How this blog got its name
On a perfect winter afternoon two years ago, we attended a lecture on Changing Perceptions of the Countryside over 300 Years in a small Welsh seaside town.
The speaker worked for a government agency and had the power to influence what some of the most beautiful parts of the British landscape will look like in the future. The chairman was a one-time senior functionary with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For an hour we listened to an extremely fluent and accomplished presentation on the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the countryside for the benefit of future generations. The value and importance of ‘natural beauty’ was hammered home again and again, and we listened with growing alarm.
It seemed that the speaker had no conception of the influence that humans have had in creating, shaping, enhancing and disfiguring the landscape that we know today. For him the ‘natural beauty’ of our countryside was something that has occurred spontaneously; millennia of agriculture had no meaning for him. The word ‘farm’ only passed his lips twice, when he approvingly mentioned ‘wind farms’.
Eventually he sat down, but we were too dispirited to ask questions and left quickly after the man from the IPCC had delivered his vote of thanks. The sun was setting so we took a short path that ran down to the beach. Vermilion edged clouds, silhouetted against a background of palest blue, pink and green, framed a faded mid-winter sun. As we watched it dip towards the sea, the sand at out feet turned a luminous ochre in the dying light. Looking westwards there was no sign of man’s influence, just sky and water. This truly was natural beauty, quite untouched by man and safely beyond the reach of our lecturer*. A scene that was the same ten million years ago, before hominids began to evolve in Africa, and one that will be the same in ten million years time, whether there are intelligent beings to stand and marvel at its beauty or not.
We turned and looked inland, towards the close cropped mountainsides behind the little town. Lights were beginning to appear in the windows of ancient farmhouses set among small, stone walled pastures. Oak woods, which have been managed for many hundreds of years to yield fuel and timber, darkened the valley bottoms. At the water’s edge, sheep and cattle grazed on salt marshes that the sea reclaims at each spring tide. This was a landscape that had been transformed from primeval forest and barren waste by the efforts of people who depended on nature’s bounty to provide food, clothing, warmth and shelter. It was a man-made landscape, and it too was very beautiful.
Turning a little further, we looked out across the river mouth. This used to be one of the most tranquil places in the land, but now the hills on the further shore were covered with wind turbines, their vast blades idly clawing at a harmless sky.
* Since writing this, the government has announced that 7,000 giant wind turbines will be built around our coast. (here)