Having recently relocated from drizzly London to the countryside, I spent most of my time reading Tony Juniper’s latest book on the train, chugging back and forth between the two. There are few places more suited to reading this text, traversing through a landscape that morphs slowly from green pastures to concrete jungle. London may be one of the greenest cities in the world, but it’s a constant reminder of the war we’ve waged on nature, choosing to exploit it for profit rather than working in harmony with our ecosystems to safeguard our future. What Nature Does for Britain is a manifesto for a green and prosperous Britain, working with our natural resources to protect our wildlife, people and infrastructure sustainably.
What’s striking about Juniper’s latest book is the underlying optimism. Taking us through the various cycles of soil, water, trees and oceans, we hear of the endless damage we have caused to Britain’s natural systems; agricultural monocultures, groundwater drought and meadow depletion are all serious consequences of our meddling. Yet, not only does the author provide us with reliable, economical solutions to these problems, he shows us how new methods are already changing the landscape of our country, one small step at a time.
These are the sort of success stories that rarely make the headlines. Innovative research on sewage treatment and reservoir systems lack the melodrama of our usual news stories about muslim spiders attacking the NHS. Yet, in the January floods of 2014 we were horrified by the damage, with David Cameron promising to spend every penny on defences. Why are we unable to identify the connection between flooding and our depleted wetlands, forests and rivers?
I once worked as a charity fundraiser for the RSPB, one of the best organisations this country has produced. Travelling around our capital, I spoke to Londoners about the problems facing our wildlife and how they could help. One day I was working in a grotty supermarket in Southwark, and I asked a young girl whether she would like to help our wildlife. ‘Why would I do that?’ she responded unpleasantly. ‘It all deserves to die.’ Where do you even begin with someone like that? In the short time she chose to listen to me, I did manage to squeeze in a brief chat on bumblebees. She had no idea how much of her shopping depended on our fuzzy friends, and she did actually thank me at the end, although I doubt she’ll be going organic any time soon…
When asked which one book I would recommend to everyone I meet, I always say Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. She was an American marine biologist and conservationist who was one of the first people to realise how catastrophically damaging synthetic pesticides are to both natural wildlife and human health. What Nature Does for Britain is a modern alternative to this, being an updated British equivalent that clearly exposes our authority figures as prioritising short term profit over long term ecological health. But while Silent Spring was written in the 1960s, when the modern eco-movement was in its infancy, Juniper’s book provides real solutions to the problems Carson first posed.
Being a member of several green charities and conservation networks, I am reminded every day of the need to respect nature. For those who are unsure, or would like a solid guide to the power and potential of our ecosystems, I can’t recommend this book enough. What Nature Does for Britain is published by Profile Books and will be released on 12th February 2015.