The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 30 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Great British Land Heist
by Peter Smith

The recent political turmoil provoked by the Government proposal to sell the nation’s woodland was a travesty of public policy. Unfortunately even though the Government has now ‘U turned,’ the sad fact is it will continue to sell off public woodland, but just at a slower pace. The historical trend of the loss of public land will continue, the taxpayer will continue to be burdened and wildlife will suffer because of the greed of the few. To understand the catastrophe that has befallen us we must first learn of the powerful political and economic forces that have been behind this policy.
The calamity of the land continues, as it has generation after generation, and whenever a strange political idea or tax break comes to be public policy you have to ask who will gain from this. Politics, as so well put by Ambrose Bierce, is best described as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principle” and “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. So which interests want to see public woodland sold into private hands?
The answer is of course that a few rich and powerful people could gain enormously if the nation’s woodland is sold into private hands. The main beneficiaries are financial companies offering tax dodges to Britain’s wealthiest people, who can avoid paying inheritance tax and certain liabilities on capital gains. Woodland ownership will then allow their wealth to increase, tax free, above the rate of inflation as the hard work and innovation on mankind is capitalised into the value of all land. One can only speculate at the lobbying and shady deals that all political parties indulge in that sees them agreeing to such a policy. Often politicians do not understand the long term economic forces at play but are persuaded by very slick PR firms and lobbyists, but unfortunately some politicians are all too aware and seek to obfuscate or hide their true intent from the public.

The problem
The problem we see today is the same problem that has befallen our nation for a thousand years. When the Normans invaded they created laws which robbed land from the common people and gave it to the elite. The descendants of those Norman invaders are still very much in control of the land and the assets they stole.  Today, control is maintained by cleverly shaping our taxation, agricultural and legal systems to favour this continued privilege.
Over the last thousand years slowly but surely common land has been appropriated, without compensation, and put into the hands of private individuals for their private profit.  The huge political battles that have been fought over the ‘corn laws’ and ‘enclosure acts’ have really been about the theft of land from the people and its privatisation into the hands of the privileged few.
What many historians do not know is that alongside the human tragedy of the theft of the land from people has been the theft of the land from wildlife. With every major extinction of a mammal in the UK you can follow how changes in the laws of land and taxation have created that extinction.

They hang the man and flog the woman,
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.
- English folk poem, circa 1764

The extinction of the wolf and brown bear and the near extinction of the pine marten and red squirrel have all happened as a direct result of changes to the laws of the land. Even today the humble water vole has been driven to the edge of extinction by our agricultural policies that have seen taxpayers fund huge subsidies to convert our rivers into drainage channels and flood plains into intensively farmed land. On top of these taxes we see massive subsidies given by taxpayers to landowners, effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich. All the income that is created by taxes and subsidies is effectively capitalised into the value of the land. This land value goes largely untaxed, passed on generation to generation, with its wealth stolen forever from the descendants of the people who were thrown off the land and the wildlife it used to nurture.
This history of political and economic theft of the resources of the nation by the few has continued to this day and the policy of the sale of woodlands we see today and the massive system of agricultural subsidies and tax breaks is a continuation of the exploitation of the land by the few at the expense of the many.

The solution to the problem
We have some great examples today of how a change in laws of the land and taxation could revitalise habitats for wildlife. Across Kent often the best land for wildlife is common land or land that has been owned by the Church or State. Often this land has complex ownership systems with commoners’ rights. Because of these rights the land has maintained its character, often sheltering our most endangered plants and animals.
This can be witnessed at the nature reserves Wildwood is helping to manage in partnership with local councils, public bodies or held in public trust.  We need a new wildlife movement to take back the land from private exploitation and reinvigorate commoners’ rights in a modern legal framework.
Land reform is a very difficult issue and has often led to civil unrest and even civil war. It is therefore very important that solutions to land reform do not create political problems. Thankfully, the world’s leading economists have expended their energies and created economic models that can solve the land question.
The model favoured by most leading economists and Britain’s leading statesmen, such as Sir Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George and even by some forward thinking politicians such as Business Secretary Vince Cable , was to make a rental charge on the value of all land. This rental charge would be equal to the rental value of the land and would allow the Government to then abolish all the bad taxes we pay, such as income tax and VAT.
Such a public policy would allow landowners to retain their land and allow farms to pass from father to son. Economically, such a policy would vastly reduce unemployment, and stimulate a huge growth in rural and environmentally friendly jobs and industry. It would have a major impact on the division of incomes and provide the community benefits that more equality brings, such as lower crime, better health and better education. But, to those of us who love wild land and wild woods, it would systematically increase the amount of land given over to wildlife protection. Wild land would be free from tax and those that would seek to destroy it would then face paying taxes. Much of our economically unproductive land could be bought by charities and community groups cheaply and turned into community forests and nature reserve for us all to enjoy and share.
I have been working very hard over the last year assisting leading economist Fred Harrison, to write a book on this very subject; the book will be published later this year. We have also filmed a short documentary, which will be available for sale in the Wildwood shop, a trailer of which can be seen on YouTube (see the link below).
The documentary will be launched in a few months at a special screening and we will be inviting all of Wildwood’s supporters to their own special screening at the same time.
Peter Smith
Chief Executive of the Wildwood Trust

If you wish to explore further the ideas of a rental charge on land to our economy and wildlife please visit these websites:
The history of the enclosure acts:

Peter Smith
Chief Executive
Wildwood Trust

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