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  • Writer's pictureWords From The Hedge

You may need nature, does it need you?

I have never been much of a campaigner. Like most people of my vintage, who work in the countryside I went on a Liberty and Livelihood rally or two and took part in that 2002 march in London, and that was more than enough for me. For some in society, marching and protesting are not so much a way of making your point, the marching and protesting becomes the point. I am unsure at what precise moment a protester morphs from activist to annoying twat, but it seems that the older I get the sooner it happens. I for one cheered the young man in his pants who rugby tackled one of the mute red robed nihilists who moon about in the wake of the Extinction Rebellion massive. This is not because I am an advocate of random violence, a wannabe whale harpoonist or climate change denier. I merely felt the tackler perfectly and wordlessly highlighted the whole toe curling self indulgence of it all, any point the red mob may have is lost in their swirls of chiffon and sanctimony. They just don't make me want to come on their journey.

That being said, wearing cardinal red, pretending to die and sticking your nipples to the windows of Goldman Sachs are, whilst very silly, largely innocuous. Of course they won't change anyone's thinking, but in some ways, such protests are the only public way that we mere mortals have of venting our strong feeling for a topic. Largely, most public protests are harmless, at the very worse, an annoyance - the cause of a road diversion here or brief closure of an underground station there. However there are occasionally protests that are so self centred, so selfish, so wrong, that if I were of a placarding bent I would be in my shed now, fashioning my length of 2x2 and plyboard, preparing to counter protest their action, demanding "Down with this sort of thing."

On the 24th July, a group calling themselves "Landscapes of Freedom" plan on undertaking a mass trespass of the South Downs. The reasons for this are, so the organisers claim, because " The land which once belonged to us all has been carved up by the rich and powerful , whose wealth has only boomed at the expense of those most marginalised and made poor through such evils as enclosure, slavery and colonialism." I know it all sounds a bit harmless, akin to one of those monologues by Rik in The Young Ones, the sort that ends up with him getting a frying pan in the face from Vyvyan. They go on to state that "people need nature", claiming that they (the people) are denied access to it and that because of this denial they have become disconnected with the natural world - Damn those colonialist South Downs slavers.

My anger over this (and I am angry), has nothing to do with the exasperation I have for Marxists or Leninists or whatever "ists" these people are (certainly not naturalists). It is their disregard for the wildlife, who's space it is they will be invading. This land that they seek to use as a foil for class war may well be owned by people richer than the trespassers themselves, but it is also the home of vast swathes of wildlife. This trespass takes place at the back end of July, slap bang into the OSR harvest, a bit of sun and we may see the barley coming in straight after that. Harvest is the time of year when farming removes much of the cover provided by crops, this is not through devilment of course, it is merely the way of harvest. Harvest is a time of great upheaval for wildlife. Ground nesting birds, all ground dwelling mammals quite literally lose their top cover in each pass of a combine harvester. They are at their most vulnerable time of predation. The good news for wildlife is that most farmers will have purpose drilled cover crops, which the wildlife can condense into, along with the hedgerows and margins and scrub and gorse banks, this is after all what these tracts of non-farmed land are there for, the wildlife. Understandably any displaced animal is a bit stressed. The last thing that a stressed, condensed, displaced wild animal needs is a group of human beings breaking into these oases demanding they get their fix of "need" for nature. How selfish and colonialist to think that they have that "right". I feel for the wildlife of the South Downs.

NB There are 3,300 km of public footpaths and byways within the South Downs National Park, more than any other National Park in the UK.

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