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, 25 June 2014

An Animal Ark to Save us from Flooding

Peter Smith, CEO of the Wildwood Trust presents ideas and examples of rewilding projects that protect rivers and town from flooding. This lecture was to the Oxford Union's Nature Conservation Society in June 2014.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Could the Queen Spell Doom for the British Beavers, Pine Martens & Red Squirrels?

In what can only be described as a lacklustre Queen’s speech the venerable old Monarch spelt out some wonderful news for landowners & developers – clearing the way to allow them to benefit hugely from the granting of planning permissions and the sale of publicly owned land. Much of the increase in the land value, worth billions, to be siphoned off without tax to the offshore accounts of some of the UK’s wealthiest individuals.

Not only is the wealth and income of the 0.1%, who own most of the land in the UK, about to be increased, for no effort on their behalf, but changes in the way we subsidies landowners, through agricultural grants and tax breaks are to boosted, just as we continue to slash support for the poor and efforts to protect our wildlife. Capitalism for the poor and state controlled socialism for the rich!

But there is one thing going on in the UK that could help our wildlife and benefit people by cutting water bills and saving our towns from flooding. This activity will cost the tax payer nothing and only be of a small annoyance to landowners. And that is the return of beavers to our waterways. Mostly in Scotland but also in Devon, the signs of the beavers return are cropping up more and more.

So hidden within legislations announced by the Queen was a sneaky new announcement of ‘Species Control Orders’ that could be the legal instrument to kill off the beavers of the UK.

The new species control orders are to be issued to force the eradication of an invasive  plant or animal, once it has been identified as non-native (one not ordinarily present in Great Britain or listed as non-native in Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and invasive (a serious threat to local biodiversity or economy), and where the operations required meet a “proportionality” test. Unfortunately for the formally native beaver DEFRA  legal eagles have defined the term ‘not ordinarily present’ to leave the beavers at risk and all the other animals we have driven to extinction in our recent past. But just to make sure efforts are now afoot to add beavers, otters and pine martens (just as they did for wild boar) to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act

At present landowners do not have to deal with beavers if found on their land & can refuse access to any DEFRA official looking to kill the beavers as owners or occupiers would now not have the right to refuse and to breach a species control order which would be now a criminal offence.

While I for one would like to see the control of species like Japanese knotweed, Signal Crayfish, The Ruddy duck, Parakeets and the Zebra mussel  and all the many destructive aliens introduced by gardeners and landowners over the years. I do not want to see such legislation hijacked by those wishing to ensure we cannot return wildlife that we have made extinct or enforce a vision of the countryside as monoculture factory farming and private shooting grounds for the rich at play, all subsidised by the taxpayer at the expense of the poor.

What’s the Solution To invasive Species?

The reason so many non-native species are thriving in the UK is, not only do we import them, but because we have created a habitat for them. So much of our land, riverbanks and woodland have been changed by our activity to a drastic degree. It is not without  interest that these alien invaders are mostly thriving in the riverbank and wetland habitats that would most benefit from the beavers return which as our most important keystone animal would return this habitat to a condition that generally  favours native species and not the ‘invaders’.

In some circumstances control orders can make a difference, but it is like a doctor treating the symptom without treating the cause, the problem will go on and on. So let’s treat the cause and let the beaver do their magic to the river banks and wetlands of Britain.

Pine Marten, Red & Grey Squirrels

Another example of our madness is red squirrels; non-native North American grey squirrels, introduced at the whim of some aristocratic thinking they look cute to his grounds,  have edged out our native red squirrels. But it has been noted by many naturalists that red squirrels are present in the same place pine martens exist. Pine Martens were wiped out in England by gamekeepers to keep them from their shooting estates, allowing our landowning elite to shoot that other alien invader, the pheasant, bred in their 10,000’s still today . It is rare for reds, pine martens and grey squirrels to co-exist, in fact the return of Pine Martens to central Ireland has spelt doom for the invasive greys and a leap in red squirrel numbers. This example highlights the need to get our ecology back in balance to stop invasive species, but also stop killing off our own species in the wonderfully termed ‘trophic cascade’ as is used by rewinders such as myself or George Monbiot.

Otter, Mink & Water Voles (& Beaver)

Another invasive species is the North American mink which has occupied many of our waterways, replacing our native otters that were hunted and poisoned to the edge of extinction. The mink have exploited our destroyed riverbanks to hunt the water vole to the verge of extinction seeing a catastrophic decline in over 90% of their population. Now that we are protecting otters and removed the worst of the poisons from our rivers otters are reoccupying England, and just like the pine marten when the otters return they quickly dispatch the North American Mink, otters, not predating on water voles, remove this alien menace, natures balance is partially restored and water voles are once again safe to make their home along our riverbanks. But even more importantly returning beavers to our rivers will create the complex riverbank habitat and wetlands where water voles will thrive irrespective of the presence of American Mink which can be seen where such relic habitat still exists where high water vole numbers and high mink numbers coexist.

Wild Boar and Oak Trees

The other animal, at risk from our murderous Government’s legislation to criminalise returning species  is wild boar, now occupying many woodlands in the south of the UK, escaped from farms over the last 40 years. Our boar have evolved over millions of years living in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with our woodlands. Boars are vital in spreading the genetic diversity of trees like oaks, without boar oaks will suffer a long death due to genetic impoverishment. But their relationship is far more subtle, such as in there spread of mycorrhizal fungal spores upon which our trees and woodland plants depend and physical turning over of woodland soils and  scratching of trees which create Micro habitats for a vast range of woodland species.

Wild Boar offer a lifeline to woodland habitats and the rare species they harbour and it is a depressing fact that after hundreds of years of loss of this diversity some humans seem unable to tolerate their return.  Now our woodlands are once again coming alive to their activity, government and private interests seam determined on the boar’s eradication.

Why the beaver must be saved

The beaver is the most important formally native animal to Britain that could create landscapes that protects out native plants and animals (and save us a fortune in water treatment and flood management costs). Yet the very legislation aimed at protecting us from alien invaders looks certain be used by a corrupt political and land management system to destroy the very animals that could help us.

Officials at DEFRA have stated this may not be the case, and I have huge sympathy to the our wildlife public servants, but these new draconian laws are dangerous and easily subverted by those eager to rid the countryside of wildlife and bend it to their own warped will as a playground for their historical fantasies of lethal subjugation of their ‘dominion’.

Tax Land Values & we will all turn into wise guardians of the land

To further the restoration of British wildlife and give it a fighting chance against these invasive aliens we need to create a system whereby it is in everyone’s best interest to protect wildlife, not through law but through making that choice in their best economic interest. This is best achieved through a tax shift. Stop taxing our hard work and trade and put taxes on land so as to make its use more efficient. Also taxes on natural resources and the damage we do to the environmental. Such a tax shift would cut unemployment and reduce poverty, but also turn even the most ardent wildlife hater into an ardent conservationist, willing or not as it would be in their best financial interest to become a wise guardian of the wild and a knowledgeable steward of the land.

The  landowners of Britain, in our current legal and economic system, have no choice but to continue in their influence on Government and maintain their stranglehold on the monopoly of land, they will do all they can to increase the rent of land and they will no doubt fight our wonderful and returning beavers who can mitigate to a small degree their rapacious theft of our riverbanks and wetlands.

Beavers need friends and quickly if they are not to be snuffed out before they have had a chance to give our children a wetland system worth having.

Save the Free Beaver of England

Join the fight by keeping in touch with the Save the Free Beaver of England Campaign’s Facebook page: 
Twitter Account: @CastorAnglicus

Further Reading:

Our BBC Countryfile appearance on some of these issues:

Red squirrel finds pine marten a fearsome ally in its fight for survival:

Wild Boar:

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