Irreplaceable means just that…

Irreplaceable ancient woodland

Irreplaceable ancient woodland

The Government recently published its paper on Biodiversity Offsetting, a scheme whereby damage caused by development can be offset by creation or improvement of habitat elsewhere.  On the face of it, this seems very reasonable.  You build a supermarket on a meadow, and make another meadow elsewhere.  Simples!

The problem is that habitats are not simple things, and this simple scheme is fraught with hazards for our wonderful wildlife.  Look closely at the document and you will see not all is well with this proposal, which proceeds on the premise that a small amount of high distinctiveness (i.e. high quality) habitat can be replaced by a large amount of poorer distinctiveness habitat, that this can be done in an area remote from the community of people and wildlife affected by the development, that developers can in effect choose the type and location of “offsetting” that they provide, that habitats are assessed on their current, rather than potential value (laying them open to the risk of wilful neglect to reduce their value and offsetting costs), and that the distinctiveness and condition of a habitat can be assessed in 20 minutes.  It also supposes that the habitat created can be colonised by the displaced ecosystem, which does not take account of distances, ecological networks, the place of the ecosystem in the landscape and most important of all, the timescale over which such colonisation could take place.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

High value habitat can be replaced by a larger quantity of lower-value habitat

Ecosystems are complicated.  Even a very simple garden, brownfield site or arable site is a complex ecosystem, with archaea, bacteria, fungi, bryophytes, plants, insects, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds co-existing in an intricate network of food, prey and predators.  The higher the value (or distinctiveness, as it is called in the document) of the habitat, the more complex and rich the ecosystem is.  Many habitats are irreplaceable, having developed over many centuries into the rich ecological web that we see:  ancient woodlands, limestone pavements, lowland heath, wildflower meadows (particularly unimproved or semi-improved), ancient hedgerows and hedge-banks are examples of this.  The idea that you can simply assign a ratio of valuableness to habitats, and then replace something that is irreplaceable by a bit more of a lower value habitat is really very absurd.  Irreplaceable means just that…you cannot just dig it up and put it somewhere else.  Of course it is possible to develop new wildlife habitat, but you cannot develop new ancient woodland or lowland heath on a site where it has not existed before.  It doesn’t work that way.  As we have said before, it is like trying to replace the crown jewels with a skip-load of cheap costume jewellery.  These ancient habitats are our crown jewels and cannot be replaced.

In my view these high-value, irreplaceable habitats should be afforded a higher level of legal protection, equal at least to SSSI:  Ancient woodland, limestone pavement, lowland heath, wildflower meadows (unimproved or semi-improved), ancient hedgerows and hedge-banks.  In addition, local Wildlife Trusts and conservation organisations need to be able to designate habitats on a more local level to the same standard if they are locally rare, locally irreplaceable or have particular local value.  Any development on such sites (other than small tool stores, small visitor or community centres, or small scale permaculture based crafts and industries) should be subject to a full planning enquiry.

Offsetting can take place anywhere, with any habitat

Another flawed idea is that the offset provided for any development can be anywhere, and even of a different type to the one destroyed or compromised.  This ignores two fundamental things:  first of all, the habitat that will be destroyed is where it is because it is suited to the local landscape and the ecological connections within it, and second, that a wildlife habitat only has ecological value, and does not have a value to the local human community that live nearby, and may derive great benefit from it.  Habitats that provide exposure to wildlife in the urban and suburban environments are particularly valuable to that community, even though they may not be particularly distinctive in what they contain, or of high ecological value.  Likewise, an ecosystem exists where it does because it fits in with the local landscape, soils, and ecological connections:  destroy it, or move it, and you will not get the same thing back.  Even worse, destroy it and replace it with something else in another location, and you risk losing not only the human social benefits of that habitat, but knocking a piece out of the local ecological jigsaw that will impact not only on that site, but on others around it too.  The idea that you can replace lowland meadows with upland forests, say, is just wrong – they are different habitats, in different places, and will be accessible to different people, and different communities of flora and fauna.

Developers can bank habitat to be used when the need for offsetting arises

This proposal effectively allows developers to choose the type of habitat they provide, where they provide it, how they provide it, who they provide it for and at what cost.  It leaves the planning authority, the local ecologists and naturalists, and worse of all, the local community, with no say.  Developers will be able to choose cheap land, and cheap habitat creation (such as new woodland planting, planting of low-quality meadows, creation of low-value ponds) which may not be in a good area for the community, and not provide habitat that is a priority, nor support species that form part of local Biodiversity Action Plans.  It takes control of the process away from local planning authorities, and local people, and puts it in the hands of the developers, who will be seeking to maximise profit.  It does not seem to be a good way to ensure high quality, high priority habitat that is accessible to and wanted by the local people is created.

Habitats can be rapidly assessed on their current, not potential value

The document suggests that the distinctiveness (or value) of a habitat can be rapidly assessed in 20 minutes.  20 minutes to assess the complexity of centuries.  Even the most naïve ecologist would hesitate to think they could assess the value of a habitat in such a short time.  And who will do the assessment?  Will they be independent of both the local planning authority (who may be under pressure to agree developments to meet targets) and the developer (who wants as much habitat to be given a low a value as possible to reduce costs)?  And where is the requirement to consult both the Wildilfe Trusts (who will have Phase One survey data), the local Biological Records Office (which will have some, although not all, records of species sighted), and local naturalists and enthusiasts who may well be aware of important species on the site that cannot be uncovered in a single survey, taking minutes, and undertaken during a single season?

There is an additional worry here:  developers could buy up and then sit on land, allowing it to deteriorate through neglect or even wilful damage.  This would reduce its value and distinctiveness and allow it to be offset more cheaply.  Land needs to be assessed according to its potential value, not its current value to avoid this happening.  For example, they could neglect a coppice for 20 years until the important species move on, thus lowering its habitat value and distinctiveness and allowing for cheaper offsetting.  Assessment of potential value is the only way to prevent this.

New habitat in Betty's Wood

New habitat in Betty’s Wood

The displaced ecosystem can and will move into an offset area in a reasonable timescale

Can an ecosystem just move?  This is not going to be likely unless the habitat is of low distinctiveness, and the creatures within it are mobile, and it is provided close to the land being destroyed.  Ancient woodland, for example, colonises new adjacent woodland very slowly.  Obviously, habitat creation is possible, and can be very successful, provided it is done well, managed well, and appropriately placed. It can be more successful if adjacent to an existing high quality site, or when it caters for very mobile species, such as some birds or butterflies.  But this is not what is being proposed.  Move a habitat even a small distance and the conditions may be very different.  Some species, although seeming to be mobile, may actually move a very short distance – house sparrows are an example.  Some species may move in very quickly, but others may move slowly, or not at all.  If they can’t move in an appropriate time-frame or distance, then unless alternative habitat is available locally, they are likely to become locally extinct.  Build it and they will come?  Yes, but not all of them, and not necessarily straight away.  Our own woods have habitat for purple emperor butterflies, but they are not there.

The timescale is important – if a new habitat takes years to develop, where are the displaced plants and animals to go?  And how long is the offset agreement going to last?  If it is a short duration (and some existing agreements are), then the habitat may actually only just be getting to a stage where it can host a rich ecosystem when the agreement ends.  And of course the land can be vulnerable to development, or neglect.

An offsetting market is the way to deliver this programme

Markets tend to favour the large provider, who can provide large areas of habitat at a low cost.  Is this really the best way to manage valuable habitats?  Landscape-scale conservation relies on an ecological patchwork or networks, not huge swathes of monotonous habitat.  Small and local patches of wild land, managed to enhance diversity and promote access for people and wildlife, will produce not only the diversity of habitats that are needed, but also the networks that wildlife requires to move around, colonise new areas and be resilient to threats such as fire, disease and pests.  Managing small areas of land is more difficult, more costly, and more time-consuming – hardly something the market is likely to favour.  Of course there could be genuine partnerships that deliver high quality objectives, but that is not usually the way in which markets operate – they tend to high volume and low cost.

Any system that is put in place must have the following characteristics:

  1. Offsetting must be seen as absolutely the last resort and only used after it has been made clear that it is not possible to avoid or mitigate (rather than that it is uneconomic to do so).  It seems clear that already it is being used to justify developments that otherwise would not get planning permission.
  2. Any development that requires offsetting must have such offsetting agreed by, and done in agreement with, the local community, who need to be consulted at all stages, including the valuation of the habitat, the location and preferred type of offsetting schemes, and the monitoring of the scheme to ensure it is of high quality.
  3. All high value, high distinctiveness and high quality habitats must excluded from offsetting and afforded protection.
  4. All irreplaceable habitats must be given legal protection: Ancient semi-natural woodland, limestone pavements, lowland heath and unimproved or high quality semi-improved wildflower meadows and high-quality hedgerows. This legal protection cannot completely preclude development, but any significant development on such land must require a full public enquiry.
  5. The principle of offsetting the loss of high quality habitat by more low quality habitat is flawed: habitat does not work that way, and ecological networks take a long time to develop. Therefore the underlying principle is that offsetting can only be small scale, local, and replace low quality habitat by an equivalent amount of at least equivalent and preferably higher quality habitat. It also needs to be long-term, ideally covenanted to the local people in perpetuity. It must not be seen as a way to bank land for a few years before building on it and moving the habitat again.
  6. The measurement of habitat quality should consider the POTENTIAL MAXIMUM value of the ecosystem, not its value in the current condition. This is essential to stop the developers sitting on land and either actively damaging it, or allowing it to deteriorate by neglect, in order to place it into a low category and save money.
  7. The assessors need to be properly trained and independent (that is, not employed by either local authorities or developers), and they need to bring in experts on different ecosystems, and different species and species groups where required. They should also be obliged to consult with local people and local naturalists given full opportunity to contribute to discussions on the value of the habitat. Offsetting should be determined by the local people. It must be appropriate in scale and location, and take into account the ability of wildlife to re-colonise new areas and the community to benefit from it.
  8. The system comes from the local community upwards: they should be the ones who decide whether offsetting is appropriate, and if so, what is done, with the support of professionals, experts, local naturalists, local and regional wildlife organisations. The local community MUST be trusted to make this decision.

Will this make development uneconomic for developers?  In some places, yes, but this is a flawed economic model to begin with.  If nature is properly valued, then some developments will indeed be uneconomic.  However some will not be, particularly if the developer and the local community can work together.  Biodiversity offsetting has deep flaws, and betrays a lack of ecological understanding.  Worst of all, it ignores the value of habitat to the local community of wildlife, and people.

People enjoying Warwickshire Moor Local Nature Reserve

People enjoying Warwickshire Moor Local Nature Reserve


Common Wasp

Common wasp on angelica

I love birds.  And butterflies.  And dragonflies.  And reptiles.  And amphibians.  And wild flowers.  I keep records of the species I have seen, and am as excited as anybody when I see a new species for the first time.  Lots of people do this.  They go round collecting lists of things they have seen, some travelling long distances to get a “tick” on their list.

But I’m not a birder, twitcher or any other kind of highly-travelled collector of “ticks”.  My approach to wildlife watching is different.

Years ago, I would get in the car and set off whenever there was a report that a certain butterfly had emerged in a particular location, and head off to well-known bird-watching haunts to see species I had not seen before and were known to be there.  But I found this very unsatisfying.  There was no real connection with the creature I was viewing, no really deep understanding of this creature and its relationship to other species within the ecosystem in which it lived.  Likewise, I found wildlife-watching holidays, in which we were conveyed round in groups to look at wildlife for a brief moment before moving on to the next location to be rather empty.  So I’d seen bee-eaters, or flamingos, or hoopoes – so what?  How much did I really know about the habitat in which they lived, and why they were there, and what pressures they face, and how they behave, and what interactions they have with other creatures in the local area?  Not a lot, really.

Also, I have a weakness when it comes to being a birder, or other type of “collector” in that I actually like watching all birds, all butterflies, all dragonflies, all wildflowers.  They are all fascinating, common or rare, frequently seen or rarely viewed.  I find it endlessly fascinating to watch common little brown birds, just as I find it fascinating to watch a rare species.  I love to watch how they behave, how they interact, what they feed on, where they nest, and how they fit in with the other species in the habitat in which they live.  A knowledge of, appreciation for, and enthusiasm for collecting rarities on a list can be a wonderful way of getting people involved in nature-watching, and protecting our diminishing wild places, but it isn’t the way I like to enjoy nature.

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock butterfly – common butterfly, common ragwort, but very worth watching

Baby Wren

Little brown bird – baby wren

For me, the pleasure of nature-watching is in knowing the habitat well, something that gives each sighting of a different species some meaning and context.  Obviously owning a woodland is a wonderful thing, and allows me to form a close and deep connection with the land, the trees, the plants, the insects, the birds, the bats and all the other creatures that choose to live there.  New species are exciting, not just because they are new, but because they represent the fact that the ecosystem can support them.  They are there because they want to be there, because the conditions are right for them to be there.

I also like wildlife watching whenever I travel elsewhere for business or pleasure.  Wherever I may fetch up, I like to watch what wildlife is there, and what it is doing.  I like to travel to nice places with diverse ecosystems, and enjoy walking in other woodlands, countryside, hills and valleys.  But nature-watching isn’t only about going somewhere that you know is going to be populated by spectacular wildlife.  It is about learning what you can about the local habitat and then seeing what is there in context.

This year we went to Doncaster for our business.  We stayed in a hotel in a very ordinary edge-of-town retail and leisure development.  And yet there was great wildlife there.  Early purple orchids by the edge of the ornamental lake.  Long-tailed tits in groups flitting through the young amenity trees by the chain restaurant in which we dined.  Pied wagtails in the hotel grounds.  Wildflowers growing in profusion in the as-yet-undeveloped areas around the edge of the development.

It didn’t matter that the wildflowers and birds were common.  What mattered was learning about, and enjoying, what the habitat had to offer, even a very “ordinary” urban-edge habitat on a brownfield site.

Great tit in the snow

Great tit in the snow – common, but beautiful

In short, I like to learn about whatever ecosystem I find myself in has to offer.  I am sure that some “tick-collectors” like to do this too, but my experience is that quite a few do not – the tick matters more than anything else.  Maybe at heart I am an ecologist, rather than a birdwatcher, butterfly-watcher, bat-fanatic or anything else.  For me, the pleasure of nature-watching is about taking the pulse of the land and becoming part of it, so you can understand it in depth, and appreciate everything that is there, from the common to the rare, the plain to the flamboyant and the drab to the colourful.  There is so much all around us all the time and that is what makes being a nature-watcher so exciting – provided you don’t mind your birds being small and brown, your butterflies being white, and your amphibians being common.  I don’t.  I enjoy watching them all.

The right tree in the right place by the right method

planting trees

There seems to be a perpetual tension between trees and other habitats, and within the tree category between planting and natural regeneration, sometimes with very entrenched and strongly-held views, particularly now the Independent Forestry Panel has weighed in with its support for increasing tree cover in England.

So how do we decide what is the right tree and what is the right place?

First of all, we could let the trees decide. That is what natural regeneration is, right? Well, I’m not so sure that is always the case. Many trees are pioneer species that will rapidly colonise other habitats. Indeed, many of these habitats are only as they are because one way or another the growth of trees is controlled: by agriculture, grazing, burning, climate or some other activity. It is wonderful to watch a habitat being re-colonised. Across the canal from us is a former spoil heap that has recolonized within my lifetime with woodland, mainly birch, oak and willow. Within our own wood, there are areas recolonising naturally too.

But there are also areas, such as heathland, which are valuable and declining habitats in their own right. The growth of trees there would endanger the habitat, and in many places, even in areas such as the New Forest, these trees need to be controlled to preserve precious habitat.

So, if we don’t let the trees decide, should we plant instead? There is a lot going for planting. You get quick results. The woodland becomes economically viable in a short time. You can connect fragmented habitat quickly. There are lots of grants and incentives to plant. You can engage the community in planting very easily. Young trees grow rapidly and fix a lot of carbon.

The problem is that there are also arguments against planting. The trees are likely to be all the same age, and it will take a long time for a diverse woodland to emerge. You may introduce disease, alien species, or cultivars that don’t thrive locally. Planted trees need a lot of maintenance, at least in the first few years. Planted trees don’t often come with associated mycorrhiza that are needed for healthy growth. Planted woodland tends to be less ecologically rich than naturally regenerated woodland. Planting may suppress natural regrowth and skew the balance of species locally.

Even on ground where woodland is wanted, and appropriate, regeneration is slow, and doesn’t come with appropriate subsidies, and it can also be taken over by invasive non native trees such as sycamore, and threaten other local woodlands.

So how do we achieve the right tree in the right place and who decides? I am sure our own decisions have been flawed, but were made in good faith, and sometimes because of financial constraints and incentives.

We have done our best to stimulate natural regeneration that was lacking in our own woods by bramble clearance, protection of saplings, introduction of light and so on. It seems to be working in some places and not in others.

We have also planted some areas to provide more diverse understory. Why? If we don’t do this, the elder growing on site because it is too fertile due to years of animal grazing simply takes over and we have had to resort to planting with species already on site to suppress this and allow the woodland to regain the diversity it has lost. How do we know it has lost diversity? Mainly because of the ancient hedge around the edge, and the diversity still present in the areas where animals were excluded.

Was this right? I don’t know. Some of it used our own seedlings, some didn’t. All I can say was it was done with thought, knowledge of the microclimate and soil, and careful weighing up of pros and cons.

Then there is Betty’s Wood. Appropriate for trees? Well few would say no. It was on poorly productive wet farmland, and connects two pieces of ancient woodland fragmented for years but clearly connected in the past.

The ideal solution would be natural regeneration. Except that the ground has been seriously disturbed and over fertilised with chemicals to maximise yield. Natural regeneration would be anything but natural. But planting is unnatural too.

What we have done is some of each. We have planted the centre section, and left the edge, where there are already trees to provide seed, to regenerate. In practice this seems to be appropriate in that there aree hardly any natural saplings growing outside this regen area. The centre section we planted with wildflower meadow and then planted into it, mindful of the soil, microclimate and the species already growing in the area. We planted in natural curvy lines to allow access for maintenance in early years and left large meadows, thickets, clumps and other features. Planting density varied, so some was spread out and the rest closer, to provide maximum variety.

It is no ideal. Many would say right place, possibly right trees, but wrong method. But the long and short is we wouldn’t get the money for natural regeneration alone. Herein lies the problem. I think in our case, planting was the best method, although others will no doubt disagree. But in many places it isn’t. But if we are to persuade people to allow tree cover to expand on their land, if it is right to do so, then we need to offer finance for this, or all the new woodland will be planted. At least we were allowed to regenerate over 16 thousand square metres of land and still get the money provided we met the density target over the whole site.

I don’t know if we have achieved the right trees in the right place by the right method. But I do think there needs to be much more flexibility over how expanded tree cover is achieved and in particular the method by which it is achieved. There also needs to be a great deal of thought put into identifying appropriate land for trees, so that neither productive agricultural land, nor precious alternative habitats are harmed.

Much will depend on the system put in place to achieve this. However given the target-driven nature of governments, planting is likely to get the nod. That is likely to create a lot of woodland very quickly, it of what quality? Do we really want lots of even-aged plantations? Will these really be well managed to encourage emergence of diverse ages and habitats? Will they be put in the right place or just the cheapest place? I have no idea. I just hope that people do put a bit of thought into what they are doing, and why.

Nature at the Centre

Nature conservation.  We all (well most of us, anyway) think it is a good idea.  Making sure that nature is preserved, conserved and kept in good condition for the next generation.  Except, of course, despite decades of dedicated work, nature is not being conserved.  It is shrinking.  That is not to decry the efforts of those involved in conservation work – I am sure the situation would be a lot worse if we had done nothing – but it simply isn’t holding back the tide of human influence on the landscape and on the species that live there.
There are some species that are doing well, particularly those that are adaptable and can live with humans in towns and cities.  But mostly, numbers are falling, particularly of specialist species that need a habitat that has taken thousands of years to develop – woodland butterflies, woodland birds, farmland birds, grassland flowers and plants, whole hosts of other insects and the creatures that feed upon them, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fungi.  Nature conservation feels like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a leaky bucket.
The problem is, nature conservation is seen as something that you do on nature reserves.  But these will never be enough.  They are too diverse, too scattered, not connected to each other, and much, much too small.  And vulnerable.  Nature cannot be preserved by keeping it limited to special areas.
Whenever I travel about, I very much get the feeling that human activity is only borrowing land from nature – the trees, bushes, grassland, shrubs, flowers, hedgerows and other habitats are sitting there, just waiting to reclaim what we have borrowed from them.  Occasionally, you come across an old building, completely overgrown with trees, flowers and plants, providing homes for foxes, rabbits, birds and insects.  Very frequently, it seems these buildings have been occupied until quite recently.  We are only borrowing from nature, and borrowing for a short while.  Nature has the power to take things back.
What we cannot do is borrow too much, in the wrong places.  We need to recognise that we are borrowing, not taking, or dominating, or controlling.  Nature needs to be put at the centre of everything we do, not shifted out to the fringes, where we grudgingly make space for it.  It needs to be seen as a benefit for everybody, not a cost, not a regrettable overhead, not an unnecessary expense, not a drag on business and a brake on development.  Putting nature at the centre means that everybody, in their daily lives, and in their businesses, need to think what they can do to make their lives friendly for nature.  And the thing is, it doesn’t need to cost much, or anything at all.  Even taking a human-centred view, there is plenty of research showing that a pleasant working environment, and an environment full of greenery and trees and plants, results in less sickness, better staff morale and better productivity.

We need to see development, such as houses and businesses, as fitting in around nature and not the other way round.  They also need to be fitted in in the best way possible, and where damage needs to be offset, this needs to be high quality habitat, provided in the right place, preferably locally, and result in a net gain, and improvements in connectivity of habitats, so people can enjoy the benefits if they have paid the price of habitat being lost.  And no habitat that is irreplaceable should be lost.
Ambitious targets for conservation will not be met without a fundamental shift in thinking.  We fit in around nature, not nature around us.  If nature is not put at the centre, then nature conservation efforts will repeatedly fail, and will habitat loss will turn into a rout.  We will continue to bail out the sinking ship with a leaky bucket.  Nature at the centre of all we do.  It is the only way to stem the tide.

True wealth

What is wealth?  GDP?  Per Capita GDP?  GDP growth?  Balance of trade?  A particular income?  A particular lifestyle?  Bling?  We are conditioned to think of wealth in terms of economic wealth, the stuff we own.  Having stuff is nice.  It makes life easier.

However, there is another kind of wealth – and it is something we can experience for free, any day of the week, almost everywhere.  Nature is incredibly rich in beauty and diversity.  Some of my most amazing experiences have come in natural places.

So it was that I was walking around our woods yesterday.  In the space of about 90 minutes, I was privileged to see and photograph a nuthatch feeding her chicks, a kestrel with prey being chided by a blackbird, a brimstone butterfly exploring the new buckthorn bushes we planted this winter, and an unbelievably cute pair of tawny owl chicks dozing in the summer sunshine.  Then there were the things I heard and didn’t manage to photograph – the chatter of the nesting blue tits and great tits, the jackdaws, the blackcaps and their lovely scratchy song, the chiffchaffs, the great spotted and green woodpeckers, the nuthatches and treecreepers, the angry wrens, the stealth voles, and rabbits, and muntjac deer, a glimpse of the fox.  Then there are the things I didn’t see, or pay much attention to, but upon which all of these other species depend – the beetles, bugs, flies, larvae, other insects, lichens and moss, leaf litter, grasses and sedges, reeds and rushes, bark and logs, the fungi and flowers, including our beautiful bluebells, coming to their best right now.

In our tiny little patch of land, just 20 acres, there was so much wealth it was brimming over – so much I couldn’t even see it all, or take it in.  And that is just 20 acres, on just one day, in just one place.

Even in the town, in our little garden, we have nesting sparrows stripping the pampas grass for their nests, busy blue tits taking bugs from the crab apple tree, in which we also have woodpigeon making a rather poor attempt at nesting.  I see collared doves, long tailed tits, greenfinch, goldfinch, mallard, herons, buzzards…and that is just in the garden, and just the birds.  There is a lot of other stuff too.

A recent visit to the woods by a beetle and bug expert in foul weather revealed nearly 40 species of beetle and bug.  FORTY species – and most of them I had never seen.  In better weather, on another day, there may well be many more.

All around us are amazing things, in amazing places, one of which is our lovely ancient woodland. What is sad is that so few people now get the chance to experience a truly rich habitat like this.  Woodland is destroyed, trees chopped down, and although planting new trees can be good, and in time will produce habitats for many creatures, it can never reproduce the wealth that has been developed over hundreds, or thousands of years, in these special places.

The Transport Secretary recently suggested that ancient woodlands could be dug up and moved to make way for HS2 – a statement that betrays a lack of understanding of the difference between a truly rich, wealthy habitat, and an also-ran.  We need a lot more also-ran habitats, a lot more woodlands, heathlands, grasslands, hedgerows and new ponds – but we must preserve the true gems that we also possess.  This doesn’t mean that they should be monuments, devoid of human activity or life.  Indeed, human activity has shaped these habitats, and sustainable management of these woods by coppicing is instrumental in providing a truly rich habitat.  But it does mean that they should not be destroyed.

Just spend a day in one of these rich places with somebody who knows what to look for, and you will be astounded at what is there, right on our doorsteps, completely for free.  Perhaps that is the problem – this wealth is not monetary wealth, and we don’t usually have to pay to enjoy it.  So we don’t value it in the same way as we value our stuff.  Until, eventually, it isn’t there any more.  By which time we have become conditioned to an impoverished existence, devoid of the wealth the nature has to offer.  How very sad that would be.  Nature is treasure of the highest order.  It is true wealth and upon it all other types of wealth depend.  I hope we learn this before it is all gone.