The Wild Approach
The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the council of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring 1962
Wilding, The return of nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree has been one of a handful of natural history non-fiction books to be repeatedly recommended to me, and I have found it engaging, generous and with the potential to make a huge positive impact with its message. This, all on top of what has already been achieved at Knepp estate, namely the creation of a habitat, a home, for countless billions of life forms. From the large vertebrates, the birds, the bees, the plants, the trees to the invisible fungal and microbial biomass that sustains life on land, all these organisms have found a place to exist at Knepp, where previously there was a struggling farm with dying Oak trees in the fields.
Curiously, the way that Charlie Burrell (the author's husband who inherited the land in 1987) achieved all this is by letting go. Letting go of the notion of controlling the land, the antithesis of farming as we know it now. What they did instead was set up a system, and let it run itself. The results are astonishing, and I recommend reading the book and listening to the talks by Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree that are available online. They might be the ray of sunshine that penetrates the gloomy skies of ecoanxiety.
I am most impressed by the transformation of the people involved, breaking away from deeply held norms with such commitment, and through no end of opposition. I think it is very natural for us to try to do something when facing a problem, when the answer could as easily be to do less. Breaking a habit is harder than starting one.
I do not, sadly, own an estate. What I have in spades though, is a desire to reduce my negative impacts on the world in which I live. I look at my consumption, and things I do every day, and work on it, one thing at a time. This month, I made a move away from palm oil containing toothpastes. If I stay on track, over my lifetime, I will have removed demand for a substantial amount. Palm oil is a big player in the cosmetics industry, and it is a remarkable oil, very stable and the yields per tree are unrivalled. As with any cash crop, however, the ecological cost is incomprehensibly enormous. It should come as no surprise that you will not find it in a bottle labelled Menteath.
What happened at Knepp gives me hope that even the most devastated environments can bounce back; that if we stop the demand and the destruction, places that have been impacted can recover. Closer to home, Menteath will plant a tree for every bottle sold, to help restore some of our own environments. And with a commitment to using organically produced ingredients, Menteath products can be enjoyed in the knowledge that the earth they grew in hasn’t been drenched in pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
I was speaking to someone about the impacts of climate change and bushfires on animal populations recently, and the person I was speaking to said something that struck me as extraordinary. He said, with genuine lament, “Unfortunately, this is the way the world is.” I felt this exchange snag on my mind. I thought of all the times someone has told me, in the face this or that unhappy reality, that we cannot change the world. But as I get older, I find maturer wisdom in the knowledge that everything we do has an impact, and therefore not only can we change the world, we have been doing so every single day since we evolved. It is a matter of will.