Humanosity says…This article by George Monbiot takes the UK to task for the state of the countries National Parks and reminds readers that Britain used to be a rainforest nation which surprised us.
The forests still burn, but the world now looks away. In both the Amazon basin and the rainforests of Indonesia, the world-scorching inferno rages on, already forgotten by most of the media. Intricate living systems, species that took millions of years to evolve, are being incinerated in moments, then replaced with monocultures. Giant plumes of carbon tip us further into climate breakdown. And we’re not even talking about it.
But underneath the grief and frustration, I also feel disquiet. We rightly call on other nations to protect their stunning places. But where are our rainforests? I mean this both metaphorically and literally. Out of 218 nations, the UK ranks 189th for the intactness of its living systems. Having trashed our own wildlife, our excessive demand for meat, animal feed, timber, minerals and fossil fuels helps lay waste the rest of the world.
Among our missing ecosystems are rainforests. Rainforests are not confined to the tropics: a good definition is forest wet enough to support epiphytes – plants that grow on other plants. Particularly in the west of Britain, where tiny fragments persist, you can find trees covered in rich growths of a fern called polypody, mosses and lichens, and flowering plants climbing the lower trunks. Learning that Britain is a rainforest nation astounds us only because we have so little left.
We now know that, alongside keeping fossil fuels in the ground, natural climate solutions – using the mass restoration of nature to draw down carbon from the air – offer perhaps the last remaining chance to prevent more than 1.5C, or even 2C, of global heating.
Saving the remaining rainforests and other rich ecosystems, while restoring those we have lost, is not just a nice idea: our lives may depend on it. But in countries like the UK, we urge others to act while overlooking our own disasters.
Foreigners I meet are often flabbergasted by the state of our national parks. They see the sheepwrecked deserts and grousetrashed moors and ask: “What are you protecting here?” In the name of “cultural heritage” we allow harsh commercial interests, embedded in the modern economy but dependent on public money, to complete the kind of ecological cleansing we lament in the Amazon. Sheep farming has done for our rainforests what cattle ranching is doing to Brazil’s. Then we glorify these monocultures – the scoured, treeless hills – as “wild” and “unspoilt”.
When the International Union for Conservation of Nature sought to classify our national parks, it had to invent a new category. Most of the world’s national parks are category I or II: set aside principally for nature. But all of ours are category V: places where, in practice, business comes first and nature last.
Much of the land in our national parks is systematically burned. In the northern parks, this destruction is wreaked by grouse estates, and in Snowdonia by farmers. But on Dartmoor and Exmoor, the park authorities do it themselves, torching wildlife, roasting the soil, pouring carbon into the skies: everything we condemn elsewhere.