South Downs

The Big Picture

South Downs

South Downs painting by local artist John Thompson

Scotland seems to be ahead of the game in looking at the big picture, using the joined-up thinking that needs to happen now to address the current crises in resources, economy, nature and climate.

Last month’s Film at the Horsham Green Film Festival was made in Scotland: ‘Riverwoods’. This wonderful film opened with shots of Alaska’s bountiful nature, then moved across the same latitude to Scotland with its acres of treeless uplands, a legacy of the clearances of the traditional small mixed farms to make way for large scale sheep grazing.

But why are there no sheep at Knepp’s rewilding project? It may surprise you to know that sheep are native to Asia and not to Europe. The grazing by sheep and deer prevents new growth as they eat saplings and because they have no longer have natural predators, deer numbers are becoming unmanageable.

The same picture can be widely seen in Wales (and Australia) even though George Monbiot’s excellent book ‘Feral’, says substantially more money is made from eco-tourism in Wales than is made from sheep while at the same time depleting the land, and providing only a small fraction of the food needed.

Increasingly we see that trees are the key. When they fall into rivers, they provide homes for tiny fish and nutrients for small aquatic creatures and insects to feed on and they act as natural filters for the water.  Straightened rivers have created flooding problems around the UK as heavy rainfall from the increasing number of storms rushes straight downstream rather than irrigating the lands along their banks. The meandering rivers provide soak-aways which prevent flooding and create new habitats while their fallen rotten branches provide nutrients for the fields, controlling flooding at a tiny fraction of the cost of large scale construction projects.

The government’s Dasgupta Report describes how nature & natural solutions saves money and creates a healthy economy for us, while the current system pays landowners simply for owning land, rather than being tied into production of healthy food, enriching soil and therefore the protection of nature.

However, we can plan our own gardens for food, flood and drought as well as encouraging nature through selective insect friendly plants, access to water for mammals such as hedgehogs and high level bird feeders to protect from cats.


Written by Morag Warrack