It struck me last night, as I was watching the new BBC programme that reconstructs our human ancestors, just how precarious our situation is. We were once one of several species of hominids co-existing on Earth, but recently, very recently, all the others died out, except for Homo sapiens. We are not the climax of evolution on this planet. We are a tenuous final relic of an evolutionary grouping that has all-but died out, or, in the case of the Neanderthals, been incorporated into our North European DNA.
What I found disturbing about this was that the assumption is that we are better, and will adapt better and survive because we are cleverer than those hominids that died out. But are we?
How do we interact with our environment? Do we use our intelligence to learn about what is out there, study it, listen to it, value our time in the environment and what the environment gives to us, nurture the environment, preserve its resources, work with it so that every species can prosper? Or do we seek to modify, dominate, apply technological fixes, eliminate those things that don’t suit us, marginalise species to the ever-diminishing bits of the planet that people don’t want to exploit?
There are many, many people out there who would like to live in the former way – in harmony, in natural balance with the environment. But there seem to be many more who want to exploit and control it.
Agriculture used to be about working with the land – using the right bits of land to grow the right bits of food. Now global markets determine what is grown where for maximum profit, regardless of whether the land is suitable. So we modify, drain, irrigate, apply chemicals, cut down trees, clear scrub, create terraces, canalise rivers, remove hedgerows and wildflower margins. In doing so we upset the natural balance created over millions of years. Our interventions in turn upset the ecosystems, and lead to certain species that are tolerant of our activities dominating – only to be condemned as pests and attacked again with chemicals, with culling, with shooting, poisoning, trapping.
There seems to be a great deal of thought and technology applied to the mechanics of agriculture and environmental management, but not a great deal of strategic intelligence. It does not take a great deal of intelligence to realise that if we upset the natural balance too much, we will suddenly find ourselves in a crisis of our own making. We were never given “dominion over all the creatures on the Earth”. We are just another one of them – a perilous relic of a group of species, all of which, apart from us, have failed. We absolutely rely on the natural balance for the production of our food, for materials for our housing, for our energy, for our medicines, and for our lives.
Humans seem to think that we can simply force the world to our will. We cannot. Sooner or later the natural balance will tip against us, and none of our intelligence or technology will be able to cope. We are the last of the hominids. We have to wake up and think about what this means and how we can get back into balance with nature.
At the woods, we try to keep things in balance. It is not easy, and we have made mistakes. But if you respect the cycles of life, and seek to help them achieve balance, rather than constantly throwing them into disarray, it is remarkable what a difference you can make to the wildlife, and the richness of the environment.
Most people love the countryside, and enjoy being there. Very few see the complexity of what is around them, and even fewer understand the key processes that go into making it the wonderful place it is. If Homo sapiens is to avoid the fate of other hominds, then we have to re-acquire this understanding quickly, and learn that if we work with nature, it will help us many times over, but if we try and fight it, the battle is already lost. Ecological processes are beautiful – few human interventions are, and they are mostly those interventions that work closely with nature – windmills, solar panels, water-wheels.
So here is a message for those in charge: stop destroying the countryside. Stop shooting things that happen to be in the “wrong” place. Stop spraying “weeds” but start encouraging wild flowers that in turn will bring beneficial insects that themselves control the “pests” that we encourage by our hundred-acre monoculture crops. Start managing forests and woodlands sustainably. Stop building on valuable habitat just because the land is cheaper. Stop tidying up the countryside. Put the hedgerows back and sell the huge machinery – go to a smaller scale. Look at the principles of permaculture, and learn to make the land a great place for every creature, including humans. Stop seeing nature as something that is OK provided it doesn’t cause any inconvenience for anybody. Stop denying the human contribution to global warming and start doing something about it, rather than paying lip-service and carrying on as before. Stop pandering to globalised vested interests, corporate greed, corruption and cover-ups, and start being open and honest. Value every living thing, including humans who don’t come from the same country, background, religion or point of view as yourself.
Or lose the natural balance, and lose out. Other creatures will come along and take our place. We are not God’s anointed and never were. We are just another endangered species, the difference being that we are endangering ourselves. We must acknowledge this quickly, and do something about it, before it is too late.