No, not the restoration of the monarchy. The restoration of the island’s ecological heritage.
Almost a year ago I wrote about how sad I found it that this island is so lacking in true wilderness, and in particular, so devoid of big, glorious animals. This place will likely never be anything close to wild as long as humans live here, but across the United Kingdom people are doing their bit to restore things, bit by bit. Reflooding wetlands. Planting forests. Re-introducing eagles, kites, maybe elk and – possibly – beavers. I was going to write a big article about it, but I won’t bother now because I’ve just published a big piece in The Toronto Star about the “rewilding” of the UK. Click here to read the whole piece.
I’d forgotten how emotionally and mentally soothing it is to be in a forest. Spending a day with Mike and Tracy Pepler in their 8 acre chestnut wood was one of the nicest experiences of my professional career. Instead of hunched in front of a laptop reading about pollution, deforestation and cancer, I got to skip around a lovely wood for a whole day, snapping pics, drinking tea and chatting about nightengales. Kinda makes you wonder why you spend your days hunched in front of a laptop.
Indeed, as Angus Hanton, who sells woodland to private owners, remarked to me, “…with the increased stress of modern life, people like to get away from their desks. One thing that has surprised us is the disproportionate number of customers who work with computers – it’s as if owning woodland is an antidote to the modern way of life.”
Of course, many people love the idea of us all moving out of the suburbs and back into the woods – I’ve met plenty of hippies who wanted to live in the woods (though the only people I’ve ever met who ACTUALLY lived in the woods were homeless people who slept in Vancouver’s Stanley Park – they didn’t seem to enjoy it so much). Nice idea, but let’s be realistic, that’s not going to happen, nor would we really want to crank back civilization 10,000 years.
But without a doubt, it is enormously important to maintain the wild places we have, and do the best to restore those that we can. For the no-brainer ecological reasons – flood protection, climate change mitigation, biodiversity. And for the emotional and psychological reasons – it’s not good for us to live around glass and concrete all the time (and that’s coming from me, a bona fide city girl).
It’s important to remember that you may never be able to truly “restore” a wild ecosystem – any disturbance will leave any place permanently changed in some way, shape or form (and, as ecologists remind, us, there isn’t really any such thing as “a pristine habitat” left on earth now). Britain will never be what it once was, but some nurturing, some progressive thinking, and with green corridors linking the “crown jewels” (the few remaining ancient forests and heaths), it could wind up a lot greener, and a lot more interesting, than it is now.
It’s not easy, and it’s hard work. I applaud every effort the Brits are making.