Life is Dangerous. Keep Out.

When the weather is hot and sunny as it has been for the last week here in Old Blighty,  it seems certain that it will be hot and sunny forever.   Based on this faulty logic,  I make all sorts of plans for barbq’s which guarantees that the more it snows tiddly pom the more it will most certainly – tiddly pom – go on snowing.

I am not alone in my sunny dreaming.  Encouraged as much by a stamp-duty land tax holiday, as by the fact that  moving house was for many months in 2020  one of the few things that it was still legal to do – many people have chosen to vacate this our great and ancient City of London for rural areas or the wide spaces, azure skies and salty tang of the seaside.  Now that we are hot, and unable or unwilling to travel, the beach is the place to be.  Preferably permanently.

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley.

Of course none of us is influenced by these great literary openers, right? Wrong. The most humble bungalow with a corner of attic having a sea view (assuming you stand on the desk and lean precariously to the right)  has sold within two and a half seconds of becoming available.  Record idiotic levels of price-upping prevail and gazumping is sadly but unsurprisingly back.  Two of my friends have already lost potential properties as a result.

I do feel a bit sorry for existing residents of beloved rural idylls, especially in Cornwall this year with the G7 summit and the whole world including the Bidens and their security teams and helicopters, plus Carrie Johnson and the baby,  all descending on Carbis Bay, St. Ives – a one-time sleepy fishing village turned global force for… something.

Meanwhile, back in the grimy, heat laden city, we are truly becoming a café society. The Prime Minister wants to dispense with regulations that previously inhibited bars and restaurants from using public outdoor space like pavements to serve customers.      For one who was born into a country of big freezes and regular snow drifts; when even the smallest of local councils would own their own snow ploughs, this still comes as a bit of a shock.  It’s official.  London is heating up.

In fact I hate to show my age but I remember the Café des Amis setting up outdoor tables next to Covent Garden Opera back in the 80s, an enterprise at the time regarded  with a mixture of pride and bemusement, partially edgy  and partially insane.  Who would risk sitting outside?  In the evening?

It’s all very pleasant of course  on a hot summer’s evening the likes of which the UK has seen rarely in the last two thousand years  to forget about wildfires. And heat waves in Oregon.

To aid us in our forgetfulness,  we now have the whole surfer chic thing going on around the coastal areas of the UK, beach style eateries popping up everywhere.    Our ancestors – should they ever have cause to return – might justifiably wonder if they have ended up perhaps in Crete, whose temperatures the UK has equalled this week.  Why dine on mixed fish on the harbourside at Chania when you can do the metaphorical sardine thing in Leicester Square?

Of course it is not just summer heat but instability of seasonal weather norms that is causing confusion.

Warmer part of the world have changed species habitats .    Richard Mabey writes that  the humble bluebell – which once carpeted the forests and hills of the land hitherto known as Great Britain – in April, is struggling with the rising temperatures and unstable seasons.  No doubt, he says,  other, hardier and more adaptable species  will arrive to fill the gap.   But they will not be bluebells.

So much is now written about habitats and their loss and climate change. Sometimes its good to back and hear a voice that reminds us that plant and animal conservation have been concerns for a long time.

Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure was originally published in 2005 and this year is reissued by Little Toller BooksIt is my 7th of 10 Books of Summer, a challenge hosted by Cathy@746 Books. 

Mabey’s book is an enlightening read, erudite without being dry, honest to the point of bleakness in parts, without being depressing.   It was one of the first in the style which came to be known as the new nature writing, along with naturalist and friend Mark Cocker.  These are books which entwine stories of the natural world with the writer’s own biographical tales.

Taking far longer than usual to move out of the house in which he grew up, and aided and abetted by a severe bout of depression,  Mabey makes his belated escape to the Norfolk fens where he writes about sheets of water, the Wailing Wood, owls,  birds, fens, the yellow star-of-bethlehem and orchids in an ‘ethereal shade of rose’.  But his particular interest, like the poet John Clare,

is the erosion of common land and common usages of land which in the 1960s it was believed would  result in over-exploitation and possible extinction.  In other words, privatisation was to be the saviour of the land!  Hah!  Such beliefs largely came about as the result of an influential essay written by American ecologist Garett Hardin.  But this is mere ideological disaster fiction, says Mabey, unrooted in reality or evidence and based on no knowledge of the particular history of the commons system in England.

‘No one can shoot rabbits or dig sand or – except the new conservation managers – cut trees.’

Conservation like so many other aspects of our lives and environment is governed by prevailing ideologies, that means the people in charge make the rules .    Is all management beneficial?  A question which reflects querulous attitudes to the rewilding project undertaken by the Burrell Family at the Knepp Estate on the Sussex Weald.  Mabey writes:

‘Scrub is the enemy of official nature conservation.  Despite being an entirely natural habitat, the haunt of nightingales, breeding warblers, roosing winter birds, shy orchids and a multitude of insects, its removal – or at least control is the priority on almost all nature reserves.’

It seems that our obsession with management is the result of an inability to share. And also an obsession with ownership and the eradication of all risk.  A friend of mine who used to walk her dogs between West Bay in Dorset and Burton Bradstock (it’s steep, there are cliffs. It’s where they filmed Broadchurch) recently told me:  “It’s all very managed now.” People can no longer be relied upon not to fall off cliffs.  They must be warned, fenced in.

“We left behind the countryside interpretation business, the hides with gates, the trails marked in five colours, the boards that tell you what to look out for and what to feel about it… ‘You are Not Encouraged to have First Hand Experiences. They May Hurt. Life is Dangerous. Keep out.”

I will be back next week with a review of Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki.

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