While most of the world’s population is understandably focussed on just one thing – Covid-19 and living with the consequences – attention has been diverted away from environmental concerns that were at the forefront of conversations in late 2019. Things like habitat destruction – notably HS2 and Amazon rainforest destruction – along with biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution. But I also worry that unscrupulous people are taking advantage of the situation. The cynic in me fears that Covid-19 has provided a wonderful smokescreen behind which they can get up to all sort of environmental mischief, flouting laws that were already ineffectual.
There are worrying signs close to hand. In the Hampshire Parish of Pamber where I live, within the jurisdiction of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, news has filtered back to me in lockdown and isolation of the following: an ancient Badger’s sett intentionally destroyed by a landowner using a JCB; trees felled, without licence and containing several birds’ nests; unlawful expansion on a grand scale of an already industrialised ‘farm’. All these illegal activities were reported to the powers-that-be, so I’m told, but nothing has happened as a consequence. And probably nothing will because it will be long after the events, and far too late, before any form of investigation takes place.
Above: Felled during lockdown in the village of Little London, this once magnificent English Oak was killed, in true ‘cowboy’ fashion on a Saturday thereby further reducing the chances of being challenged by officialdom. It posed no health and safety threat and was in perfect condition– I knew it while it was alive. It was also home to nesting Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and most likely bats too at the time of its destruction.
That’s just one tiny patch of land on Planet Earth so I wondered what was happening elsewhere in the world. News stories abound on the internet about illegal hunting of migrant birds in the Mediterranean reaching new levels of disgusting extreme. And I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Wildlife Crime is being committed in the name of HS2. In pursuance of this wretched project, workers are clearing woods and hedgerows while the rest of us are in lockdown, and they stand accused of destroying birds’ nests at a time of year when breeding pairs are laying eggs. That is against the law as I am sure they well know. To rub salt into the wound, contractors for the new high-speed rail line have also faced claims they are failing to maintain social distancing while pulling down trees during the coronavirus crisis. Watch the video embedded in the Independent article to make up your own mind.
Further afield, destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest continues apace and has reached the highest level recorded since April 2008, according to data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE. I have a fondness for Brazil, having spent a fair amount of time there studying freshwater ecology in the heart of the Amazon at Lago Mamirauá at a time before this inundation forest had any formal status as a reserve. I see that its full title today is Reserva de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá (that translates as a ‘sustainable development reserve’). I am not sure what that means exactly in practice but it doesn’t sound promising, given Brazil’s environmental track record; and the word ‘sustainable’ when used alongside ‘environment’ always makes me feel uneasy. Perhaps that’s got something to do with having come across Natural England’s very own ‘Sustainable Development Department’: their remit seems to be to rubber-stamp any planning application that comes across their desk.
Above: Lago Mamirauá during the high-water season when much of the rainforest bordering the rivers and tributaries is inundated, and water levels are 10-12 metres higher than in the low-water season.
Above: Even as far back as the late 1980s and early ‘90s when I spent time in the Amazon, deforestation was a conspicuous problem. On the left, tree-felling in the forests of Lago Mamirauá undertaken by the local caboclo community, the timber used for canoes, house-construction and the like. On the right, industrial-scale forest destruction near Manaus for ranching and palm-oil production.
My attitudes have hardened over the years and now I see those who abuse and exploit the environment and wildlife as the enemy, to be treated as such, not pandered to or reasoned with in an attempt to persuade them to mend their ways. I have come to view the human race as broadly speaking falling into three categories; the circles that I mix with where enlightened people view the natural resources of the planet as something of benefit to mankind, to be respected, protected and treasured; the indifferent and generally ill-informed majority; and at the other extreme those – typically with power and money that they want to keep at any cost – who see Planet Earth as a resource to be exploited for short term gain and profit.
I know from personal experience that neighbouring landowners on the exploitative end of the spectrum will never change – believe me I have tried. In the grand scheme of things, and comparatively speaking, they have so little to gain by their greed – a few more thousand pounds in the coffers for raping their land. So, with that I mind I really do pity fabulously resource-rich Brazil. Change seems so impossible there when, according to Oxfam Brazil’s six richest men have the same wealth as the combined total of the poorest 50% of the population – that’s around 100 million people. And the country’s richest 5% have the same income as the remaining 95%. In Brazil, there is so much at stake for the wealthy, greedy few, and so little for the poor to lose. Fortunately for the rich, they have an ally in populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who clearly has nothing but contempt for the environment, climate change or, come to that, Covid-19. But I suppose that’s something that coronavirus and environmental destruction have in common: in Bolsonaro’s circles, scientific ignorance and a contempt for informed knowledge are things to be celebrated.