate husbandry, typically the fault of human measures rather than anything else, and then typically – slaughter(3). In actuality, of that 5%, approximately 1% of these deaths are estimated to be due to foxes (4).  Our use of statistics doesn’t seem to add up either. This applies to another area also seeing increased attention – the badger cull.  After a report suggesting the link between bovine (cattle-related) TB and badger populations was released in 1997, there was an 8 year government fined trial which cost £50 million and aimed to examine the effects of culling 10,0979 badgers  in the countryside. Her again we see the same patterns, of language and action, attempting to defend ‘our’ cows against ‘wild’ and ‘infected’ badgers. The conclusion of such a trial, arriving in 2007, was that the culling of badgers could ‘make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’(4)


Photo taken by Brian Oldfield
Yet we seem to have lost meaning, especially the meaning of nature – both in the form of empty rhetoric, as aforementioned, and the actions we take. Apparently, ‘meaningful’ instead, was the backing of a continued cull by a number of MP’s , The Royal Veterinary Association ( which has since withdrawn) and even figures such as Prince Charles, whose views were rapidly projected on the internet – alongside the continued extermination which has carried on into 2015.  Phew. Appeals to ‘tradition’ and ‘science’ can be quickly slapped across social media, making the ‘wild’; manageable for another moment. Prince Charles is a figure of ‘tradition’ – he must know what he is talking about!  The safety of statistics (even if from 1997) and allusion to the past provides an instantaneous relief, like sites such as Facebook and Twitter, ‘trends’ and ‘feeds’ serve to do too.  The need for speed, acquisition and result (as discussed) makes quickly conflating some scientific figures with a course of action, almost acceptable.


We’ve replaced nature with our own construction.


And it’s a construct so seemingly ‘successful’ even farmers are struggling to know how to take it. With so many seemingly healthy cows, the demand on the dairy industry seems greater than ever. This has included driving prices down, placing more strain on those in the industry; Farmers were paid an average 23.66p per litre for milk in June, down 10% since January and 25% lower than a year ago, according to AHDB Dairy(5). Notice how the word ‘industry’ is used, as it is applied to much of farming as a whole, in modern media – the production of ‘goods’ or ‘service’. It is no longer ‘nature’, but society’s formulae fumbling along with little evidence – as we have already seen.  Farmers are adamant they would  hate their livestock to be taken prematurely by forces of the wild (i.e. badgers) yet  a recent BBC report highlighted DUP MLA William Irwin, who is also a dairy farmer, admitting to sending additional cows to slaughter as he reviewed his cost base in light of milk payment crisis. The case applies to many who own cows – killing animals or failing to maintain adequate living standards for them because of already diminished profits.  


We fail to let nature manage itself. I am not advocating that lambs de facto deserve to be killed by badgers (which is very rare occurrence anyway), or badgers deserve to kill cattle, what I am implying is that when the natural processes between them are allowed to take place, nature makes progress – it’s in line with evolution to do so.  Instead In trying to tame nature, we have made a ridiculous pantomime – of artificial language and processes in ‘a parody of the natural world, kept, through intensive management, in suspended animation.(6)’.

  George Monbiot in his recent article articulates this above view,  and  it drives home a point home about  many current attitudes. What we present now as ‘nature’ or ‘natural’ is an invention of modern ideals, serving our interest, like a ‘natural’ product quenches the skin, and ‘natural’ food products are the best for us. Our assumption of nature as ‘subservient’ will serve only to wound us, no matter how many ‘adoption’ packs we pick up and rescue centres we visit to try and convince ourselves that altruism is alive and well in this area. There are altruistic groups who do incredible work, yes, but as nature shapes each interaction in the everyday world – is it not time to evaluate our relationship with it at an individual level?


Beautiful nature - Brian Oldfield
For those who choose to take proactive steps, such as becoming vegetarian, their opponents lament ‘but it’s not natural’. Yet surely the processes of what is truly ‘natural’, according to evolution, involve the application of reason and the best use of resources for effective continuation. This includes the recognition that there are other ‘natural’ sources of protein we can eat and that can sustain us on a daily basis, as well as using extensive evidence of the environmentally detrimental output of the modern farming ‘industry’ to realise that it is not a sustainable process to be part of.  Reason indicates that a better relationship with nature is necessary. Yet foxes do not have the resources we do to create or source another forms of protein to preserve themselves. Still, the ‘natural’ process of a fox killing prey, as it is instinctively programmed to do, is ‘wrong’ – apparently.


We have a contradictory relationship with nature as we do not want to take its course. We want it to take OUR course; often extending life by artificially long lengths as a result. We also terminate prematurely the lives of those we don’t want – animals prepared to feed the forces of mass consumption.


Perhaps this has grown out of the expectations of ‘modernity’, the need for spontaneity and instantaneous results – whilst natural processes take time, are not always predictable. I know this from experience. Having been taken birdwatching by my dad as a child,  I became accustomed to crouching in hides and behind trees, waiting for the brief appearance of some magnificent creature.  Often it was a no-show, and eventually the frustration gave way to determination and appreciation of the environment I was in. Yet today, most of us are part of a culture where if we want to ‘see’ something, we can do, pretty much instantly. There is little need to ‘wait’  to see an animal when we can look it up on Google or Instagram, see it in contexts we may never experience.


Forever identifiable? - Brian Oldfield 
But what can be valued, and needs more saying for it, is our own experience with nature, and the empathy which can be created as a result of it. According to a BBC study, out of 700 primary school-age children surveyed, 38% could not identify a frog and those who knew what a primrose was – just 12% (7). More recent research seems to show little positive improvement, with  a three-year, more extensive RSPB project reporting that only 21% of 8-12 year-olds were "connected to nature"(8). Where else do our connections lie?   Many people in modern British society, including children, are raised around technology and possibility, with the opportunity for self-definition in society everywhere; whether through academic leagues, media profiles, uploads, downloads – the list goes on. Yet it can be easy to lose perspective of the bigger picture we are part of – nature – and one with paint so rich and vibrant, it is a crying shame that anyone, of any age, should miss out. Yet according to research carried  out by  the American Richard Louv  in his publication ‘Last Child in the Woods’(9), human beings, especially children, are spending less time in interaction outdoors with nature  - contributing to a number of behavioural problems.  People may well lament at this, with some people recalling how as children they spent hours exploring forests or playing in the ‘wilds’ around their home. We should not fall into another appeal to ‘tradition’ though; after all, as conditions outside affecting children have changed over time including traffic, risk, and parents allude to fears of ‘strangers’. It is interesting to observe how many of these problems are ultimately ‘human’.


Beautiful Badger - Brian Oldfield
Even if people are cautious about letting children explore nature on their own, it provides a whole opportunity for families to get involved. It brings balance, with many people citing the restorative processes of the outdoors. There are some incredible charities which celebrate wildlife in an accessible way, and the lessons of diversity, difference and the importance of exploration which can be taught by it – amongst other things. (10) Furthermore, nature balances itself, as seen in Ireland, where resurgent pine martens have, through their natural hunting habits, pushed grey squirrel populations to a lower level, allowing red squirrels to recolonise(11). There is no ‘cull’ or ‘hunt’, just an example of nature taking its course, and managing itself. On the contrary, the UK Badger Cull costs an estimated £7,000 for every badger killed (12) and is widely judged as mismanaged, ineffective and ultimately contradictory to scientific study, as aforementioned. (13)


In a society which seeks instant results, it can be easy to ‘look down’ of nature – whether into a phone, or in judging it as a ‘threat’ – something we want to ‘tame’ and control, because having control is important.  But isn’t this the very behaviour which is ‘wild’ in itself?  We are already at a distance. Consider the definitions, contradictions.
The first step is to look around you.



Face the wild.






(10)                http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/LastChild.pdf
(11)                http://www.buxtonadvertiser.co.uk/news/regional/sunflower-farm-s-bird-food-sales-raise-1m-for-wildlife-charity-1-7413274  http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/charities/environment/wildlife-conservation
(12)                http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-014-0632-7#page-1
(13)                https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/badger-cull-pilot-costs-year-2