Friday, 19 November 2010

Would a written charter for land use help to create Big Society?

Most farmers accept the responsibilities that go along with the rights of land ownership. Many would say that they hold land in trust, not just for themselves and their families, but for their communities and for the nation. We certainly depend on them to preserve our iconic landscapes and to keep the land in good heart for future generations. But there are increasing pressures on each piece of land in our crowded world. How can it provide everything we need: food, timber, clean water, carbon storage, space for leisure, physical and mental well-being? Is it possible to create a framework that would integrate these different demands, within a "Big Society" model? The Relu programme provides some interesting examples of collaborative action. In Loweswater landowners have come together with academics to address the problem of algal bloom in the lake; in Pickering a "competency group" of local people and academics has created innovative computer models of flood risk, and resulted in a new solutions being piloted that could protect the town, without spending large sums of money. But is this kind of success specific to particular places and groups of people or could it be repeated elsewhere? Relu's new briefing paper, based on the programme's response to the recent Governement White Paper on the environment, takes a look at these questions and suggests that a written charter for land use that draws on this kind of research could help to enable integrated management of these vital resources.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Nature red in tooth and claw

Is nature benign or malign? If I go for a relaxing walk in the country on a sunny day I might assume that is good for my mental and physical health - and I'm probably right, most of the time. But what if I slip and fall into a cowpat that is full of E coli O157? Or I'm bitten by a tick and it infects me with Lyme Disease? Whose fault is it if I become ill? Should someone have warned me to take care, or is it all my own fault for not examining myself for ticks and picking them off with tweezers? Washing the cow excrement off my hands might have prevented me getting E coli but where is the washbasin in the middle of that farmer's field? Relu projects wrestled with these and even more complex problems at a risk workshop in York over the past couple of days. Perhaps I'm glad I live in the town after all.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The last time I bought grow bags I asked the retailer for peat-free compost and was told (I suspect out of genuine ignorance) that "they all have peat". Although I know this to be untrue, and should have made the effort to go elsewhere, I contributed to the degradation of our carbon stores by buying some anyway, simply because it was convenient. Life is full of such small guilt-trips and perhaps we need higher prices to make us do the right thing. Maybe the retailer would have been better informed and switched to selling alternatives if peat-based products were more expensive? A levy on peat extraction is certainly one option that could help to conserve this important carbon store. It was just one of four compelling suggestions being made by Relu's Sustainable Uplands project at a seminar for policymakers in Westminster. The uplands provide us not just with an efficient means of storing carbon but with food, clean water supplies, flood protection and wonderful landscapes. Why would we not protect them, except perhaps through ignorance - or putting our immediate convenience first?