More Rewilding

I’ve been following the continuing debate on rewilding with interest. Some links:

An acrimonious exchange in the Guardian between Steven Poole and George Monbiot. Poole basically trolls Monbiot and other nature writers for their supposed ‘bourgeois escapism’ but accidentally points to an interesting line of discussion which I’ve touched on before – the strange emotional charge underlying designations of ‘native’ vs. ‘invasive’ species and what happens when we turn this logic back on ourselves. Monbiot unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, closed off any fruitful engagement by invoking Godwin’s law and beating Poole over the head with his superior scientific knowledge.

Mark Fisher, a longterm writer and advocate for rewilding in the UK has written a few responses to Feral in this piece, which details some specific examples of rewilding landscapes which he has visited in the US and Ireland. This part made me think of the similar way in which the wildwood must have been cleared over here in order to impose the same conditions of open land for livestock pasture and field agriculture:

There should not be some mystique about mountain folk, that they sought refuge to live in sympathy with the land. Many settlers were tenants of a few large landowners, but they and homesteaders all embarked on a common pursuit of exploiting the land, by ringing trees with their axes – a process called “deadening” – to clear fields for pastures and orchards; killing all the large carnivores so they weren’t a threat to their cows; and hunting out the white-tail deer, so that they had to be restored to the park when it was set up.

A long-delayed subscription to The Land Magazine earlier in the year rewarded me with a whole issue devoted to rewilding, with articles on  wolves, ponies, sheep, fescue, Chillingham cattle and a generous review of Monbiot’s book by Bill Grayson. I have mixed feelings about Simon Fairlie’s response, ‘Rewilding and Food Security‘, which is unusual as I mostly find his writing to be spot on, revealing and highly informative. On the one hand comments about the unfair competition between the unsustainable industrial food system and upland sheep farmers are unarguable and the concluding point is a strong and important one:

The more we rewild in Britain, the more food we will need to import and the more we are likely to dewild land in countries that provide us with substitute food. Conserving our natural environment at the expense of other people’s is a neo-colonialist agenda. There is an environmental price to pay for having so foolishly allowed England to become one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, but that price should not be paid by people and environments in other countries.

(Although this is again blinkered by not considering rewilded landscapes as habitat for feral humans on the way to a wild nativeness of their own.)

However the contention in the editorial piece, ‘Zone Five’, that ‘What this particular island produces most abundantly is, of course, grass’ seems flatly wrong, or at least resting on a dubious conception of the meaning of abundance. Surely the most abundant spontaneous expression of this land comes in the form of trees and dense, extensive woodlands. Anything else requires a massive, devastating initial effort and continuing vigorous management every year from then on to prevent reversion to what the land actually wants to do (as we saw before). And this comment is a strong contender for the Agrarian-Fundamentalist-Asshole-Remark-Of-The-Year award:

Sheep also play a role in bringing us the sunlight which would otherwise be hogged by a blanket of forest. If you have no grazing animals to keep trees down, then to admit sunlight on any scale you have to use either fossil fuels or fire, both of which are less sustainable than the “woolly mowers”. Wind turbines and solar farms are dependent upon keeping land open to wind and sunlight and so probably is the health of the human psyche. Of course trees are a “good thing”, but you can have too much of a good thing, whether that be trees or sheep.

You heard it right – our mental health depends upon mass deforestation and the maintenance of an ‘open’ landscape where we can do as we please. Well, I guess it’s still revealing… Likewise the discussion of the former practice of folding sheep sheds light on the totalitarian control that civilised man insists upon  everywhere in his domain:

But the most crucial role for sheep in many traditional agricultural economies has been to harness surplus nutrients from the saltus — the outlying wasteland too poor or distant to cultivate — and transfer them to the ager, the arable fields.1 This is still the case in parts of France and other European countries where flocks are shepherded by day and brought back to the bergerie at night to deposit their manure. It used to be the case through much of Southern England where sheep were grazed on downland by day and folded at night on fallow arable land. In South Wiltshire in 1794 “the first and principal purpose for which sheep are kept … is undoubtedly the dung of the sheep fold.” In Dorset in 1812 “the Sheep-Fold is held in as high estimation in this country as in any part of the world. It is considered by most of the farmers … as an indispensable requisite in the cultivation of the arable land.” In Bedfordshire “the manure of sheep is worth a farthing each per sheep per night”.2

Hear that? It’s all for us. As much as we can take. As far as we can reach. We are justified in taking it all, and any other creatures who might depend upon those nutrients for survival can go fuck themselves. Duh, it’s the food chain:

The Food Chain

Oh dear, I seem to have contracted some of the Guardianista penchant for sneering reductio ad absurdum… I recognise that the above talk carries less weight than it would if I had many years’ firsthand experience of working the land and had the meaning of all those relationships built into my being, rather than speaking from the alienated position of dilettante prehistorian who gets most of his food from the supermarket*. Still… it’s true, isn’t it?

Anyway, still missing from the debate is any discussion of domestication and the role of civilised man in ‘de-wilding’ the world (and himself) in the first place. To reiterate: What about rewilding humans? I am therefore delighted to see my friend Steve announce the formation of a ‘Rewilding Academy’ at this year’s (possibly final) Dark Mountain ‘Uncivilisation‘ festival in the woods in Hampshire from August 15-19, to which I’ve just bought tickets (still available via that link). He writes:

For the last two Uncivilisation festivals, I have run sessions that sought to provide a different kind of rewilding: one that acknowledges that is not enough to turn domesticated humans out into the wild and expect them to immediately recover their buried instincts and feelings; one that recognises that we have all been conditioned by civilisation into certain persistent patterns of thought, behaviour and physical restraint; one that makes use of our remaining capacity for play, curiosity and learning to open a small crack in the armour, to give a brief glimpse of the path that can slowly lead us back to experiencing the fullness of our human nature.

I’m also excited to attend the ‘Arcadia: a flawed objective?’ discussion:

[...]can Arcadia can ever be the bastion of peace and tranquillity that it is projected to be when it depends upon agriculture: arguably the foundation of all gigantist and destructive civilisations? In this open discussion, Marmaduke Dando places our traditional pastoral utopias under the magnifying glass in an attempt to find out whether simply getting ‘back to the land’ goes back far enough; and what the implications of these questions might be for all of us.

I’ve never really written about it explicitly but my personal perspective on this has been shaped by reading the writings and exploits of the ‘primitivists’ and ‘green anarchists’ in America and elsewhere that some are all-too keen to dismiss. I’ve taken up some of the projects they’ve enthused about such as fox-walking, nonviolent communication, wide-angle vision, E-Prime / E-Primitive etc. with varying degrees of success, and my focus on learning everything I could about the edible & medicinal plants that grow all around me over the past however-many-years-it’s-been was largely sparked by their efforts.

Broadly I subscribe to the philosophy many of them have articulated, namely that the domestication of plants and animals is a relationship of domination and subjugation that has wrecked the planet since it was born in the Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago, and that rewilding is a process that every creature undertakes spontaneously, if given half a chance (kids are born as basically wild humans and must be subjected to a massive, traumatic programme of indoctrination at the hands of their parents and the schooling system in order to be made to fit to the dominant culture). The civilised culture has acted as a bulwark against this process, compelling its members to resist their own innermost tendencies and remain essentially an invasive species rather than ‘going native’ or becoming indigenous to their locality. It has been like a military occupation since the beginning, with the farmers staying safe within an expanding ‘green zone’ of acceptable domestic species and raining destruction on anything outside that circle of influence until it comes to conform to the grand design of domestication – that of total human control.

Thus it is the human civilised culture that most desperately needs rewilding. Some have called for a mass resistance movement against it, but really it is Civilisation that is the only resistance movement, and the major task is to break up and dissolve that resistance and allow the masses of people to return to a sane and healthy relating to the rest of the beings on this planet, as well as to their own selves. The dandelion does not consciously attack or attempt to destroy the concrete. Rather, it is the concrete that resists the growth of the dandelion, and its eventual yielding and crumbling away is practically inconsequential to the desire of the plant. It just wants to grow, live and give birth to more of its kind. The conditions are either right for that or they aren’t. Yet.

Further reading:

Anthropik Jason’s ‘Rewilding Humans
Peter Bauer’s ‘Rewild or Die
Willem Larson’s ‘College of Mythic Cartography
Miles Olson’s ‘Unlearn, Rewild
The (now largely inactive) rewild forums

Finally, I’ll republish an excerpt from the now defunct rewild.info wiki because I think it’s a good piece of (E-Prime) writing and it looks like it’s in danger of dropping off the edge of the internet:

What does rewild mean?

As a verb

The term “rewild” acts as a verb which implies an action, a motion. It does not symbolize point A (Civilized) or point B (Wild) but the space between. As a verb, it symbolizes a process of undoing domestication, not the endpoint. It may look like a woman breast-feeding her child. It may look like a group of people collecting wild edibles. It may look like someone turning off their TV for an hour a day. It may look like hanging out with your friends. It may look like refusing to pay rent or buy food. It may look like killing a deer for the first time, using a rifle. And it may look like using a bow & arrow. It may look like reading a book and changing the way you see Civilization. It may look like refusing to send your children to school. It may look like stealing from the cash register at your wage slave job. It may look like tearing up the streets with a sledge-hammer to plant crops. It may look like investing in “green” technology. It may look like taking down civilization. It may look like frustration at the current state of the world. Everyone has various comfort zones, social networks or friends who can show them things. Rewilding does not exist just for the small elite class of purists who band together and head for the woods to live a 100% primitive life. It serves as an umbrella term for all those who strive to undomesticate themselves, even if only in the smallest way they can.

As a life project

For most green/anti-civilization/primitivist anarchists, rewilding and reconnecting with the earth is a life project. It is not limited to intellectual comprehension or the practice of primitive skills, but instead, it is a deep understanding of the pervasive ways in which we are domesticated, fractured, and dislocated from our selves, each other, and the world, and the enormous and daily undertaking to be whole again. Rewilding has a physical component which involves reclaiming skills and developing methods for a sustainable co-existence, including how to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves with the plants, animals, and materials occurring naturally in our bioregion. It also includes the dismantling of the physical manifestations, apparatus, and infrastructure of civilization. Rewilding has an emotional component, which involves healing ourselves and each other from the 10,000 year-old wounds which run deep, learning how to live together in non-hierarchical and non-oppressive communities, and deconstructing the domesticating mindset in our social patterns. Rewilding involves prioritizing direct experience and passion over mediation and alienation, re-thinking every dynamic and aspect of our reality, connecting with our feral fury to defend our lives and to fight for a liberated existence, developing more trust in our intuition and being more connected to our instincts, and regaining the balance that has been virtually destroyed after thousands of years of patriarchal control and domestication. Rewilding is the process of becoming uncivilized.[2] (source, for now)

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* – 2nd thoughts after sleeping on it: Actually I do make my living – and thus am starting to know about this through a deeper lived experience – from the not-entirely-dissimilar practice of creating and maintain open spaces in peoples’ lawns and flower borders. This too requires constant vigilance and regular high-energy intervention to discourage the ‘weeds’ (sometimes including tree seedlings) and basically ensure that the spontaneous process of succession towards forest is continually frustrated and reset to zero. Perhaps this provides a more ‘abundant’ or productive vegetative growth (although I’m noticing that at this time of year the grass is doing better when protected by the shade of trees) as the land struggles to recover from the emergency we’ve brought to it, but I’ve got the strong sense that things can’t continue this way for long. Lawns, beds and borders soon need fertility brought in from external sources to make up for the nutrients taken up by hungry annual plants and/or regular cropping. I for one can tell you that it’s exhausting! I’m sure the soil finds it similarly so.

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15 Responses to “More Rewilding”

  1. Deano Says:

    It would be worth read ‘Grazing Ecology and Forest History’ by F.W.M Vera, if you haven’t already. The book challenges the orthodox view that the natural vegetation of this country was closed canopy forest, and concludes that it was much more likely to be savannah, maintained by (wild) grazing animals. Human beings si ply substituted their domesticated livestock for their wild equivalents. I found the arguments put forward in the book to be very convincing, and this scenario certainly seemed to match the evidence far better than a climax forest vision of out past.
    It has relevance to this post, your argument, and the whole vision of what rewilding would look like.
    Wishing you well
    DEano

  2. Ian M Says:

    Hi Deano, thanks for the comment. I haven’t read any of Vera’s work personally but the critiques I’ve read don’t exactly give me confidence in his theory. For one thing he seems to have totally ignored or discounted the role of predators in changing the behaviour and ranges of herbivores, creating the ‘trophic cascades’ that have brought such dramatic changes to places like Yellowstone National Park (with the reintroduction of wolves). Mark Fisher has written a fair amount on this, for example near the end of this article. See also his presentation, ‘The Dutch Experience of Nature Development‘ (pdf) where he supplies a list of quotes from the scientific literature showing a distinct lack of support, if not a thorough debunking as of yet (p.15):

    “The available pollen data reported here forces the rejection of Vera’s hypothesis”
    Mitchell, F.J.G. (2005) How open were European primeval forests? Hypothesis testing using palaeoecological data. J. Ecol. 93, 168–177

    “The absence of any crucial pollen–analytical evidence [8,18] to support the idea of open-canopy primeval forest as envisaged by Vera [5] has important implications for forest management policies that assume the wood-pasture hypothesis is appropriate and valid for natural European lowland forests”
    Birks, H. John B (2005) Mind the gap: how open were European primeval forests?. Trends in ecology & evolution 20, 154-156

    “Pollen data from pre-Neolithic levels in Wales support a high-forest model of vegetation structure as proposed by Peterken (1996) and Mitchell (2005). Large sites which reflect regional vegetation indicate the region was predominantly closed woodland at around 6000 cal. yr BC, and there is little evidence to support a wood-pasture model (sensu Vera, 2000)”
    Fyfe, R. (2007) The importance of local-scale openness within regions dominated by closed woodland. Journal of Quaternary Science 22(6) 571–578

    “The contribution of this study to the current debate on the role of large herbivores in determining the structure of northwestern European woodlands (Vera 2000, Svenning 2002, Mitchell 2005) is to suggest that in Britain the aurochs may not have been a prime determinant of the structure of the more upland woodlands”
    Hall, SJG (2008) A comparative analysis of the habitat of the extinct aurochs and other prehistoric mammals in Britain. Ecography 31, 187-190

    “the extent of landscape openness as suggested by the Vera hypothesis is too high. Natural (river plains, wetlands, poor soils) and disturbance-induced (floods, windthrow, fire) small openings in closed beech forests were more likely to have produced the observed pollen assemblage at Lobsigensee 6000 years ago”
    Soepboer and Lotter (2009) Estimating past vegetation openness using pollen–vegetation relationships: A modelling approach. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 153: 102–107

    “The evidence about more recent (ca. 500–1900 A.D.) periods in Grazing Ecology and Forest History does not support the Vera Hypothesis. The most important general problem is that the material Vera presented appears to be irrelevant to the hypothesis. While it is certainly true that medieval and early modern written sources often describe woodland with more open vegetation than today’s closed forests, this says very little about Mesolithic conditions”
    Szabo, P. (2009) Open woodland in Europe in the Mesolithic and in the Middle Ages: Can there be a connection? Forest Ecology and Management 257 (2009) 2327–2330

    “the open areas evident within the records were not driven by the activities of grazing animals, that herbivore density does not control natural forest structure, effectively nullifying the crux of the Vera hypothesis”
    Whitehouse and Smith (2010). How fragmented was the British Holocene wildwood? Perspectives on the ”Vera” grazing debate from the fossil beetle record, Quaternary Science Reviews 29: 539–553

    fwiw I don’t hang my hat on a total 100% closed canopy either for pre-Neolithic Britain or for post-Neolithic rewilding scenarios. I see the importance of ‘edge’ (as the permaculturists talk about) when it comes to human habitation and food procurement from woodland. On the other hand there are the insights from Hambler and Speight about the destructive impacts of sunlight and ‘edge’ conditions on the many threatened invertebrate species who depend upon the dark, moist, undisturbed interiors of woodland:

    A further problem with habitat diversity is that it may be created at the expense of large, homogeneous blocks of habitat, and therefore more edges are created, between small habitat fragments. In some circumstances, edges are beneficial, but a rapidly increasing scientific literature suggests organisms of the edge and matrix around a habitat can be inimical to those of the interior.

    And the real smack in the face (I mean, I took it that way at the time as a confirmed plant freak):

    The fundamental reason for a conflict between invertebrate and plant conservation is that most invertebrates, unlike plants and butterflies, do not exploit the sun’s energy directly – indeed, it is hazardous to them. Further, invertebrates often live in and on dead plant material. Dead wood and dead grass is of little interest to flowering plant conservationists, except in so much as it may increase soil fertility and so reduce the floristic diversity. Botanists have long dominated conservation management in Britain, yet few appear to realise that some 70% of the energy flow through a terrestrial ecosystem is through the decomposer community, not the herbivores [my emph.]. Thus, as the pretty plants and their specialist herbivores decline during succession, less loved invertebrates (and many vertebrates), start to thrive, many feeding on abundant decomposer organisms, often in the soil.

    I imagine wholesale implementation of herbivore-heavy rewilding or even permaculture food forests would take a dramatic toll on these species, which I for one would hate to see.

    But yes, I’ll try to keep my jury out on Vera for the time being, and would be interested to hear your thoughts on any of the above. If you can summarise any counter-arguments that he or his followers have offered it would save me the cost of buying his book ;)

    best,
    Ian

    • Deano Says:

      Hi Ian
      I haven’t read any of the above papers, nor anything to contradict them. This is on the periphery of my area of interest. Having read his book I found it convincing, and a real shake up of the established view, and a shake up was bound to bring rebuttals. I cannot judge who is right.
      The habitat that Vera describes is an expanding and contracting mosaic of habitats cycling through all of the stages from grass to shade, providing plenty of niches including shade and dead wood. It’s certainly worth reading, especially with your awareness of the counter argumants.
      I managed to get the book via a University library, and here in Lincolnshire they will organise an inter- library loan like that for £4, which is a lot cheaper than buying the book, and one of the few ways that I get any benefit for my council tax.
      If you read it I’d be interested to read what you think.
      All of the best
      Deano

      • Ian M Says:

        Fair enough, I’m just warming up my interest in the topic myself, so probably wouldn’t be in a position to judge or even be particularly aware of the ‘established view’. I try not to rely too heavily on the confidence of others, but it’s difficult sometimes!

        The habitat that Vera describes is an expanding and contracting mosaic of habitats cycling through all of the stages from grass to shade, providing plenty of niches including shade and dead wood.

        Sounds good in theory, but does it work out that way in practice? As Emma Harris, who interviewed Vera, said of the Oostvaardersplassen project (modeled on his theories):

        So far, the Oostvaardersplassen has shown that a high density of grazers can certainly affect the landscape: they have largely mowed it clean (ibid.)

        That said I may add his book to my reading list if you say its relevant. Need to renew my library membership…

        one of the few ways that I get any benefit for my council tax.

        What, they don’t fill the potholes in the roads for you?? Bastards…

        cheers,
        I

      • Deano Says:

        You’re right. Lots of potholes left unfilled. It would be a problem if I drove more than once a week.

  3. christine Says:

    I enjoy reading Jesse Wolf Hardin, for example this:

    http://animacenter.org/blog/?p=3815

    He’s living the rewilded life, you might like to check out the work he’s done to heal his own land over the last 30 or so years.

    C.

  4. Mark Fisher Says:

    Ironically, a friend saw that there was an article about rewilding in the forthcoming contents of Issue 14 of The Land website, and she assumed it had been written by me. I would probably have given it more enthusiastic coverage than the articles that the Issue did contain. Of course, as a “house” magazine, they have a stance, and the contents of The Land invariably reflects that, much as my website reflects my personal opinion. I just wonder though, whether accuracy and breadth of knowledge is sacrificed. As it is, I have to live with Simon Fairlie’s trivialising of my view of wildland in his book “Meat”, when he could easily have asked for clarification from me – which doesn’t mean that he has to agree with me! However, the propagation of unsubstantiated assertions just leaves readers in ignorance. A couple of examples in that issue of The Land: in the article on native ponies, there is the unsubstantiated assertion that today’s mountain ponies are derived from wild ponies returning after glacial retreat, and which somehow survived on remote uplands. The article also follows the trend of equating rewilding with grazing by human-managed herbivores.

    Bill Grayson’s review of George’s book would be more credible if he was able to demonstrate that he knew the bigger picture of some of the upland areas he supplies his cattle for conservation grazing, the Ingleborough area in particular, and where we have a relationship with the NNR staff. The absence of grazing was initiated by NNR staff themselves – so whether cattle substitute sheep is irrelevant – has led to remarkable transformations for both limestone pavement (Scar Close) and moorland (South House Moor) when compared to the comparable but grazed adjacent sites of Southerscales and Borrins Moor, both the latter of course having HLS agreements on them.

    During July at an event in Ennerdale Valley, and then at an event in Sheffield, which both George and I attended, it was clearly demonstrated once again that wildland has been appropriated by those who have no commitment to it. Thus, in the absence of any other voice, the agenda that is now attached to “rewilding” is (livestock or pony) grazing, and will increasingly, through the persistence of the grazing advocates – the followers of Frans Vera and his rubbish book – be the only approach to wilder land that the public will hear. George’s message can be conveniently avoided by the conservation industry, because it doesn’t have to deal in concepts (such as trophic cascades) but instead in the reality of their world of management objectives, and getting their hands on the next tranche of HLS funding. Thus whereas the axiom is of a withdrawal of farming as a pre-condition for moving along the land spectrum, this will continue to be disavowed here in Britain, as it is also being propagated across Europe by the spectacularly misnamed “Rewilding” Europe.

    For some months now, I have had it on my wish list to write a “What is rewilding” for my website, where I would argue that the term has been hijacked, and that a better expression would be ecological restoration. However, even that is now being put into use by the rewilding-by-grazers, so that every phrase we may have used, is becoming useless to us: rewilding, wilded, natural processes, ecological restoration. The sea of mixed messages works to the advantage of naysayers, who put on their own interpretation. Thus a Forestry Commission ecologist at the Ennerdale meeting remarked that a particular landscape could not be self-willed as it had been modified in the past. There is no past associated with self-willed, as it is what is happening now! Even Simon Fairlie paints a picture of losses of large areas of land from productivity (as do many others) when realistically, the best hope for wilder land comes from the very small area of publicly owned land.

    I emailed The Land about all this, as I certainly think that the readership would benefit from a more considered view of what wildland is. And then I would be happy for them to make up their own mind! Never got a response.

  5. Ian M Says:

    Hello Mark, thanks for dropping by with that v. interesting comment & critique. It’s good to know a little more about what attitudes and real-life activities lies behind those articles.

    It’s a shame S.Fairlie or The Land don’t seem to be willing to engage with you properly on this topic. I thought it a little weird the piece of yours they published in the rewilding issue had little to do with that topic, given that you’ve clearly got plenty to say about it! Didn’t they approach you for an opinion? Fairlie’s gone a little further down in my estimation if he misrepresented you in his book (which I’ve been meaning to read). Maybe his devotion to keeping the old farming traditions alive gives him a blind spot when it comes to wildness. The attitude of fear and perhaps hatred towards the non-domesticated world must have been potent among those whose livelihoods had depended – for thousands of years – upon keeping that wildness at bay, or ‘under control’. Which rather begs the question of how some of us have come to see it differently!

    And yes, the association of rewilding with managed grazing of mostly domestic herbivores doesn’t sit well with me either. I see some value in the work of Allan Savory (see Rebecca Hosking’s interpretation for Devon here or on the Wolf Tree Farm blog) but will it lead to a gradual undoing of domestication or a better quality of land on the way to becoming wild, or ‘self-willed’? Are the farmers ever really going to take down those electric fences and let the sheep and cows live how they want? Will they happily reinstate the predators those fences are supposed to mimic? It seems doubtful at this point, and current rates of extinction and species decline suggest more immediately effective strategies are required.

    Thus a Forestry Commission ecologist at the Ennerdale meeting remarked that a particular landscape could not be self-willed as it had been modified in the past. There is no past associated with self-willed, as it is what is happening now!

    Ah, ‘You cannot live without me,’ says the abuser to his victim. ‘You depend upon being treated in this way. In fact there is no other way. In fact you really love it like this and anyway there’s no choice.’ Actually it is possible to recover from trauma, to leave an abusive relationship, and to live a full, independent life from then on. Dangerous (abusers are most likely to kill when the one they’re exploiting threatens to leave) but possible.

    I’d love to hear your take on ‘What is rewilding?’ There’s always a battle over the meaning of words and depressingly often it’s the power-friendly interpretation that wins and goes ‘mainstream’. That’s why I quite like the E-Prime approach of ignoring what people say such-and-such ‘is’ and instead paying attention to what people actually DO. This lends itself to independent verification via personal experience, as opposed to statements of essence or ‘is-ness’ which depend upon accepting the authority of the speaker.

    All best,
    I

  6. leavergirl Says:

    Back to the writing desk, eh, Ian? How delightful. Will take me a while to catch up. Please please do a thing on the Unciv festival!

  7. Ian M Says:

    Hi Vera, ask and ye shall receive :)

    Thoughts gratefully received as ever.

    Did you know the UK Permaculture Magazine did an article on Earthaven?

    best,
    I

  8. Ian M Says:

    A few follow-ups…

    Compare M.Fisher’s description of American pioneers ringbarking trees and killing off wild carnivores with the experience of wolves in England & Wales as related through the historical record:

    Certain historians write that in 950, King Athelstan imposed an annual tribute of 300 wolf skins on Welsh king Hywel Dda,[4] while William of Malmesbury states that Athelstan requested gold and silver, and that it was his nephew Edgar the Peaceful who gave up that fine and instead demanded a tribute of wolf skins on King Constantine of Wales. Wolves at that time were especially numerous in the districts bordering Wales, which were heavily forested.[5]

    This imposition was maintained until the Norman conquest of England.[4] At the time, several criminals, rather than being put to death, would be ordered to provide a certain number of wolf tongues annually.[6] The monk Galfrid, whilst writing on the miracles of St. Cuthbert seven centuries earlier, observed that wolves were so numerous in Northumbria, that it was virtually impossible for even the richest flock-masters to protect their sheep, despite employing many men for the job. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the month of January was known as “Wolf manoth”, as this was the first full month of wolf hunting by the nobility. Officially, this hunting season would end on March 25, thus it encompassed the cubbing season when wolves were at their most vulnerable, and their fur was of greater quality.[1] [continues...]

    And on the subject of sunlight apparently there’s a war on and you have to pick a side, Grass (championed by Simon Fairlie):

    [B]eing palatable is [grass'] main survival tactic. Grass is edible because it competes horizontally–in contrast to its main enemy, forest, which competes vertically. Trees shade out grass by growing tall–grass crowds out trees by growing thick.

    In order to grow tall, trees need a durable infrastructure in the form of a trunk and boughs, and in order to be durable this infrastructure must be inedible. Bark, the Achilles heel of a tree, is susceptible to a attack by other creatures, but living wood is a triumph of inedibility, hardly relished by anything.

    Grass–at least the kind of grass most commonly found in Europe–is exactly the opposite. It doesn’t try to shade out the larger plants; instead it tries to occupy every inch of land at ground level to prevent its rivals getting a purchase. Once it has reached sufficient height to spread its seeds, it usually lodges–leans over and then collapses into a heap. Wild grasses and cereal crops are particularly prone to lodging in a fertile soil because of the excessive weight of the seed. Lodging creates a dead layer of “thatch” which monopolizes ground and helps to keep competing plants at bay, but also cramps its own growth. Grass does even better when it is cropped short, since this encourages it to tiller–that is to say it puts more of its energy into sending off sideshoots which occupy more ground. The more grass is cropped, whether by the jaws of an animal or the blade of a mower, the more it tends to tiller, and weave itself into an impenetrable turf. Since the main reason for cropping grass is to eat it, grass has a big incentive to be palatable to other creatures. (Managing Grass in Britain with the Scythe, p.4)

    or Trees (championed by Christian Siems):

    I do know that fire, both fires started by lightening and by people, were instrumental in the regeneration, health and productivity of oaks in California. Indigenous people would burn the grass and brush around certain oaks to increase their production of acorns – and to make it far easier and faster to harvest those acorns. And I know that fire suppression is one of the causes of the recent lack of oak regeneration in many regions of California.

    As Aldo Leopold pointed out, oaks and grass are mortal enemies. Grass out competes oaks for soil water and nutrients. Oaks’ resistance to fire gives them a respite from grass competition and gives them the foothold they need to get started. Once they get going they can deploy their greatest weapon in the war against grass competition: shade. Their roots can draw sustenance from a geometrically increasing radius. (link)

    Personally, in the current configuration of climate, I would go with predominant forest in temperate Northern Europe and leave the wide expanses of grasslands and herbivores for further South and maybe the Eastern steppes. Probably in places in N.America and Africa too. That’s just how it seems to want to pan out, not that I’m playing god or anything…

    I want to make the point that the Bellum omnium contra omnes conception of nature as in a state of perpetual warfare, with species relating to one another as mortal enemies is basically a load of crap. It reads capitalism and the desperate scrabble for resources that characterises human life in civilisation into nonhuman relationships, and says more about the incapability of these damaged humans to conceive of any other way of relating than about the actual ‘state of nature’. I think it’s important to reject this kind of language, even when trying to describe situations in a lighthearted manner. Behind the joke, the dark seriousness… You know there was this little thing called Ethology that happened in the last century, right?

    I don’t have anything against grass (or the grain crops which are closely related to it) per se, it’s just that it seems wrong that it has come to dominate in Britain through the persistence of domesticated man and his associated Middle Eastern livestock to the detriment of the trees and forest communities (including preagricultural people) who previously held sway over this place. As the California Indians and many other human cultures across the globe prove, it is possible and probably desirable for human beings to live among trees and subsist upon their fruits. With a bounty of acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, apples and assorted berries ripening all around me in England’s most wooded county (a small but significant 22.4% woodland coverage) I can well believe it’s possible in this country too.

  9. Peter Michael Bauer (Urban Scout) Says:

    Ian, thanks for reposting that Rewild.info description. I haven’t thought about it in a while. Top secret news? Jason Godesky and I are working on a new site together that will rise rewild.info from the dead. I own http://www.rewild.com and we are going to create something special. We are looking for contributors if you are interested. :D

    • Ian M Says:

      Hey, great news! Yes, am happy to contribute however’s appropriate. Wow, it’s like being asked to play in a Pink Floyd reunion gig :)

      Has the rewild wiki been lost altogether then?
      I

  10. Peter Michael Bauer Says:

    Hahaha. Awesome. Glad you are in! The Rewild Field Guide is gone unfortunately, but the forum still exists and will be integrated into the newer site.

  11. ‘The Environment of Early Man in the British Isles’ | Frequently Found Growing On Disturbed Ground Says:

    […] or closed environment – basically the choice between grasses and trees which we talked about before. Evans makes clear that this isn’t a simple delineation between forest-dwelling […]

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