Two great stories this week about Quality meeting representatives of the common (wo)man.
One such was the Federation of Cumbria Commoners which was holding its AGM at Newton Rigg agricultural college near Penrith, where they encountered environmentalist George Monbiot (Stowe, Brasenose Oxford & The Guardian), who tried to explain his re-wilding, anti-sheep policies that would return the Lake District to what he claims is nature. Unsurprisingly, GM got short shrift, as the Independent (and Spectator blog) entertainingly recounted.
Meanwhile, another representative of Quality fared somewhat better. After his difficult January visit to Somerset to see the flooding, Defra Secretary of State Owen Patterson (Radley, Corpus Christi Cambridge & Freeman of the City of London) got a much more positive reception from the representatives of ordinary folk (and a few county landowners) this time around. This was unsurprising as he went clutching taxpayer subsidies designed to show how much the government cares. Always a winning strategy, of course – even if it involves dredging, which not everyone (including GM) thinks is much of a strategy.
If only GM could persuade the tax-payer (and sheep-farmer) to get wild about re-wilding. Unlikely, I'd say. A few years back it nearly happened when foot and mouth disease in Cumbria almost reached the high fell sheep. Had it done so, and the animals' hefted nature been lost, then re-wilding might have been the cheapest (though surely not the best-value) option. The problem with re-wilding in the Lakes is that it favours bracken (and rank grasses), as this extract from the Cumberland & Westmoreland Herald (31st March 2001) explains:
“In the long term, a lot of rarer grassland plants require grazing to survive. Without it, some heather would come back but there would also be things you don’t want like rank grass and bracken. The spread of bracken would be unstoppable because it’s very hard to get rid of it. It’s all a question of balance and the loss of the Herdwicks would not help this.”
Just so. In this vein, the onset of foot and mouth had prompted a once in a thousand years burst of optimism from the Rank Grass and Bracken Times ( Gaiayear 632.41.a9 ) ...
Encouraging News from the Provinces
"Our special correspondent reports from North-west Sector 9. Thanks to steadfastness of viral allies, and human greed and folly, a thousand years of occupation look set to end. Readers with long memories will recall that our high fell country has, this past millennium, been colonised and much perturbed; all its harmonies lie distorted by industriousness. These occupied lands lie ravaged by Herdwick and Rough Fell sheep. Incomers. These alien species, inured to sun and frost, impervious to ticks, stoic in the face of gale and sleet, they select our youngest and most tender shoots on which to feast. Worse, their hefted nature ensures they return, unerringly, to subdue all traces of stout and valiant resistance. With good luck, however, and continued human recklessness, they will succumb, and the high fells revert to pre-human days when we, the rank grasses and bracken, were all at one with God."
Well, the rank grass and bracken gods went AWOL when needed most, and the Herdwicks remain – as does the common (wo)man. Meanwhile, GM dreams on – though not, of course, about 'GM'.