Is UNESCO World Heritage status ruining the Lake District?

Over the weekend I visited the Lake District to attend ‘The Big Day Out’ in Grasmere.  The day was organised by the action group Houseboats-Off-Grasmere initially as a day of protest against the Lowther Estate who were proposing to install ten houseboats on the lake. Following an enthusiastic and dedicated campaign spearheaded by local residents the proposal was withdrawn, but the day went ahead as planned to celebrate the victory at Grasmere and to take the opportunity to raise awareness of other proposals which if successful, would irrevocably alter the physical landscape and integrity of the Lake District National Park forever.

One such proposal centres on gondola’s ferrying visitors from Thornthwaite village up to the Whinlatter Visitor Centre and then extending in both directions towards Grisdale Pike and Ullister Hill.  Local residents have formed the action group ‘NOGO Gondola’ to fight the proposal and are currently awaiting a report by planning inspectors in Spring 2020 whilst continuing to gather support against the plan.  As Whinlatter Forest is currently a thriving tourist attraction with mountain bikers, runners, walkers and family’s all flocking there year round, it is hard to imagine any other reason for such a proposal that will have devastating consequences on the aesthetic of the local area, the flora and fauna and the current infrastructure other than commercial profit.  Other proposals around the Lake District have included a zip wire at Thirlmere which was rejected after complaints from the MoD, resurfacing a four-mile path between Keswick and Threlkeld, and installing a zip wire from Honistor crag, planning for which was controversially passed after seven years and only passed this round as it was “reasoned that the landscape was already industrialised because of its mining heritage and therefore a zip wire would not spoil the environment”.  Conservation groups including the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Wainwright Society, and the Open Spaces Society all strongly objected “on the grounds of impact on landscape character and loss of tranquillity”.  There has also been a long-term campaign against the use of recreational 4×4 vehicles which tear up green lanes north of Coniston which the National Park authority have not deemed serious enough to prevent as yet.  Unsurprisingly as many of these proposals have come to light questions have been raised regarding the management of the park and the direction it is being steered. Alongside these concerns we must also consider whether the Lake District gaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 2017 has had a positive impact on the park as several other sites which have been awarded the status across the world have succeeded in protecting areas of cultural significance, but also encountered negative effects due to the increase in visitors and the desire to create revenue from heritage status.

In 2009 The Independent newspaper ran an article revealing concerns that the UNESCO World Heritage Project was harming the places they were striving to protect.  The article emphasised that sites were not equipped to deal with the level of visitors’ heritage status attracts.  One example cited is the Iwami Ginzan silver mine in the South-West of Honshu Island, Japan that has been established since the 1600s.  Before being awarded heritage status the site attracted a modest 15,000 visitors a year, following heritage status “almost 1 million people brought their cameras … to Iwami”, an increase in visitors the site could not sustain.  A similar story surrounds the jetties of Malaysia’s George Town that were awarded heritage status in 2008. The seven jetties which remain were saved through being included on the list, however the locals have paid the price: where “fishermen, oyster harvesters and fortune tellers once plied their trade, souvenir vendors and snack bars have taken root”.  The Lake District management must be mindful to balance the economical motivations of increased tourism with the interests of the local population and natural environment to not irrevocably alter the cultural identity of the place which was part of successfully gaining heritage status initially.

The honour of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site can it seems be positive and negative – however the park is not struggling for visitors, with current surveys suggesting that 15.8 million people visit each year, so there is no need for the Lake District to become a novelty destination full of rides and attractions making it a caricature of itself.  The beauty, tranquillity and wildlife must be protected for future generations to maintain the ethos of the national parks which is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty [and] promote opportunities … for the enjoyment … of national parks by the public”.  This does not prioritise commercial gain and suggests moving forward there may be a continual struggle between the micro and the macro interests of those who live within the park and those who visit with those who manage and seek to profit off the back of heritage status.

Houseboats-Off-Grasmere

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Composed By The Side of Grasmere Lake 1806

Clouds, lingering yet, extend in solid bars
Through the grey west; and lo! these waters, steeled
By breezeless air to smoothest polish, yield
A vivid repetition of the stars;
Jove, Venus, and the ruddy crest of Mars
Amid his fellows beauteously revealed
At happy distance from earth’s groaning field,
Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars.
Is it a mirror?–or the nether Sphere
Opening to view the abyss in which she feeds 10 
Her own calm fires?–But list! a voice is near;
Great Pan himself low-whispering through the reeds,
“Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!”

These words were composed by William Wordsworth in 1806 about Grasmere where Wordsworth resided with his sister Dorothy from 1799 until 1808 at Dove Cottage.  The sonnet form of the poem is universally synonymous with love indicating Wordsworth’s passion for the area before a line is even read.  Wordsworth espouses the metaphysical qualities of the lake throughout the initial octave describing how its waters reflect the stars whilst Jupiter, Venus and Mars are revealed at a safe distance from ‘earth’s groaning field // Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars’.  Wordsworth was perhaps thinking here more about the French Revolution which raged from 1789 until 1799, but he overtly expresses through the God of nature the ‘Great Pan’ that ‘if unholy deeds // Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!” in reference to Grasmere.  Over four hundred years later the ‘tranquillity’ found at the lake by Wordsworth and thousand’s others since is being threatened by the capitalistic greed which is becoming ominously ubiquitous across the Lake District since the park was awarded UNESCO Heritage status in 2017.

The latest threat is posed by the Lowther Estate who own the lake at Grasmere. They are seeking permission from the Lake District National Park planning team to moor up to ten electric-motored holiday cruisers on the lake.  The proposed vessels will be equipped with a kitchen, toilet and sleeping quarters for up to six people and will measure up to 40 feet long.  Guests would board the yachts by rowing boat and could stay for up to a week.  Local residents are vehemently opposed to the plan and have created the protest group ‘Houseboats-off-Grasmere’ to fight the Lowther Estate in order to maintain the beauty, tranquillity, integrity and peaceful environment Grasmere has become renowned for locally and across the world.  The Chief executive of the Lowther Estate believes however that the ten houseboats will “fit in with the landscape just as they do on Ullswater and Windermere”, the underlining suggestion being that houseboats moored on Grasmere will be continuing a tradition seen elsewhere in the lakes where steamers and pleasure boats have been operating for almost two hundred years.  Their assumption however disregards the nuances of place and local tradition. Ullswater and Windermere are both noticeably larger bodies of water; Windermere is 14.8 square kilometres dwarfing the second largest Ullswater which is 8.9 square kilometres.  In comparison Grasmere is a tiny 0.6 square kilometres. Furthermore, the tradition of steamers and boats on Windermere and Ullswater developed out of necessity and on the former originally supported commercial traffic associated with slate and copper mining, timber, wool and fishing.  Similarly, the first reported steamer on Ullswater dates back to 1859 and its main purpose was to carry passengers but also to serve the Royal Mail and to carry slate and lead from nearby mines.  Cruising on the lakes for pleasure became popular during the Victorian period when people began to visit the area as an alternative to the European Grand Tour. Therefore, the proposal that the vessels suggested for Grasmere will ‘fit in with the landscape’ as they have elsewhere is misleading and untrue.  The size of Windermere and Ullswater, the local industry and historic draw of tourists does not translate to Grasmere.

Local residents opposed to the houseboats wish to maintain “the peace and tranquillity” Grasmere has always offered and avoid “potential pollution” in regards to noise and litter an enterprise such as this will attract.  For Dorothy Wordsworth Grasmere was a place of quiet contemplation where she often found empathy and understanding reflected back to her from nature.  In her Grasmere Journal from May 1800 she writes after waving off her brothers William and John who were bound for Yorkshire that she “sate a long time upon a stone at the margin of the lake, & after a flood of tears my heart was easier. The lake looked to me I knew not why dull and melancholy, the weltering on the shores seemed a heavy sound”.  In the twentieth century the painter William Heaton Cooper built his studio in Grasmere and captured the beautiful tranquillity of the lake across numerous seasons, rarely depicting anything more than the natural change of light upon the landscape early morning, in morning light or after sunset.  Grasmere has always been and remains a place of beauty and peace, but it is also a hive of activity.  Fell walkers, swimmers, cyclists, families, school trips, international tourists all flock to Grasmere throughout the year.  Local residents and supporters have no wish for the area to become stagnant, they are striving to maintain the integrity of Grasmere for the future and oppose the houseboats as the enterprise is solely couched in the commercial exploitation of the area. 

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The group ‘Houseboats-Off-Grasmere’ are organising a day of resistance on Saturday 1 February with activities scheduled to highlight the diverse range of options the area has to offer and speeches to communicate why opposition to this enterprise is necessary and vital.  More information can be found on the groups facebook page and the online petition to the Lowther Estate can be found here. 

If you are a resident of Grasmere, the surrounding area, a frequent visitor or have future plans to visit please sign the petition, spread the word, and if possible, attend the day of resistance. 

Inclusivity versus Commodity: The Lake District National Park

In September 2019 the government published an independent review calling for a radical “shakeup of the running of England’s National Parks” and in the last few days the chief of the Lake District National Park Authority in Cumbria, Richard Leafe has told Sky News, “We need to be able to sell the national park to everybody in Britain, all of society, and it’s important that it doesn’t just become exclusive to one, single-use group”.  The “single-use group” Leafe is referring to is white, middle-class and able bodied.  Whilst there is no doubt that all of Britain’s National Parks must appeal to and be open and accessible to all backgrounds, ethnicities, and physical abilities without question, we must be careful not to misinterpret the notion of “sell[ing] the national park to everybody in Britain”.  

In 2017 the Lake District was identified as a UNESCO World Heritage site ensuring it would be protected as a site “of outstanding universal value”, but the bid was controversial and its success has arguably marked a change in how the Lake District may now be packaged and ‘sold’.  Writing in The Guardian a few weeks before the status was awarded the ecologist George Monbiot vehemently argued against the bid stating that heritage status “would lock the Lake District into its current, shocking state, ensuring that recovery becomes impossible”.  This ‘shocking state’ according to Monbiot derives from “the great damage farming has inflicted: wet deserts grazed down to turf and rock; erosion gullies from which piles of stones spill; woods in which no new trees have grown for 80 years, as every seedling has been nibbled out by sheep”. Monbiot suggests that the bid actively fails to mention the condition of the areas woodlands by simply stating that there is no data available, an omission he deems odd as the Lake District is where the modern conservation movement begun.  The entire bid according to Monbiot “is based on a fairytale, a pretence that the rural economy of the Lake District hasn’t changed for 200 years”. Once the bid had been successful and heritage status confirmed, Monbiot wrote again in The Guardian to declare that everything “that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision … The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful”.  Monbiot highlights that the culture of sheep farming in the district is not sustained within the park, it is heavily subsidised from Europe and as a practice is counter to conservation efforts as the amount of sheep grazing the land is having a widespread effect on the landscape. Concerns and anxieties about the National Park are therefore not only about accessibility and exclusivity, they are about management and conservation, anthropocentric versus eco-centric.

The success of the bid arguably quietly dismisses these concerns as the UNESCO brand is identifiable world-wide as a symbol of quality, protection and honesty meaning the Lake District can now be packaged and sold with an official UNESCO stamp of approval, enhancing its commodity world-wide as a place to visit, inevitably increasing tourism.  This increase in visitors is essentially a double-edged sword as the Lake District needs tourists for its economy to thrive but increased numbers will eventually become harmful to the natural landscape and wildife with more cars, litter, hotels and leisure activities.  Since 2017 a controversial plan to install a kilometre-long zip wire from high up on Honister Crag down to the mine car park has been approved following a seven-year planning battle.  The plan passed this round as it was “reasoned that the landscape was already industrialised because of its mining heritage and therefore a zip wire would not spoil the environment”.  Conservation groups including the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Wainwright Society, and the Open Spaces Society all strongly objected “on the grounds of impact on landscape character and loss of tranquillity”. Tarmac paths recently laid around Keswick replacing more traditional gravel paths have further caused controversy with Keswick’s deputy mayor Paul Titley telling Sky News that visitors have no right to paths that aren’t muddy and should accept the environment as it is or go elsewhere.

Overall, Leafe does have a point, we do need to be “able to sell the national park to everybody”, but not literally.  In 1949 the government passed an Act of Parliament to establish national parks “to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public”, as we enter a new decade of ecological uncertainty it would surely be a backward step to effectively “sell” our national parks.  They must be inclusive and open to all but not at an ecological price, which increased tarmac, concrete, cars, zip wires and foot fall will eventually cost.  Conservation and education must be the commodity of the Lake District to ensure its future and the spirit of the Act of 1949.

The Paris Agreement: Trumps Exit Offers Hope for the Future

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On the 4 November 2019 President Trump formally began the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.  The exit process will take a year and will become final one day after the Presidential election in November 2020.  The move has been criticised by former Vice President Al Gore who posted a statement on Twitter declaring that “No one person or party can stop our momentum to solve the climate crisis” whilst Joe Biden wrote “As the climate crisis worsens each day and California burns and Iowa floods, Trump continues to abandon science and our international leadership”.  But is the United States withdrawal under the Trump administration necessarily a bad thing? 

The obvious and immediate answer is of course yes; the United States is one of the largest polluters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world emitting 5,142 MMmt in 2017, so therefore must be a part of the efforts to rapidly reduce this quantity.  The Paris Agreement, which came into effect in November 2016, was signed by 197 countries who pledged to keep “the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”; there is a spirit of global cooperation and friendship about the agreement as all who pledged also agreed to pursue efforts which would reduce the temperature rise even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  All parties are asked to pledge their best efforts to reduce emissions and put forth nationally determined contributions.  A global stocktake is set to be made every five years to assess progress, but the Climate Action Tracker, “an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement”, updated their results in September 2019 and found the United States to be ‘Critically Insufficient’ in relation to their pledge; an indication that immediate changes have not been made and are not in the process of being undertaken.  

Historically, Trump has categorically denied that climate change is happening, a brief scroll through his Twitter feed unearths some shocking statements:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive. Nov 2012

The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders! May 2014

It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal.  Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming! Oct 2015

This level of ignorance and active denial of climate change as California is burning, as the Amazon is burning and as the world is slowly burning, proves that Trump is not the leader to inspire, create or demand the policy changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The exit of the United States under the Trump administration creates some hope moving forward; the United States go to the polls next year and Trump has given his rivals an ideal platform on which to stand, and Elizabeth Warren has already declared that “The next president must rejoin the Paris Agreement”, and she has a Green Manufacturing Plan in place which will initiate clean energy development.  And where the United States leads it appears none will follow, as President Xi Jinping of China and President Emmanuel Macron of France have pledged a Franco-Chinese partnership to “enhance our commitments to reduce emissions” and are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement in the wake of Trumps move to exit. 

            The removal of the United States from the Paris Agreement is undeniably regretful, disappointing and a blow to the global effort to keep the temperature under 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.  However, what this climate emergency needs are leaders who listen, act and take responsibility for their countries part in a global issue; President Trump has shown he is not that leader, so Americans must now take climate change to the polling stations and vote for a candidate who will put their country, and the world ahead of their own vanity.

“Our house is on fire” – Why we should all join the Climate Strike on 20 September.

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The young people who have been diligently striking as part of ‘Fridays For Future’ championed by Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg, invite us all to join them on Friday 20 September at events across the globe.  From 11am-2pm, we are asked to leave school and work, disrupting the norm, to voice a collective demand for urgent action to be taken immediately to reduce and combat the effects of climate change. 

The global temperature rise is a direct result of burning coal, natural gas, and oil. The greenhouse gases which blanket the Earth increase through anthropogenic actions, creating a thicker, denser blanket which heat is unable to escape through, heating the earth. The Paris Agreement in 2016 was signed by 175 Countries, agreeing that the global temperature increase must remain below 2C this century, which has subsequently been lowered to 1.5C. Government, industry, and individuals must all work together to achieve this goal. However, it is recognised that the next 18 months are critical as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that in order to keep the global temperature below 1.5C this century, by 2030 emissions of carbon dioxide must be cut by 40%.  If we assume countries work to 5-10 Year time-frames, then plans to achieve this reduction must be in place by the end of 2020.

It is clear to all however that we are currently experiencing the results of climate change and human actions.  As the earth has begun to heat up we are experiencing more wild fires, a natural occurrence in some parts of the world but which are now exasperated by rising temperatures and low rainfall.  In 2015, almost 30% of the global land surface was suffering from drought conditions, whilst Arctic sea ice has steadily been melting and scientists have estimated that if the Greenland Ice Sheet were to completely melt then sea levels would increase around 6 metres.  Storms and floods are becoming more prevalent across the globe, and our ocean life is choking amongst the plastic and household rubbish which is disposed of carelessly.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California is estimated to weigh 80,000 tonnes, equivalent to 500 Jets.

Climate change is not a debate, a consideration, or a small issue which can be shrugged off on to someone else’s shoulders – Greta Thunberg eloquently said “I often hear adults say: ‘We need to give the next generation hope … But I don’t want your hope … I want you to behave like our house is on fire.  Because it is”.  We therefore must act, not offer hope, we all know what needs to be done, but are often afraid, unwilling or to apathetic to rally; the 20 September gives us all an opportunity to act, to support, to make our voices heard across the globe.  If you want to find a strike near you visit Campaign Against Climate Change, on the day at 1pm everyone is encouraged to set off alarms to let everyone in the UK know that time is running out.  

Dog Walk Litter Pick – Photo Essay

Walking my dog Noah recently around several wooded areas I was surprised at the amount of litter and dog fouling in car parks, on pathways, and in hedgerows. On our walk last night I decided to collect as much as I could and dispose of it safely. We first encountered a lot of sweet wrappers.

This type of sweet wrapper is made out of metallised plastic film, a material which is not recyclable, therefore if it is not disposed of it will remain and be a potential danger to wildlife.

There were a lot of wet wipes scattered around the car park; according to ‘Recycle Now’, baby wipes, cosmetic wipes, bathroom cleaning wipes and moist toilet tissues are not able to be recycled.

On our walk we picked up several piles of dog waste that had been left in the middle of pathways. Dog fouling is not only an offence with a fixed penalty of £100, it can be extremely dangerous to health so must be picked up by the owner.

The organisation Keep Britain Tidy, which has been active since 1954 has great information about the benefits of litter picking, reducing waste, keeping our spaces clean and tidy for us all to enjoy and campaigns everyone can join in to keep our environment safe, tidy and clean. 

Backyard Rewilding – A Photo Essay

In March I embarked on a project to rewild a small area of my back yard. Rewilding on a large scale is gaining momentum as it is reported that “56% of species in the UK [are] in decline and 15% [is] threatened with extinction. Biodiversity needs space to flourish’. I begun by clearing a small area in the back corner of paving slabs and turning over the soil.

I scattered generous amounts of wildflower seeds containing different grasses and flowers to create a ‘meadow’ hoping to attract insects like bees and butterflies and eventually a diverse array of birds.

Throughout April and May patience was required as green shoots begun to appear – then in early June, vibrant cornflowers begun to reveal themselves, ready to attract bees and butterflies.

Within ten days the area was transformed from green to a spectrum of colour.

Each day new colours appear as flowers begin to bloom – poppies and daisies arrive anew each morning providing pollen for bees.

Hoverflies have begun to arrive – mimicking bees and wasps in appearance, they are in fact true flies. The adults drink nectar and eat pollen and honeydew.

Hopefully as the summer months proceed the ‘meadow’ will continue to attract an increasingly diverse number of insects and birds, and the new butterfly house will become occupied. With very little effort on my part the garden has become transformed, where there was concrete and barren soil there is now life and colour. The area is teeming with activity, providing a small space in my urban backyard for nature to exist and flourish.

The Poetry of Edward Thomas

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The poet Edward Thomas was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras in April 1917.  A stray German shell dropped near where Thomas stood creating a vacuum as it passed by and threw him to the ground, his body was uninjured but the vacuum created a violent absence of air resulting in a pneumatic concussion, meaning his heart stopped.  Thomas was thirty-nine years old with a wife and two children back in England.  He had not always been a poet, he had been grinding out a living as a prolific essayist and ‘hack’ writer, but through the encouragement of his friend, the American poet Robert Frost he finally began to write poems which reflected his love of nature, many written just before and during the war.  When war broke out in 1914 he was not obliged to serve, he was thirty-six with a young family, but felt increasingly compelled to volunteer.  Not moved by a sense of nationalism which he found at times shallow and pompous, it was his passion for the English landscape which helped finally to set his course.  A lifelong enthusiastic walker, Thomas once replied to being asked why he volunteered by bending down and scooping soil up from the earth saying ‘literally for this’ as it fell through his fingers.  

One of his most famous poems is ‘Adlestrop’, comprising of four stanzas written in quatrains.   The speaker of this poem begins as if replying to being asked about the place, ‘Yes, I remember Adlestrop – ‘.  The speaker recounts pausing there one afternoon in ‘late June’ on the express train, and it is this fleeting pause which allows the true essence of what Thomas draws out of nature in his poetry to become the focus.  Rarely relying on visual experience alone in his poems, it is the sounds, smells and emotions which create the remembrance of place.  The speaker recalls ‘The steam hissed.  Someone cleared his throat’, utilising onomatopoeia to create the sound of the train and an anonymous passer-by to invoke the movement of people. The speaker then recalls a series of natural smells, ‘And willows, willow-herb, and grass’, followed in the last stanza by the song of a ‘blackbird’, suggesting perhaps that it is nature which creates a strong sense of place and memory, human endeavours are secondary.

In ‘The Brook’, Thomas utilises a simple rhyme scheme to convey a message of innocence and experience, reminiscent of the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth.  The poem begins with the speaker settling themselves by a brook ‘watching a child’, the reader is then presented once again with the sights, smells and sounds of the natural world.  The mellow ‘blackbird sang’, ‘There was a scent like honeycomb’, ‘A butterfly alighted’ and ‘The waters running frizzled over gravel’.  But it is at the end of the poem where the reader experiences the true meaning of ‘The Brook’ when the child says, ‘No one’s been here before’ and the speaker admits this is how they felt ‘yet never should have found // A word for’.  It is only the innocence of the child that is able to capture the sense of what the adult speaker wishes to convey, a difficulty of conveying meaning about nature that Thomas will perpetually be aware of and striving for in his poetry.

The poem ‘Tall Nettles’ suggests a passing of time and the cyclical aspect of nature as the speaker tells of how the tall nettles cover up as they have done ‘These many springs’. All of the human made objects have become dilapidated; ‘the rusty harrow’, the plough ‘Long worn out’, the ‘roller made of stone’, insinuating the power of nature over humans as it reclaims these objects through the tall nettles.  Thomas privileges nature in this poem as the renewing, cycle of the natural world contrasts with the inanimate human made devices.

As we continue to negotiate the Anthropocene and question our individual actions, the poetry of Edward Thomas can provide reflection, direction and companionship.  The love, passion and joy he exudes in his poetry from the sights, sounds and smells of nature remind us that it is worth fighting for, worth changing our habits for and even worth dying for. 

Earth Emotions – Glenn A. Albrecht


In his recent book Underland, Robert Macfarlane recounts a conversation he had with Dr Merlin Sheldrake in Epping Forest regarding how humans attempt to explain the connections and networks which are being discovered amongst trees below the surface.  Tired of the same worn analogies Sheldrake states that ‘The forest is always more complicated than we can ever dream of’, to which Macfarlane suggests ‘Maybe, then, what we need to understand the forest’s underland … is a new language altogether’.  In Earth Emotions,  Albrecht explores new language, new emotions and new concepts, which can begin to bridge the gap between humans and nature to create a symbiotic relationship, rather than a translatory one.

An Australian environmental philosopher, Albrecht draws on his personal history, work and beliefs in Earth Emotions,  to ultimately suggest a positive route forward within the current environmental crisis.  In the ‘Introduction’ Albrecht states that the emotional makeup of humans is locked into a battle between what he calls ‘terraphthora’ and ‘terranascia’, the former being negative emotions and the latter more positive.  He concludes that it is the more nurturing emotions associated with ‘terranascia’ which prevails, otherwise humans would have destroyed themselves long before now.  In the twenty-first century however, Albrecht believes that this battle is raging openly ‘in a period of rapid cultural and biophysical turmoil’.  He believes it will only be through embracing terranascient emotions that the earth will begin to flourish once more. 

In a chapter entitled ‘Solastalgia: The Homesickness You Have at Home’, Albrecht describes the origins of the word and emotions associated with ‘Solastalgia’.  Whilst working in the Hunter Valley, Albrecht was encountering more and more people suffering from emotional afflictions perpetuated by the increase in open cut mining in the area.  Similar to the sentiment of nostalgia, Albrecht identified that these people were homesick, but they had not been displaced or forcibly removed, they remained at home.  Therefore, Albrecht concluded that the people ‘were losing solace or comfort once derived from their relationship to a home that was now being desolated by forces beyond their control’.  Not able to attribute a suitable word to these emotions Albrecht combined ‘solace’ from the Latin ‘solari’ and ‘desolation’ from the Latin ‘desolare’ and created ‘solastalgia’, which is the ‘pain or distress caused by the ongoing loss of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory’.  

Albrecht introduces the concept of the ‘symbiocene’ in the chapter entitled ‘The Psychoterratic in the Symbiocene: Positive Earth Emotions’ as a helpful next step in human time upon the earth, rather than being associated with the negative connotations of the ‘Anthropocene’.  Albrecht explains that humans have separated themselves from the rest of nature through believing we are physically and morally autonomous, competition between individuals rules in both nature and society, and the belief that competition in a free market within an economy is an expression of natural competitive order. Symbiosis, at its centre, ‘counters the idea that evolution is inherently and solely competitive’, it is driven ‘by both cooperation and competition’.  It is cooperation that Albrecht believes is a positive forward step in creating a strong connection with nature, which will create a deeper understanding of how humans are part of the natural world and to survive, a balance of interests must be struck.

As the current environmental crisis continues it is naïve and arrogant to believe we have the language, concepts and emotional maturity to explain, engage in discourse and emote what we are encountering.  Albrecht introduces helpful new concepts and language in Earth Emotions,  which I believe will begin many conversations about our relationship with nature and how to communicate emotions never before experienced.

‘Are we being good ancestors?’

Earlier this week in Cambridge, I had the pleasure of listening to Robert Macfarlane in conversation about his recent publication Underland; he spoke passionately and enthusiastically about the book, deep time, nature and the individuals he encountered in his research, but I left thinking about a remark he made in reply to a question from the audience.  A lady had asked for advice regarding which groups, charities or societies were best to join or partake in amidst the ecological crisis and Macfarlane responded by suggesting that it was essentially positive to actively engage however the individual was able or pertaining to their interests.  He also included in his response a question that we should all be asking ourselves regarding our own actions and behaviour towards the natural world and fellow humans, which is ‘Are we being good ancestors?’.  This resonated with me as I have sought to question and amend my own actions and behaviours over the last few months to try and reduce my own ecological impact, but it also resonated because over the last few weeks several global incidents have occurred which demands the question of us all.

In early May the IPBES,delivered its findings regarding a three-year study comprising of over 310 contributing authors and 145 experts who have assessed the changes in biodiversity and ecosystems over the past fifty years.  The headlines are shocking in their mere simplicity; ‘1,000,000 species threatened with extinction’, ‘Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions’, ‘Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992’.  Nature is being swallowed up, destroyed and effectively driven to extinction by anthropocentric desires, not necessities, wants.  ‘Are we being good ancestors?’

 The Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg has inspired and led a global student movement whereby children and young adults strike or march on Fridays demanding government action and policy changes to ensure there is a world for future generations to inhabit.  Thunberg has travelled Europe speaking at rallies, conferences and summits, sat down with politicians and media, but the frenzy surrounding the movement is not yet reaping ecological rewards; via social media Thunberg has stated this week a truth we all know, ‘There’s absolutely no change in sight.  We have to prepare ourselves to go on school striking for a very long time’.  ‘Are we being good ancestors?’ 

 In April the world was astonished and saddened as fire engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying centuries of human architectural history, religious artefacts and hearts in the process.  In response to the huge amount of money raised in mere days to rebuild, many ecological commentators were criticising and remarking on the speed with which the money had been donated, contrasting it with natural sites which languish with no economical support.  Several responses have subsequently and justly suggested that the financial and emotional response to Notre Dame is not erroneous and suggestive of an apathy towards nature; Dr Manu Saunders– comments that ‘Notre Dame and Nature are incommensurable, especially in terms of intrinsic value’, and Professor Jeff Ollerton– states that ‘The response from environmentalists and others was a reasonable one, as was the offer of millions of Euros for Notre Dame.  Both are equally valid.  Whether both are equally “important” is something that we could debate forever …”. Whilst taking the importance of both human culture and nature into consideration, the response seems to be ‘Are we being good ancestors?’

 The answer to the question inherently feels negative; we have known the consequences of human actions on nature for decades, we know we are not good ancestors, but we could be, there is still time.  In light then of the IPBES report, our youth demanding their future and a controversial human response to the destruction of a human made building, a better question that could be asked concerning the individual, business and governmental response to the ecological crisis is ‘What will it take?’.