Words and wildlife - naturally, we need you
By Rosewood Farm, Aug 15 2017 11:45PM
I woke up this morning and stared at the computer screen. There on Twitter was an appeal by the Wildlife Trusts urging us to support the Perry Mead Wildflower Project. I thought about the wording - a phrase I’ve used many times myself over the years, and what it means.
Essentially it is a very dry statistic 97% is almost all of our wildflower meadows, gone. The 1930’s is recent enough to be shocking, but far enough away to be forgotten - you’d need to be at least 83 to remember those days with any certainty. Most people, indeed most farmers, alive today do not have much contact with wildflower meadows - most of our food production seeks to eliminate unwanted ‘weeds’ aka wildflowers, as they are of little [financial] value to the crop.
To myself, however, this figure is shocking, I acutely feel the need to save these meadows for future generations. I sat back and considered why this might be - my immediate thought was that my mind is both logical and scientific. The fact that this blog hasn’t won the prize for the most boring piece of text on the internet is down to my proofreader and biggest critic Nat. She may have an equally logical mind but it is complimented by being visual and linguistic, which takes the dull edge off my writing. So I reconsidered the statement though her eyes and realised that it had nothing to do with the language but my own experience.
Having grown up in the Yorkshire Ings, and subsequent return after brief spells away, I’ve now come to realise that we’ve retained something very special here - our wildlife. We tend to think of ‘wildlife’ as animals, the big game of the African plains or Amazon rainforest, forgetting that it is, or was, all around us. Wild flowers may seem pretty tame next to large carnivores but they are no less important to our overall experience of the countryside and if you no longer see them it is easy to forget that they were ever there. When you visit the Ings you are not only seeing wildflowers, birds and animals, you are stepping back in time to immerse yourself in the sights & sounds that our great grandparents took for granted.
Later today I sat down again to read an article shared by one of our partners in the Yorkshire Ings, Natural England. The question they were asking was is it ‘time to change how we talk about it to show the love?’ The author of the article was environmental Marmite himself George Monbiot - he doesn’t always get it right, but today was different. The article, Forget ‘the environment’: we need new words to convey life’s wonders is all about the effect of linguistics on our natural world. I couldn’t help but feel that Mr Monbiot has identified a problem that we all need to overcome.
On this note, I was using twitter again the other day to discuss the #EnvironmentalSucess hashtag that has been highlighting the value of British farming to the environment. In response to a tweet about the value of wildflower arable margins I mentioned how nice it would be to see ‘whole fields full of flowers again’. I had meant that I would like to see more wildflowers allowed to flourish within the crop but the farmer mistook my intention as replacing the crop with wildflowers. Again, we had fallen victim to linguistics - I was envisaging making arable crops as biodiverse as our grasslands while he was thinking I wanted to replace his crop with ‘weeds’.
This is a perfect example of what Natural England were referring to when they said;
While Mr Monbiot may not agree with a financial value being placed upon the natural world I can see the need for it.. As recent reports show, the public already vastly overestimate farming incomes (oddly I couldn’t find reference to this in The Guardian newspaper) so there is little wonder that there is an expectation for farmers to deliver more.
Wildlife is an asset to any community and it’s important that those encouraging it to thrive are valued so that they might continue to do so. Many businesses benefit from a community that is rich in wildlife with visitors spending their hard earned cash to experience nature first hand. Property values will reflect their location and local jobs may be created on the back of nature, despite no direct investment in its upkeep.
I can’t help thinking that we waste too much energy disagreeing about language. In a world where costs are high and returns low we, as conservationists and farmers, must have a three-way conversation with the general public so that we may shape our language to better understand one another.
Meanwhile at Rosewood we still struggle to define ourselves - on Facebook we are categorised as an Environmental conservation organisation while Google has us down as a Butchers and Bing has us as a Farmshop. None of the three categories are incorrect, but neither do they give the right impression of who we are or what we do. Farmers is the most accurate term, but at the same time it is the least informative. How do you describe Rosewood to your friends?