Recently I have begun feeling a little swamped by depressing stories regarding the scale of Covid-19 infections, Tory party skullduggery, disinformation and the state of our planet. There are a million and one minor stresses for us all, on top of that. It didn’t feel quite so bad in the summer, but now the nights are drawing in and the wind is howling around my house on top of the Mendip hills in Somerset it is not so easy to shrug off. It is hard to drag myself out of bed some days.
Yesterday, daydreaming of halcyon days, drugged by the hum of bees in my meadow in France, and feeling the bantams pecking gently at my toes, I escaped for a while into pre-Covid bliss. I could feel the swish of dry grass and taste the cider we all made together in the village. I imagined stroking my sheep, the lanolin from their woolly coats covering my palms. The three of them followed me around so much that I felt like Mary in the nursery rhyme.
As I came out of my reverie I decided to watch a Ted Talk by George Monbiot about re-wilding. I love the concept of bringing a wilderness back to life, and I am a great fan of Monbiot. Did you know that hippos and lions once wandered our lands? He wasn’t precisely recommending we reintroduce them, but his enthusiasm for allowing nature to take a leading role is infectious. In a very tiny and not hugely significant way, I am ‘re-wilding’ my garden. My hope is for hedgehogs and toads, butterflies and newts to make their home there. All of us lucky enough to have gardens can do this. I would love, though, to see it done on a much larger scale, as Monbiot describes. The picture he has so clearly drawn will open your eyes to new and wonderful beginnings.
Apart from the obvious benefits to our planet, it is a proposal for a world which is more natural for us and which creates much less mental stress. I used to walk on Dartmoor most weekends and the feeling of peace there was mind-changing. I moved to Brittany, and for eleven years experienced living in a remote, rural area with very few people and hardly a car to be seen. My neighbours and I had different priorities from those inhabiting built-up areas. We eyed up log-splitters and hedge-trimmers, rather than the latest iphone or handbag. At the end of the day we would collapse on the sofa feeling physically tired but not mentally exhausted. Living in jeans and wellies, like many other British women there, I felt truly liberated from any worries concerning my appearance, and I looked and felt healthy and happy.
If any of you are old enough, you may remember books written by the zoologist, Desmond Morris? I read The Naked Ape, The Concrete Jungle and Manwatching over and over again. He clearly demonstrated how unnatural and stressful our lives were in our manmade environment. I was truly shocked and horrified by the ‘zombie people’ in Bristol when I moved back to the UK. Welded to their phones and walking with heads down or sitting in cafés, ignoring their friends and immersed in the world of high-tech addiction. When travelling by train to London, my own brother ignored me for the entire journey, lost in the allure of his mobile.
Changing this lifestyle may seem like an impossible dream but, actually, it is not as difficult as you might imagine. We all noticed how calm it was in lockdown without the constant rumble of traffic, and we loved the sounds of birdsong. People started gardening and growing food. Neighbours chatted over the fence and we found a good side to the appalling pandemic.
It may seem like an impossible dream to make strides like this, but some things can change very quickly and without us losing out on anything. The following talk really blew my mind!
One talk led to another and I soon found myself listening to Allan Savory. I may be behind in the game here because I had never heard of him or his utterly amazing research. I am still reeling from what I heard and I cannot believe it is not a major topic of conversation. This man’s life’s work has resulted in him finding a way to reverse desertification and to produce food on formerly dry and barren land. What is more, it is simple, cheap, achievable and sustainable. You don’t even need to water it. A true miracle, and genuinely thrilling. His talk won a fantastic response from the audience.
The enormity of what he has discovered takes a while to digest. If you watch the video on TEDTalks, you will see, amongst other things, what he managed to achieve in just one year on a plot in Africa. The basic concept is that herds of wild animals once left dung, urine and trampled vegetation behind them, thus providing perfect soil for new plants to grow. Flying in the teeth of the generally accepted view that livestock is the cause of desertification, and dismissing his own previously held opinions, he began moving larger-than-average herds of cattle, goats or sheep (as proxy wild herds) over the land. In doing this, he has proved that trees and plants will grow, rivers will flow once more, and animals will inhabit the regenerated green spaces. Even large predators and elephants will eventually return to previously dead areas.
Savory has worked in Africa, and both North and South America, and seeing the transformations on larger tracts of land is genuinely awesome. I was almost tingling with excitement and found my mood was really lifted. I now have much more hope for the future, for my children and grandchildren. I feel happier than I have been for a while and am inspired by knowing we can do something positive to benefit everyone.
We hear so much about global warming and climate emergency, and that can feel hopeless. I promise this is different. Please do see for yourself. Savory explains it much better than me.