I’ve been in Canada a month now spending much of my time exploring new pathways around hedgerows and traditional skills so thought it was about time I got back to some field ecology. Sarah has a problem in the upper field at Mount Wolfe Farm where the young tomato plants are being eaten, so I am investigating what maybe causing the problem. On our first nights trapping using 10 sherman traps baited with peanut butter, bird seed, sardines and apple we caught this young male deer mouse Peromyscus maniculatus weighing 14g. He was safely translocated to similar habitat away from the tomatoes!

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Dr Chris Sandbrook posted a piece on the ‘The three most dangerous narratives in conservation’ on his blog Thinking Like a Human .  Here he sounds a warning about ‘ tremendous lengths that (most of) the conservation sector has gone to over the last few decades to repackage and represent the value of nature in monetary terms’. Chris’s post was interesting and stimulating and he also states that these narratives are ‘not entirely false, but their ‘truth’ has become accepted as orthodoxy to the extent that they slip by almost unnoticed.’

I have been thinking about a post around Natural Capital for some time, especially since George Monbiot’s article The UK government wants to put a price on nature – but that will destroy it. I’m personally uncomfortable with the approach, but i think we have to accept that until we shift our current economic paradigm, its the right tool in many situations going forward.

So, my reply:

Thanks Chris for this stimulating piece. However I think one of the dangerous narratives in conservation is the rise of voices AGAINST natural capital and monetising of nature as a tool to protect and preserve the environment under the current economic system. Scott H posted above that ‘Traditional conservation has failed to halt the decline of biodiversity over the past 50 years, so we have to do something else’ which is right but he doesn’t say why he disagrees with this.

The danger in dismissing natural capital approaches is that this plays in to a binary approach to problem solving. The environment is part of a complex system which like it or not is bound up intrinsically with human development and wellbeing. Solving the issue of reducing the scale of our impact on the biosphere will necessitate a range of solutions.

Natural capital one might argue is the only adaptive approach to our current economic system, which isn’t going to change radically very soon. Of course we need to be innovative and find new ways to live and do business with each other, and there are many organisation around the world doing great work exploring these transformative pathways.

More on this soon.

Thinking like a human

Emery Roe, an American policy scholar, first developed the idea that ‘narratives’ – stories about the world and how it works – are used in policy making processes to cut through complexity and justify a particular course of action. We are a storytelling species, and people find it easy to understand and get behind a compelling story with strong internal logic and a beginning, middle and end. Once a narrative has taken hold they can be very difficult to shake off, at least until an even more compelling ‘counter-narrative’ arrives on the scene. A classic example from resource governance is the ‘resources will be over-exploited unless they are in private ownership’ narrative, based on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Tragedy of the Common’s article. It took decades of careful scholarship, and ultimately a nobel prize for Elinor Ostrom, to demonstrate that this narrative was compelling, influential, and wrong.

There are numerous narratives…

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In wildness is the preservation of the world- Henry David Thoreau, in  ‘Walking’ (1862)

Its Sunday June 3rd and back in the UK my colleagues at Surrey Wildlife Trust have already been busy filling social media with their #30dayswild posts to encourage their friends, family and the public to take time each day through June to connect with the wild. Lou took a walk in a local wildlife with her dog Banjo and photographed all the flowers. James has revamped his garden with new plants to attract wild pollinators. Lucy  and Nicole have been exploring the mountains of Scotland. My computer screen is brimming with colour and energy and life.

I have been meaning to update my blog but I have been too busy living #MyWIldLife to write about it, but now happily both my love of writing and my need to spread the word about some of the exciting things i’m doing coincide, just in time for this annual celebration of wild living.

My Canadian adventure which started in 2016 has now reached a new phase  and I am at the start of a 10 month sabbatical from SWT. I am working as Visiting Scientist at the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Innovation and Resilience which is part of the University of Waterloo. I have joined the team on the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape initiative  who have been using a partnership approach to explore complex issues of landscape planning and management within southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). I’ll be working with partners to support their hedge planting and hedgelaying visions at both site and landscape level, together with exploring the development- or rather curation-of a rural skills network in Southern Ontario. This practical work will explore new pathways of sustainable transformation towards landscape and community resilience. More on this in later blogs!

I am living with my partner Sarah at the wonderful Mount Wolf Farm, owned and run by the Crandall family where my friends Nigel and Jef demonstrated hedgelaying back in 2016 and last year we planted the first plants in the First Canadian Hedgerow (probably not but every hedge needs a story!).  Mount Wolfe is at the centre of a transitioning landscape, a complex theatre in which i find myself an actor exploring solutions towards a sustainable future.

Thoreau’s thoughts about wilderness are iconic. Today, in the age of the Anthropocene as we struggle to maintain ecosystems and reverse biodiversity loss from a myriad of pressures perhaps we might restate this famous quote- in our world  is the preservation of the wild.

Here are a few highlights for my days 1-3 of #30dayswild

 

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My last day at SWT for a while, I’m heading out on sabbatical to Ontario next Friday to join the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Greenbelt project as a Visiting Scientist at the University of Waterloo. Just some of the things I wont leave behind…

 

Even in winter, hedgerows are working in the landscape. Not only can they prevent snow drift on to roads (a feature or ‘ecosystem service’ I’m keen to explore more in work in Ontario, see 3 Go to Canada: Hedges, Novel Ecosystems and Damn Fine Donuts,HedgeCanada Revisited: healing the landscape and connecting communities with a new hedgerow story  and Hedge Canada 3: The Planting) , thick hedgerows can also be a barrier and shelter against wind for wildlife and people. They also provide visual interest in the landscape, their varied structural forms catching the eye, an adventure in landscape history for the curious mind and a cheering companion on a winter walk, especially when full of redwings after ivy berries! Ivy in hedgerows and trees is crucial at this time of year for birds and small mammals. Rowan berries and hawthorn hips are mostly long gone, but Ivy berries still endure. Kate Bradbury has written about the benefits of Ivy in the Guardian here

Its this varied structure of hedgerows, clearly seen on a winter walk  that underpins their value to biodiversity. In a  recent paper (Graham et al 2018 The influence of hedgerow structural condition on wildlife habitat provision in farmed landscapes) the authors reviewed the importance of hedgerow structure to biodiversity and found that the the definition of a good qualityhedgerow for biodiversity conservation should be expanded to include all those key structural features which are important across taxa. They highlighted the importance of heterogeneity in hedgerow structural condition  where no fixed set of hedgerow characteristics were found to benefit all taxa., which leads away from the prescription of uniform hedgerow management , because some species (including those of conservation concern) are likely to be adversely affected by a loss of suitable habitat or resource decline. I’ll review the paper in  future blog.

It’s important to maintain hedgerows in good condition however. Annual cutting at the same height every year stresses plants resulting in thick stems and a hard knuckle of regrowth which cracks and splinters under a flail which looks unsightly and may contribute to exposing plants to disease and decay. Annual cutting leads to gappy hedgerows as plants disappear from the hedge, like in this ‘candelabra’ hawthorn along Chapel Road in Westhumble, Dorking. Equally, non intervention leads to tree lines and eventual disappearance of hedgerows.

 

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I suggest a balance needs to be set between the need to preserve the hedgerows and hedge networks itself versus the needs of the species that occupy it/them. There is a point in the (The Hedge Management Cycle, (see also Hedgelink website) where a hedgerow reaches Point 10-  line of trees, and is managed as such for biodiversity and socio-ecological benefits. There are some old beech hedges in Surrey at Haslemere and Hindhead and on Leith Hill which still retain the old pleachers fused together at the bottom of huge mature beeches. These amazing relics are part of the story of our landscape history and while I wouldn’t prescribe ‘no intervention management’ to all hedgerows its important to allow space for such features to emerge, both for wildlife and people. Its only by planning at the landscape scale and over time can you assure the heterogeneity Graham et al recommend.

 

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Relic beech hedgerow at Leith Hill, Surrey

 

For more information about hedgerow management visit the Hedgelink website  http://www.hedgelink.org.uk

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