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The floods: a holistic solution

When you’re kicking around the day’s political football, drink in hand, in front of the comforting warmth of your wood burning stove at the end of the working day, the old adage that ‘the search for someone to blame is always successful’ proves itself all too easily.

However, cursing the current crop of hubristic politicians or castigating some zombie Quango-stuffed eco-agency for the terrible floods is like blaming a nurse for not applying a sticking plaster to a stroke victim’s bedsores.

Amid all the political mud-slinging of the last few days, the one emergent truth is that too little has been done for too long by too few to preserve the health of our sceptred isle. Shakespeare’s ‘fortress built by Nature for herself against infection’ has been dangerously breached.  John of Gaunt saw the threat coming an idiotic governing class constantly distracted by ephemera and perhaps he wouldn't have been surprised that the inheritors of his land would engage in slow motion ecological suicide.

As the Russian proverb goes, ‘You can’t take meat and milk from the same cow’: either you enjoy nature’s bounty, or you field strip it for its more valuable assets. After hundreds of years of asset-stripping, it should not really be any surprise that nature should be giving us a good kicking back.

Downstream, wetlands and bogs have been drained, floodplains have been cemented over, town and city rain runoff feeds straight into mains drainage and thence into the rivers.

Upstream, hill vegetation has been devastated, river courses altered. The deep vegetation that should regulate the water supply to the lowlands is gone, the land cleared for grazing animals, guaranteeing a destructive cycle of flood and drought.

As George Monbiot points out in his book ‘Feral’, there is more biodiversity in the average suburban garden than in most British uplands, which the author memorably describes as ‘sheepwrecked’. He blames farm subsidies, which perversely perpetuate the destruction of a habitat crucial both for local wildlife and for ecological health downstream. Amplifying the problem is, even in our conservation areas, the attitude of many conservation bodies whose mission statement is to preserve a treeless post-agricultural landscape ‘burnt, blasted and largely empty…with the delightful ambience of a nuclear winter.’

It is hard to see much changing there; as the Shirky Principle maintains, ‘Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.’ Until the problem is re-framed, the only solutions to enjoy serious tabling will be post-facto stable-door-shutting with its own dismal ecological footprint: dredging, flood defences, sandbag-hoarding.

Monbiot advocates a re-wilding of large swathes of our countryside. To whatever extent you concur with his prescription, his case is morally, ecologically and economically compelling, and demands some kind of answer, if only enough of the electorate will engage with it.

Any holistic solution to the problem is going to involve the growing of many more trees. For us at the Wood Burning Centre, any question to which the answer is ‘more trees’ is a good question! The UK has pitifully low tree coverage, and the excuses for not having more of it are pathetic and generally proffered by industrial-farming or CAP-subsidised interest groups.

More trees equal:

  • Less flooding
  • Fewer droughts
  • Enhanced human environment, creating better psychological well-being.
  • Natural beauty
  • Mitigated temperature extremes
  • Better protection from the elements
  • Healthier eco-system
  • Greater biodiversity
  • Less soil erosion
  • More firewood!

The alternative to tackling the underlying problems is an exponential escalation in the cost and destructiveness of future weather events and a total degradation of our environment, but from the tenor of the political response to the current crisis, it sounds as if we are just going to keep blundering along in mindless idiocy until we achieve an inflection point where the sheer scale of destruction and human misery outweighs the tolerance of insurance companies to compensate for it. One can only hope that this event horizon does not coincide with any future financial collapse borne of the debt-fuelled Ponzi scheme of our global economy, at which point any possible solutions may be far too expensive for our bankrupt government to afford.  

There are many interest groups who will oppose any change, not least the powers-that-be. ‘Too often,’ Matthew Wilson wrote in last weekend’s Financial Times, ‘the government behaves as if intractable environmental issues are part of a left-wing plot.’

Civilisations die, as they say, from suicide, not murder. We must hope, despite such political intransigence, that sense prevails.