Conservation & Environment

Pest, pet and prey: the frightened Rabbit

Wild Rabbits playing on Star Hill, Bridge. Image © copyright 2018.

One very familiar and seemingly ubiquitous creature in the landscape of the Kent Downs is the wild Rabbit. Bridge residents who venture out into our local countryside will know we have our fair share of them here. Originally from the south west of Europe, they were brought into Britain as farmed animals in the 12th century by the invading Normans who kept them in managed warrens to provide a cheap and easy source of meat and fur. Of course some escaped and, finding a landscape they could adapt to, they naturally bred like… Rabbits!

Given its countryside status as a bit of a pest, particularly one that lives gregariously out in the fields, it is odd that parents of young children frequently buy them a Rabbit as a pet to be kept in a small hutch out in the back garden. It is wilfully ignorant, cruel and quite obviously runs contrary to the animals’ natural way of life. The hutch gained popularity in Victorian times when Rabbits were captured alive and held for a short time before being killed for the pot; but even the barbaric Victorians were not so misinformed as to think they were actually being kind to a much loved pet in the way that many children are deceived into believing by trusted adults today. It is a national disgrace that Rabbits are kept confined in small hutches in primary schools all over Britain to this day.

Wild Rabbits, Bridge area. Rabbits live in structured family groups. Image © copyright 2018.

We must dismiss any spurious excuses about ‘domesticated’ Rabbits being bred for captivity: it should be clear, a Rabbit is a Rabbit, there is not some convenient division in the species between those that like being trapped in a tiny wooden box all their lives and those that don’t! Rabbits are intelligent and active creatures, they need a lot of exercise and the freedom to roam about grazing. Out in the wild each one may graze over an area as large as three football pitches in a day. Furthermore, being herbivores and non-aggressive, they are one of nature’s ‘runners’, animals that run away from a predator. If threatened in the field they escape to hide within the safety of their burrows, away from the sight, smells and sounds of the predator, but, confined within a small hutch in the garden, they have nowhere to run when a dog, cat or fox comes sniffing around them. This is a terrifying experience for them.

Burrows deep in the ground also provide good temperature insulation and protect Rabbits from the extremes of weather: in a simple wooden hutch, exposed to the elements, they often spend their lives trembling in cold and terror in the winter and cramped in horrendous dehydrating heat in the summer. Huge numbers die every year from poor living conditions, bad diet, neglect, and undiagnosed diseases. Those that survive often do so only to suffer the loneliness of isolation.

Rabbits are very social creatures: in the wild they live in large family groups structured by a social hierarchy within a warren; so they don’t like being alone, but they don’t want human friends either, they prefer Rabbit company to people company; they hate being picked up, will scratch to escape if they can, and are very prone to injury if they are dropped. Clearly these are not animals which are at all suited to becoming children’s pets, and in the UK the RSPCA say they have more problems with neglect and cruelty to Rabbits than any other creature (1). Rabbit owners generally hide details of their own negligence, but veterinary figures suggest many hutched Rabbits die within days of purchase and few live their full life expectancy of seven years or more. Perhaps that is a mercy.

On Kent’s open downs Rabbits are charming, harmless creatures trimming and fertilising the grass, as prey they provide food for other creatures of the countryside. Unfortunately, on arable farmland they are a major nuisance: wild animals living in the wrong place. Recent figures suggest £100m of produce is lost to Rabbits in the UK (2), and in consequence many farmers understandably feel the need to cull them. The Rabbit’s main natural predators are foxes and buzzards, so this begs the question: if fox hunting ever was about efficiently killing foxes, why would any arable farmer condone a sport which kills his biggest ally against the Rabbit?

As pest, pet or prey, the life of the Rabbit is full of fear: mankind is its nemesis. Where does this gentle creature really belong? Somewhere in a wild place, far away from us.


The plan

The land around Bridge is not just pretty scenery, it is a working agricultural landscape. Image © Copyright 2018.

After years of hard work in preparation, the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan has been presented publicly for consultation with the people of the parish. All residents are invited to comment. So, how does it look from the perspective of Nature, wildlife conservation and agriculture?

The plan appears to be very much geared towards preserving the unique identity of Bridge, maintaining a strong sense of separation from the city of Canterbury and protecting green spaces around the village. It presents as a ‘green plan’ accepting and supporting the use of environmentally friendly initiatives and technologies as they arise. These include: maintaining public transport links, an improved cycle route to Canterbury, clean air policies, electric car charging points, preservation of green spaces in and around the village, flood and sewage pollution prevention policies and sustainable building practices.

We sense that this plan is also a valiant attempt to resist major development in Bridge while fulfilling a demand for need established affordable homes. The latter is a generous gesture and it may win public approval, but even the building of affordable homes of this type is only intended to be allowed within an AONB in exceptional circumstances, and these might be considered hard to justify when so many new houses are about to be built outside the AONB just a few minutes away at Mountfield Park.

Unfortunately, there is a further sense within the plan that various policies on development contradict each other. Policy C3 expresses support for the proposal to build 40 houses near Bridge Surgery, although the need for more housing than 11 affordable homes has not been established. This does not comply with national planning legislation (NPPF 2012), current AONB management policies, CCC’s District Plan, or indeed other policies within the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan itself. Residents should recall that, in a trade off for the recreation ground, this proposal was voted into the plan by the public, but that does not mean the idea is appropriate or that it will pass muster with the planning authority.

The idea that Bridge includes, and is surrounded by, green space is made much of within the plan, but it is described in an abstract sense and there is surprisingly little acknowledgement that the surrounding fields are working farmland in an historic and beautiful corner of England: one that has been protected for future generations by AONB designation of the same status as that of a National Park. A further indicator of this omission is the poor presentation of the pictures showing protected views within the plan, sometimes as tiny images, which can barely be seen. Better presentation might endorse the recognition that these views are worth protecting.

Sadly this does not look and read like a Neighbourhood Plan which values farming: indeed, there is so little mention of farming, farmland and the outlying countryside of our parish that it reads like a plan for the village centre, which only acknowledges farming as a scenic view from the window, and only appreciates countryside as a place of recreational pursuits. On page 26, in general text we read, “The plan will encourage and support the use of land to establish sustainable farming, allotments and community orchards…”, but that sounds almost like a slap in the face for existing farming, which faces many complex environmental, economic and political challenges. On the same page we are offered Project F2, which says it will “support new developments that allocate land to uses such as sustainable farming, allotments and community orchards”. Is this saying it will approve new housing development if such land is offered as a sweetener? It certainly reads that way and it is alarming. The plan needs clarity here. Perhaps Project F2 should be replaced with a project which states, “Sustainable farming will be supported and the further use of land to establish allotments and community orchards will be encouraged”. And what of a project statement on local woodland? And on wildlife conservation?

Of further concern is Policy A3 which supports a proposal to convert redundant farm buildings at Great Pett Farm, Bridge, to light industrial/commercial units. This is a proposal from agents acting for the landowner; but how and why are the landowner and the authors of the plan so sure that Great Pett Farm will never again need its barns and its farmyard? What is the long term ambition for farming in the fields around Bridge? We don’t find an answer in the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

To be fair, we are perhaps asking the plan to speak beyond its basic remit on some of these issues, but maybe it should. This should be a plan presenting, not just a defence of our village from urban expansion, but a vision of Bridge parish as a thriving, historic, rural landscape which treasures its AONB status, its countryside, its farming heritage and its wildlife, along with its community. The plan is a bold effort, but our parish has much to be proud of, and we should not hesitate to speak loudly in praise of what it is we are defending: a little more expressive recognition of farming and countryside would be welcome.

Chasing a misshapen ball

The current cricket facilities at Highland Court Farm are historic, on a small scale, and have old world charm; few would consider them obtrusive. The proposed new sports complexes would be on a significantly larger scale. Image © Copyright 2018.

In recent months a huge new building development scheme has been proposed for Highland Court Farm on the Bekesbourne Downs in our local AONB. Within it there is a very substantial element of sports complex development included. Indeed, the developer indicates that a new home for Canterbury Rugby Club is a fundamental part of the plan, along with club and pitch facilities for other ball sports. While building development in an AONB is always controversial, traditional sports pitches may appear less so, on the grassy surface at least. The original terms of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation do indicate some conditional support for recreation; so does that mean modern sports pitches and clubhouse complexes comply as an appropriate use of land within an AONB?

From the outset AONBs were envisioned as working conservation areas, the work being farming and forestry, and something close to the original description of the designation is set out in the Countryside Agency’s 1991 Policy Statement on AONBs:

“The primary purpose of the designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

In pursuing the primary purpose of the designation, account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard should be paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.

Recreation is not an objective of the designation, but the demand for recreation should be met insofar as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses.”

While this policy discusses meeting a requirement for recreation, it means something rather different from pitch activities such as football, hockey, tennis and rugby: the policy was clearly intended to provide for activities such as hiking, cycling, horse riding and fishing, all for the benefit of enjoying the beautiful rural scenery of the AONB. Quite obviously it was not condoning the building of sports pitches, stands, stadiums, membership clubs and car parks, all of which would, by their very nature, interfere with the needs of agriculture and forestry while despoiling the rural scenery of the AONB.

Bridge village has a recreation ground which is underused for traditional ball sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

Those local people who wish to spend their leisure time chasing balls, already have plenty of facilities in which to do so, but our local village recreation grounds are underused by local people for traditional amateur sports, suggesting there is limited demand. Those who have most to gain from the new facilities proposed, would be commercial sports clubs wishing to expand, and they would draw supporters and participants from all over Kent, possibly to be joined by sporting opponents from far beyond. This would not be appropriate or welcome here: valuable farmland in our AONB is not the place in which to create showpiece sports facilities for everyone in Kent, either for the sake of those few who are unsatisfied with what they already have, or to enrich those who would exploit the land for their own commercial interests.

Bekesbourne village recreation ground is also much underused for traditional sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

The agroforestry revolution

Large open crop fields with few trees and hedgerows, like these fields on the Downs at Bekesbourne, are prone to depletion and may soon be a thing of the past. Image © Copyright 2018.

Those of us who have grown up in the British countryside within the last century or so have become accustomed to seeing large rectangular(ish) fields of one crop growing between thin, widely dispersed borders of hedgerow: it seems the sensible, efficient way to organise areas of agricultural crops, particularly when using modern farming equipment. But this, so called monoculture, is not the only way to manage land, and it is certainly not the most environmentally friendly. Britain’s fields are approaching exhaustion: they have been overworked and undernourished; our wildlife has been decimated; there is a critical shortage of farmland; something has to change.

Governments, farmers and environmentalists are all looking for new ways to increase production and maximise farming efficiency, while, at the same time, enhancing the biodiversity of farmland. One astonishing system, which is gaining credence in EU farming and government circles is called agroforestry, and it is an entirely different agricultural system from the big field monoculture which many British farmers are used to. The idea is to plant crops in strips, perhaps sixty feet or so wide, between rows of fruit, nut or wood producing trees. Livestock meadowland can also be planted with rows of trees in this way.

It all seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but the secret of the system is that with careful crop and tree selection and management a micro-climate can be created between the trees, which is of benefit all round: trees take water lower in the ground than crops, so they don’t compete; trees can provide refuge for the creatures that eat crop pests; trees can protect arable crops (and animals) from adverse weather, while careful positioning of the rows north to south (or otherwise to suit the local topography) and regular harvesting of new wood growth allows plenty of sunlight for good growing.

One might assume that when managing a farm in this way production is reduced and profits lowered, but farmers who have switched to this system say that is not necessarily so: planning for smaller land strips means they are more diverse, more able to be flexible and adaptable in what they grow. The rows of trees also produce a valuable crop themselves: fruits like apples and plums, nuts like hazel and walnut, or coppiced wood for bio-fuel chips; all of which tend to become available when the arable harvest has finished. As a consequence, farmers say their profits have increased, sometimes by up to 50%.

While this system can be beneficial to the farmer, tests indicate it is significantly better for the rural environment too, with huge biodiversity enhancement, less water run-off and evaporation, less soil erosion and, if the system became widespread, massive capture of carbon pollution. Of course agroforestry is just one new option in farming: we will have to wait to see if it takes off; but with our government promising a new ethical stance on farming grants which will favour those farmers who practice environmental farming policies, agroforestry may prove a popular and exciting new feature of our countryside in years to come.

When silence brings noise

Traffic on Bridge High Street. Will a new era of silent motors bring quiet to our rural villages and countryside, or a plethora of strange noises? Image © Copyright 2018.

Why does the lion roar?
So the horse knows it should be afraid.”

Arabian proverb

Despite the romance of their nostalgic image, the old coal-powered steam engines on railways and farms were dirty, poisonous, roaring monsters; internal combustion engines are noisy contaminators too, giving reason why both have been loathed by those who have to live with the constant din, by environmentalists who abhor their pollution, and by nature lovers and holidaymakers trying to take refuge from the aggressive rush and growl of travelling machines.

Steam engines are now obsolete but for a few museum remnants, and the internal combustion engine is fast becoming so. The electric motor has been reborn and its rise will be exponential in the next few decades. It is cleaner, uses fuel more efficiently, and produces very little noise. More and more vehicles will be fitted with electric motors from now on. While trains and cars approach with raucous sound, and even the old stage coach would announce itself with a clatter of hooves and a post horn fanfare, the purr of the modern electric motor is as quiet as a cat’s. But therein lies another, less obvious concern: how will we hear fast traffic approaching? How will we know when to be afraid?

To counter this issue, manufacturers are creating a library of simulated ‘esounds’ for their electric vehicles so that pedestrians, cyclists and other road users will be more aware of their approach. We have seen the introduction of these manufactured sounds already in the blaring alarms which play when trucks and buses are reversing, the entirely unnecessary electronic bleeps of remote central locking systems, and the recently introduced designer engine noises on sports cars, which can be turned on with the flick of a switch by those who want to show off with a more throaty noise. Ironically, it seems most electric vehicle manufacturers are currently giving their silent motors the simulated sounds of a petrol engine, but in future you may be able to give your vehicle a whole range of custom sounds to suit your mood. If, as some predict, we all soon find ourselves no longer owning cars, but hiring driverless cars as and when we need them, who will then select the noises they make, the adverts they play?

At first hearing, silent electric motors sound like progress, but if the rumble and roar of internal combustion engines across our landscape is to be replaced by a plethora of different quirky buzzes, whirrings, sirens and tunes, each individually selected by car manufacturers and drivers at their own whim, are we soon to expect a whole new cacophony of discordant noise pollution on our streets and in our tranquil countryside?

A walk around the model farm

On Saturday, 20 January 2018, members of the Barham Downs Action Group led a walk on public rights of way around Highland Court Farm near Bridge. The initiative was intended for local people with an interest in learning more about the farm and preserving the farmland from a proposed new development. Despite inclement weather, over twenty people, some with dogs, attended the walk.

Jill Thomas, of Bekesbourne, presented some interesting factual and historical information about the farm and the downs at various locations around the landscape.

On behalf of all local people who wish to see our AONB preserved, we thank the organisers and all those who attended.

This was not a initiative and we have no further information on the walk or the action group. Barham Downs Action Group have their own Facebook page.

A few words from Albert Schweitzer

Dr. Albert Schweitzer working at his desk. Image courtesy of, free to use royalty free images.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer (14 January 1875 – 4 September 1965) was a philosopher, theologian, physician, cat lover and musician. In his time he was an outspoken and controversial figure who campaigned against colonialism, the falsehoods of historical Christianity, the arms race, nuclear weapons and cruelty to animals. In a tribute for his birthday, January 14th, we include some of his thoughts on animals below:

[After almost being pressured by other boys to sling rocks at birds.] From that day onward I took courage to emancipate myself from the fear of men, and whenever my inner convictions were at stake I let other people’s opinions weigh less with me than they had done previously. I tried also to unlearn my former dread of being laughed at by my school-fellows. This early influence upon me of the commandment not to kill or to torture other creatures is the great experience of my youth. By the side of that all others are insignificant.

True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness, and this may be formulated as follows: I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live.

A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, not how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred…

The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that hunting, the pleasure of killing animals for sport, will be regarded as a mental aberration?

We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace. We need a boundless ethic which will include animals also.”

Dr Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. Yet is interesting to note that even today, a British Prime Minister, the daughter of a clergyman, publicly supports the illegal ‘sport’ of fox-hunting. However, she has abandoned plans to hold a free vote on restoring its legality because British public opinion is so against this vile hobby that any such vote could only bring further discredit to herself and her circle of cruel Tory pals. Nevertheless, the sport of shooting animals, just for the fun of it, continues perfectly legally here and in many other advanced nations.

The lie of the land

A proposal to build on this field, north of Conyngham Lane, Bridge, was thwarted by the emergence of the new Canterbury District Local Plan, which specifies the land as a Green Gap. (Image © Copyright 2017.

As we approach a new year, we tend to find ourselves looking back at the last one, sometimes with a sense of relief at leaving its problems behind. Were the Bridge countryside and the wildlife within it able to speak for themselves, surely they would be very fearful of the threats which have emerged to our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the last twelve months, and those concerns will not just disappear with the turning of the calendar.

For an area which is supposedly one of the most highly protected in Britain, those threats have been as ominous as they have been unnecessary, motivated as they are by nothing but selfish greed on the part of a few people, met by ambivalence and disinterest from far too many. Not least of the disappointments surrounding proposals to build are the spurious and disingenuous arguments which have been put forward in support of them by developers and sometimes too a gullible, ignorant public.

We have been told by a developer that housing estates and industrial warehousing will enrich the wildlife of the Kent Downs, yet, where there is any paucity of agricultural biodiversity, clearly the enhancement of the countryside itself, with more land set aside for wildlife, more native trees, more hedgerows, would be a better environmental option than covering orchards with concrete.

We have been informed that “Britain has too much farmland”, when the truth is that Britain could not now feed itself, and with pressures on farmland intensifying annually from a number of sources including: development, solar farms, increased food demand from a growing population, the need to grow bio-fuels to replace fossil fuels, expanding transport networks, and other factors, it is estimated that Britain will have a farmland deficit the size of Scotland by 2030, unless incredible new farming efficiencies can be found to address the shortfall (Study by University of Cambridge, 2014).

We have been assured by authoritative sources that only ‘sustainable development’ will get approval in our AONB. Building modern housing estates on dwindling, prime agricultural, greenfield land cannot possibly be sustainable in the long term, yet it continues on the basis of lies and distortion of the fundamental principles of sustainability.

We have been led to believe that we can no longer enjoy the benefit of a recreation ground here in Bridge unless we accept and support new housing development beside it. Yet there are currently no legal requirements, national or local, that demand the building of 40 new dwellings on greenfield land in Bridge: so exactly who was it making this demand, with what authority, and why were the negotiations over the proposal kept secret from our residents?

One of the most underhand, insidious claims by the pro-building lobby is that the AONB (and Conservation Areas too) were set up to ‘conserve’ areas of value and significance, not ‘preserve’ them, thereby implying that development within them is intrinsically acceptable. This too is a deceit which can be dismissed by a glance at the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Protect (something, especially something of environmental or cultural importance) from harm or destruction.
{O.E.D. EXAMPLE} ‘the funds raised will help conserve endangered meadowlands’
Late Middle English: from Old French conserver (verb), conserve (noun), from Latin conservare ‘to preserve’, from con- ‘together’ + servare ‘to keep’.

As this year closes, expresses our thanks to all those who have supported campaigns to protect our local countryside in 2017. We wish you all a happy New Year.

Confusion on a national scale

Land at Highland Court Farm, Bekesbourne. Image © copyright 2017

Environmentally conscientious residents of the Nailbourne Valley, and the villages on the downs above, must surely be aware by now that much of our local landscape lies within a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which generally should not be built on other than for the purposes of carrying out agriculture, forestry and, in exceptional circumstances, for affordable housing for local people engaged in those industries. However, in recent weeks, as various concerned parties have considered the proposal to build on Highland Court Farm within our AONB, one particular aspect of the scheme’s status has been the subject of confusion.

We understand from the official notes of a meeting between members of Bridge Parish Council’s Planning Committee and representatives of the developer (26 Sept. 2017), that it was indicated by one party…

“…permission for the development to take place would require a “nationally significant” element to the development.”

Simon Cook (Conservative), leader of Canterbury City Council, subsequently stated at a meeting of Bridge Parish Council (12 Oct. 2017) that, in his own personal view, he was “not convinced the proposed development was on a national scale” that would justify planning approval. So, where has this idea of national scale or national significance come from? What does it mean, and why is it relevant to this proposal?

Having discussed this with a local authority planning officer, the only source we can find for any such reference is in one particular paragraph of current planning law (1). Paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2012) says this in reference to Areas of Outstanding Beauty and National Parks:

116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of:

the need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy

the cost of, and scope for, developing elsewhere outside the designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other way

any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated. ”

So, to be clear, the issue of national considerations is not about scale in terms of the size of the building plot, it’s about the development’s potential effect on, or benefits for, the United Kingdom as a whole. The protection offered by the AONB designation is intended to be so strict it may only be overridden if the development is of overwhelming importance to our nation.

In the current Highland Court Farm proposal we see a scheme for some holiday and retirement homes along with a restaurant, some retail units and a couple of sports clubs next to a rural industrial estate. It may therefore be appropriate to consider its potential contribution to the local economy: but when that is assessed, how many of the businesses would be brand new enterprises creating additional revenue, and how many would just be moving from elsewhere, or taking trade from other local businesses, with no real net gain to the economy?

In terms of national considerations the scheme does not appear to include anything of any particular significance or with any specific need to be in that location: for instance nationally beneficial industrial development like a hydro-electric dam, or strategic commercial development such as a new airport for London, or the HS2 railway, all of which might be judged to have a critical need to be in a certain location and to provide value for our nation as a whole. The absence in the proposal of any such potential national assets is glaring.

We believe the only element of this proposal that might be deemed to be of any real national significance is that of detriment to a nationally designated AONB which should, according to British law, be zealously protected from inappropriate development.

(1) This article represents a theoretical argument in the study of considerations of Para. 116 of NPPF 2012, including its sub-clauses. Should quotations referenced herein relate to other chapters and terms of planning law which are not discussed, this argument may not apply and its conclusions may therefore be deemed invalid.


The value of Natural Capital

Farmland, woodland, animals, clean air and fresh water are assets in what ecologists call our Bank of Natural Capital. Image © Copyright 2016.

“It is time to recognize that human capital and natural capital are every bit as important as financial capital.”
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

The term Natural Capital describes planet Earth’s stock of natural assets including geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is not a term with which the general public are particularly familiar, yet it describes something upon which all our futures depend.

From our Natural Capital we obtain the food we eat, the water we drink, medicines, the energy we use to light our homes and keep us warm, the fuel needed to produce our goods and power our transport systems, as well as building and manufacturing materials of all kinds. These are all things that we can see and use; but also provided by Earth’s Natural Capital are things we don’t necessarily see and appreciate, like the ability of forestry to prevent flooding and provide climate control; the carbon absorbing properties of peatland; the pollination of all our crops and wild plants by bees: and let us not forget the vast spectrum of pleasures, inspiration, and health giving activities which we humans gain from our connections with the natural world.

As everyone knows, spending or wasting too much of one’s financial capital can lead to debt or bankruptcy and, in consequence, poor health and even total collapse. The same applies to abusing Natural Capital; it needs to be preserved, used wisely and regenerated wherever possible. In our modern, highly developed world, we are used to seeing industrial projects and commercial enterprises of all kinds valued by their financial cost, but what of their impact on our planet and our nations’ Natural Capital?

The value of Natural Capital, and the cost to us all if it is lost, is something which ecologists are now suggesting should be considered in everything we do, whether it be expanding our cities, building power stations or mass producing cars. The financial aspects of all these things may be relatively easy to calculate, but assessing their cost in Natural Capital is not so easy and, in any case, commerce prefers to see the world through financial accounts not ecological concepts. Inevitably conversions are made into hard cash. Tell an economist that bees are under threat on British farmland and it may mean little; but explain that the value of bee pollination to British crops is £200 million a year and alarm bells start ringing.

Yet, even if they are effective, such cash conversions can be crude, they don’t really measure the true value of our natural assets. We need to learn to value them for themselves. If and when we start to do so, and adjust our priorities accordingly, so that all our human activities are assessed not just in financial capital but also in terms of our Natural Capital, we may find that there are alternatives in all kinds of fields which cost more financially, but use less of our natural resources and turn out to be more cost effective in terms of what really matters to our future.

*This article was inspired by organisers of the 2017 World Forum on Natural Capital, in Edinburgh. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisers of the forum.