Greens, wildlife and habitats

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It is an obvious truism that we humans share our finite and, beyond a certain point, fragile Earth with a myriad of other species. It is also starkly true that human activity is destroying the richness and diversity of those other forms of life, a process sometimes called the ‘Sixth Extinction’.[i]We do not just face specific threats such as ‘peaks’ in terms of sustainable supplies of particular resources. We now face ‘peak life’.[ii]It further seems true that many people are concerned about such destruction. But Greens perceive the problem — and solutions — in quite distinct ways.

It is, of course, commonplace to hear people to talk about something they call ‘the natural world’ or for short, just ‘nature’. Greens avoid such notions. The language suggests that, somehow, humans are separate, above and apart from this ‘nature’. Indeed, there is a long and destructive tradition within human society of people thinking themselves as lords and masters of all life. What others in the past have seen as ‘mother Earth’, these would-be rulers of all creation see the planet and its processes as some sort of a disorderly if not treacherous ‘bitch’, to be brought to heel under human control.[iii]

Habitats and species are perceived in this worldview as merely so much ‘stuff’, merely there to be used, reshaped and engineered to serve open-ended and indiscriminate human wants. Its physical expression has been the homogenisation of the Earth, with vast monocultures of crops, farm animals and tree plantations, enormous mines and quarries, giant dams, ever creeping tentacles of roads and other transport infrastructure, and, of course, sprawling conurbations. Many farms, for example, have become veritable biological ‘deserts’, while, in built-up areas, any ‘greenery’ is often in the form of heavily manicured and chemically saturated lawns.

What may look like ‘wild areas’, such as many upland moors, are, in fact, simply barren tracts of man-made degradation, sometimes kept that way so certain people can indulge in blood sports or overgraze sheep, often heavily subsidised at public expense. Many areas are being trashed by ‘thrillcraft’.[iv]Elsewhere, some species are ‘tolerated’ simply for the sake of trophy hunting. Meanwhile, other habitats are denuded of their wildlife by the animal ‘body parts’ trade and by toxic spraying as well as by, at sea, by pollution, not least ‘plastification’, plus ‘bottom trawling’ and, increasingly, seabed mining. Even the most remote areas are not safe.[v]

The protective regulations that exist are usually weak and often feebly enforced. Protected areas are similarly totally inadequate, both too small and too fragmented. Indeed some, especially national parks, have been yoked to industrial tourism.[vi]Local urban parks are routinely treated not as places for quiet ‘re-creation’, with plenty of space for wildlife, but as venues for all sorts of commercial activities, many less than tranquil. Individual trees are being felled left, right and centre, sometimes by ‘left-wing’ councils.[vii]

There is a veritable war against the rest of nature. Homo Sapiens is often more a matter of Homo Rapiens. Though there was never any ‘golden age’ — many species were driven to extinction in prehistoric times – the breadth and depth of this destruction has accelerated since World War Two and continues to speed up, with governments such as Bolsonaro in Brazil and Trump in USA seeking to remove remaining restraints. Thus, Japan has resumed whaling while China’s ‘Belt and Road’ programme is set to carve up environments that have escaped past onslaughts.

Much of the motivation is, of course, economic. But the problem cannot be reduced just to, say, private profiteering. Wildlife and habitats were destroyed in planned and state owned economies, sometimes on a greater scale than in so-called ‘market’ economies. Nor can the problem be separated from mass culture and popular lifestyles: food predilections, fashion fads, the thirst for creature comforts, mass car ownership, many forms of sport and tourism.

Indeed, one of the very first conservation movements was the fight led by women against the fashion of what was rightly called ‘murderous millinery’ (the bird feathers trade). Personal consumption patterns and their cumulative impact hit the rest of nature in many ways, with food production topping the table. But it is not just a matter of lifestyle choices (and, sometimes, lifestyles ‘enforced’ by poverty, lack of alternatives, and so forth).

Ultimately, it is a matter of the sheer number of ‘mouths’, not just individual appetites. On a finite planet, more and more people must mean less and less physical space and resources for ‘non-people’. It is an issue about which many supposed conservationists seem in active evasion, if not actual denial.

A crisis of culture

At the root of ‘biodiversity breakdown’ and habitat loss is not economics but culture. Fundamentally the war against the rest of nature is driven by anthropocentrism, a domineering and exclusively human-centred view of planet Earth.[viii]Humans are totally exceptional as well as above and apart from the rest of nature. Without the replacement of that ‘paradigm’ by an ethic and practice of living in greater harmony with our fellow dependents of planet Earth, the degradation of biodiversity will continue, even if we can halt the spread of palm oil plantations, reduce plastic production and curb carbon emissions.

Such human-centred ways of valuing, thinking about and doing things also make harder the task of understanding the ecological systems on which all life depends. There has been a pronounced tendency in relevant sciences to analyse life in disconnected and reductionist ways. Too often, fragments of the whole are studied in microscopic detail (how an individual plant may respond to a particular pesticide etc) but the big picture of ecological structures and processes is thereby lost. Indeed, if everything is but a fragment, there is a positive invitation to chop and change at random, simplifying once complex environments, introducing exotic species or releasing genetically engineered organisms.

If everything is just random and inherently unstable, then any land use, any technological innovation, any manipulation is just part of the laissez-faire pattern.[ix]The precautionary principle is just for ‘snowflakes’ in this view. Similarly, there’s no need to keep all parts of the jigsaw of life if we can rearrange and substitute at will. Indeed, there are a fair few people who see today’s level of extinction as just part of change. Perish the thought that the plughole of extinction is now draining the reservoir of life.

Such perceptions mirror the competitive and individualistic worldview that has dominated social thinking since, very roughly, the 17thcentury, most sharply in the realm of economics (‘survival of the fittest’, with competitors grabbing all they can). Thus, ’efficiency’ in land use became nothing more than the yield of a single commodity or output per individual worker, all else downgraded if not totally discounted. Indeed if, say, spotted owls got in the way of maximising timber output, get rid of the pests![x]

If species only count for their utilitarian value, there is little incentive to conserve them if some seemingly more ‘effective’ technological replacement comes along. In reality, those substitutes are usually poorer ones but that is not necessarily immediately obvious and, for some, there may be short-term gains in the meantime (the range of ‘vested interests’, with such a stake, is far wider than just private capitalists!).[xi]

To be fair, it can be useful at times to use human-related concepts such as ‘health’. It can shed light on whether soils, water, flora and fauna are healthily self-renewing or whether they are in decline (tree diseases, eroded soils, oxygen depleted waters, damage by invasive species, a narrowing genetic base… ). The whole direction of evolution has been towards greater complexity and therefore more stable and resilient systems. Indeed, it is remarkable how quickly life can return to land devastated by, say , volcanic eruptions. But the total human ‘footprint’ is now stamping out such healthy vitality.

There is also true that there are sound utilitarian arguments for conserving species and habitats.[xii]Indeed, all species depend, in a variety of ways, on other species. Prey is a resource for a predator, a parasite uses its host and so forth. They are no ‘free lunches’ but, equally, there are no free ‘fasts’, such is the necessary ebb and flow of life.

False fixes for biodevastation

Utilitarianism is not enough and, indeed, can so easily rationalise further destruction. In the short-term, there may seem to be ‘cost-free’ extinctions, with no loss of noticeable utility (for people or, rather, some people). Thus, there is positive feedback that there is nothing to worry about if we drive yet more species into extinction. The Ehrlichs rightly compared this to popping rivers on a flying aeroplane. It may fly along OK for a bit but…[xiii]

Similarly, putting an economic price on a given species or ecosystem ‘function’ perhaps might persuade one or two decision-makers who see life through economic spectacles to stop and think whether current valuations are a genuine guide to real values. But it is, in reality, a poor measure and in any case cannot be said to have had much effect.[xiv]It is truly a case of (sort of) knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Ecological interactions are so complex that it is impossibly hard to separate out different elements and award the ‘service’ they are deemed to provide some nominal price. If something else (say, a development of luxury office blocks proposed for some area that is significant wildlife habitat) commands a higher price, then the signal will be to throw up that new build. Market signals reflect, of course, what people in the marketplace bid: flora and fauna are not likely to enter bids and therefore get eliminated from the process.

In passing, it is worth noting that so-called ‘biodiversity offsetting’ suffers from similar failings and has failed to deliver any significant gains in practice. Basically, it legitimises further ‘development’ which, if not checked, will encroach one day on any places set aside for ‘enhancement’. In the meantime, localities will lose much of the ‘greenery’ that was, before not far from their doorstep. There will be those that argue that building over farmland is no great loss since it is so biologically impoverished anyway.

Greens argue that the challenge is to change farming practices to restore the biodiversity that has been lost, something that can yield quite spectacular improvement in fairly short order.[xv]It might be noted as well that we may desperately need all the farmland we have in future decades.[xvi]For many reasons, from climate breakdown to growing pressure within food exporting counties to feed their own populations, it cannot be assumed that past capacity to rely on large-scale food imports will continue in the future.

There is however another reason why putting a price on nature or planning trade-offs are insufficient.[xvii]What has really motivated people to act on behalf of their fellow species are seldom been economic. Rather, it has been an emotional response and an ethical belief that it only right and proper to share the planet, regardless of what prices may signal. People seldom campaign to protect other species because they stand to gain from their conservation and appeals to such values are therefore likely to be quite inadequate ways to build the cause of conservation.

The Green Alternative

The great American forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold neatly summed up the Green perspective. It changes “the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” As another outstanding American David Brower noted, “from citizenship comes responsibility to care”. Caring means valuing other species and the habitat they need for their own sake, their ‘intrinsic rights’, not their usefulness for people. It means ‘living lightly’ so there is physical space and resources for the non-human species.

But citizens have their own rights. The Green perspective is not misanthropic, uncaring about people. [xviii]It is about the search for the sustainable common good of all the Earth’s dependents. In terms of the big picture, we humans can only survive, let alone thrive, if the Earth’s life-support systems remain intact.[xix]Those structures and processes cannot be separated from the flora and fauna that are part of them. Biotic and abiotic components are both part of the total system that needs to be conserved as such. [xx]Setting aside a few scraps of land for certain ‘charismatic’ species will not work. That fact does not deny the value of species such as pandas, orangutans, red squirrels, whales, ospreys, etc, as campaign tools for that wider cause nor the role of ‘flagship species’.[xxi]

The importance of protecting those life-support functions cannot be overestimated if life on Earth is to thrive. Look at what will happens when climate patterns break down, the sky loses the protection of the ozone layer, the air is no longer fit to breathe, the water is no longer fit to drink, soils lose their fertility, coastal areas lose protective marshland, pollinators cease to pollinate, decomposers stop breaking down wastes, uplands are denuded of tree cover, pests multiply following the loss of ‘checks and balances’, the ‘shelves’ of the genetic library empty … Consider in particular how hard it is to survive in outer space where the Earth’s ecological ‘services’ are absent.

But there is also abundant and still growing evidence of the human need for regular interaction with non-human nature. That experience is especially in terms of local and readily accessible ‘green spaces’ (green walls and roofs, backyard wildlife gardens, neighbourhood micro-parks, copses, ponds, etc) The physical and mental health dividends are central to human wellbeing. They too are part of our rights as “plain citizens of nature”.

Some words on language

The above realities can be wrongly represented by the language we use. Thus, as noted above, words such as ‘nature’ and the ‘natural world’ are a kind of ‘othering’, putting humans on some pedestal, above and apart from that ‘other’ world of non-human nature. In reality we are belong to the Earth ‘collective’. At the very least we should alwaystalk of the ‘rest of nature’, thereby demonstrating we are but a part of that whole.

We should similarly beware the word ‘environment’. As the great Canadian scientist and campaigner Stan Rowe used to argue, it is a term that positively invites its own marginalisation. Indeed if, as commonly taken, it means everything around an individual, it privileges issues such as family circumstances, the state of the local schools and so forth, putting wildlife and habitat issues way to the rear of the backburner. It further encourages the ludicrous notion that sensible policy as some balance between economy and ecology (as the widely but wrongly praised ‘Brundtland Report’)[xxii], whereas the former could not exist without the latter. ‘Natural capital’ implies that there are other forms of capital just as important, for which it may have to be sacrificed.[xxiii]For Greens, the human economy is but a sub-set of a wider system on which it is totally dependent.

Sadly, it is probably far too late to stop using another misleading word, that of ‘biodiversity’. Indeed, it is much used above. Yet Greens would seek to stress that it is not about numbers per se. After all, taking rabbits to Australia or European starlings to America added at first to the total number of species there. But great harm followed. There are some 1,500 introduced species in the ecological treasure house that is Galapagos Islands., with similar consequences. Just one plant, the humble raspberry, has been ruinous.[xxiv]Greens see the issue as ‘biocomplexity’, a co-evolved web of life, within whose patterns, flows, and capacities humans need to mesh.

‘Green infrastructure’ is now a commonplace term. The former tends to carry connotations of setting aside patches of land for a few more reserves and parks plus, perhaps, more trees and other vegetation in other areas. Even then those councils who have local development plans and use the terminology have often delivered little in practice.[xxv]Indeed, most remain firmly committed to more new housing estates, more business ‘parks’, more roads, and so forth, all of which must reduce the total amount of ‘green infrastructure’. Not a few are also in the business of cutting down swathes of tree cover (as are organisations such as Network Rail).[xxvi]

We do not want to repeat the mistake of the great conservationist John Muir who, rightly, saw the need to protect the wonders of places such as Yosemite but who seems not to have fully appreciated the need to control as well what was happening in seemingly faraway San Francisco and other Californian cities. But the growing demand for water, increasing air pollution, more cropland  and indeed the thirst for outdoor recreation from expanding urban populations was bound to impact negatively on Muir’s beloved wildernesses.

The last word ‘wilderness’ is problematic too. For millennia, there have been few places in which human activity has not been a part. Human presence in Amazonia goes back some 13,000 years. Like all species we people impact on our surroundings. The issue is the scale and direction of that impact. Beavers impact on rivers but only humans destroy hydrological systems. However, given the ‘great acceleration’[xxvii]in the total human impact and its consequences for non-human life, we must think in terms of creating areas — and links between them — where human interference is minimal so other species have a chance to recover. Certainly, that means an end to the treatment of national parks as some sort of outdoor arena for whatever ‘fun’ activities (some) people want, be off road vehicles, cruise ships or ski resorts, let alone forest clear-cutting and dam construction. Otherwise wilderness will indeed be on the rocks, as Howie Wolke put it.[xxviii]

A Green New Deal for the rest of nature

There is now much talk of a Green New Deal (GND).[xxix]Yet most versions focus on cleaning up the human act (reduced greenhouse gases etc). Leaving aside some extremely optimistic claims for abundant renewable energy or the faith in what electric cars and other technofixes can deliver, most of the goals are self-evidently worthy. Yet they also tend to remain trapped with the same narrow human-centred paradigm critiqued above.

Two things are necessary. First there must be a rigorous critique of any proposals made under the GND umbrella that will have negative impacts on wildlife and habitats. Indeed, that goes for all election manifestos too. An instance is the rather glib tendency to propose brownfield sites for housing developments, ignoring the fact that some have become wildlife havens (not to overlook remediation barriers on a few as well). It has to be stressed too that some renewable energy schemes can devastate wildlife habitat, not least giant tidal barrages and ill sited wind turbines. Indeed, abroad, giant solar power towers have been literally burning birds alive.[xxx]

If there are going to be any ‘sacrifices’, they should be made inside human society. After all, just road transport and related infrastructure takes an enormous amount of land.[xxxi]A study in 2005 found that supermarkets, including their car parks, covered the equivalent of 15,000 football pitches. Ignoring foreign bases, 240,000 hectares of land in the UK is used by the Ministry of Defence alone. If land is going to be ‘sacrificed, such areas should be targeted, not critical wildlife habitat.[xxxii]

Second, we need a truly visionary and comprehensive for protecting, enhancing and spreading high quality wildlife habitat, not just large ‘nodes’ but connecting corridors. We must think big.[xxxiii]Anything less simply will not suffice. More locally, we need a new wave of Biodiversity Action Plans, ones that really do plan for wildlife and habitat as part of comprehensive ecological analysis and land use planning, including the fundamental but routinely neglected framework of sustainable ‘carrying capacity’.[xxxiv]

The fundamental issue is habitat. Wildlife is nothing without it. As David Brower noted with relation to the Californian Condor, such creatures are “manifestations of place… A condor is five per cent feathers, flesh, blood, and bone. All the rest is place.”Without habitat, captive-bred and then released ones have limited chance of flourishing, as the ‘recovery programme’ for the species shows.[xxxv]Given the scale of the biodiversity crisis, there may be a role for (reformed) zoos but it will be an extremely limited one and will have little real point without the protection and restoration of habitats.

Ground cover

Farming is the country’s biggest user of land. Here, there are inherent conflicts between the ecological simplification intrinsic to farming systems and especially high output ones. Specific sowing patterns, overgrazing, water extraction, and especially the use of biocides intensify those incompatibilities. Yet there is a great deal that can be done to reduce those conflicts, especially if grants and subsidies were redirected to reward farming with wildlife in mind.[xxxvi]Contemporary forestry similarly offers much scope for biodiversity enhancement.[xxxvii]

Cities too offer a huge range of opportunities.[xxxviii]Even very small patches of urban land can be transformed.[xxxix]Given the still spreading sprawl of cities (‘patholopolis’)[xl], ways have to be found to create room there for wildlife.[xli]Old industrial sites and waste dumps can be recovered for wildlife.[xlii]Sewage treatment works provide more opportunities.[xliii]

Land now used for sport could be targeted. Sporting estates especially in the uplands provide golden opportunities.[xliv]British golf courses cover an area roughly equivalent to the whole of Greater Manchester. They could be really greened or, indeed when they close, harnessed for full-blown wildlife sites.[xlv]Literally and metaphorically, in one field after another, there is so much scope for making little improvements that, together, can halt biodiversity breakdown.[xlvi]In all these cases, wildlife protection and restoration cannot be separated from the issue of land ownership, an issue that has been remarkably side-lined and needs to be brought back to the centre of debate.[xlvii]

There is of course a vociferous ‘animal rights’ lobby which has raised a good many legitimate issues that urgently need to be resolved. They range from the cruelty and pollution inherent in intensive livestock ‘factory farming’ (including fish pens) and the fur trade to circuses, blood sports and other abuses in the name of ‘entertainment’. To some extent it reflects the basic paradigm of society in which to focuses on animal welfare at an individual level, rather than that of species.

That said, the lobby’s demands overlap with a more ecological approach. Eating high on the hog consumes vast areas of land, drive new deforestation and, in terms of energy and other resource inputs, is a very inefficient way of putting food on the table. Overall, animal rights have little meaning if animals are ‘homeless’, ie habitats in which to thrive. Both ends — animal welfare and survival as species — depend on hugely reduced meat consumption.[xlviii]

It must be remembered, however, that wildlife friendly land usage will tend to be low output. It probably will be significantly higher in quality, but not short-term quantity, as in shown in the practice of ‘ecoforestry’.[xlix]It is basic thermodynamics that it is impossible to get more from less, more production from reduced inputs of land and resources. This brings back the fundamental of the scale of demand created by human populations and their appetites.

The issue of growth — the physical expansion of the total human economy, not just GDP growth — remains fundamental. Protection of wildlife and habitat will involve a downsizing of the ‘technosphere’ — people and their artefacts — if the ‘ecosphere’ is not to shrink further. So, plans to check biodiversity breakdown must be shaped, along with action on global overheating, ‘plastification’, air pollution, indebtedness, the ills of ‘affluenza’ and all the other symptoms of overshoot, within the framework of degrowth to a steady-state economy.[l]Even then no amount of economic change can substitute for the spread of a whole new ethos about the sustainable common good, not just of people but all species.[li]





[iii]Such hubris is not confined to rabid technophiles or the sellers of economic growth. Some religions too have treated people as above and apart from the rest of nature, as Lynn J White demonstrate in his critique of some elements of Christianity ( New Age thinking has suffered from a similar arrogance eg–deandnewage7(8)27(sep87).pdf


[v]Eg suffers in many ways eg

[vi]A classic study is: Parks in the UK such as the Lake District are failing to stop destructive activities eg×4-off-roading-in-the-lake-district-campaigners-sayand See also:



[ix]See the critique of so-called ‘New Ecology’ in Part 6 of



[xii]Some are documented here: also:






[xviii]As Stan Rowe put it: “Not a misanthrope, but a defender of Earth against the excesses of anthropes.”




[xxii]In reality the World Commission on Environment and Development (note the anthropocentric bias there) was largely an updating of the concepts of resource management and sustained yield developed by Gifford Pinchot and others many decades before. Related practices have done great harm to wildlife and habitat. The Brundtland Report advocated a big increase in manufacturing output , more cattle ranching and more international trade, all of which would erode biodiversity. In particular ‘Pareto optimality’ in trade is likely to encourage monocultural specialisation and with, therefore, a severely suboptimal consequences for the rest of nature.

[xxiii]Indeed, there is a history of ‘national sacrifice areas’, mainly for nuclear weapon testing and radioactive waste disposal. That aspect is alive and kicking eg we face the same threat but in the name of ‘clean energy’ with wildlife yet again in the firing line eg


[xxv]The same is of course true of national government eg, failure to meet what was itself a feeble target.



[xxviii]Referenced here:




[xxxii]However these case studies are far, far more typical:;;;  ;; https://saynotoyep.wordpress.com

[xxxiii]Eg See also:;;;;;;;

[xxxiv]A sample study can be found here: generally:

There are some illustrative projects here:


[xxxvi] also:

More radically:;;


[xxxviii]There are plenty of case studies here of what can be done even in the face of seemingly discouraging circumstances:

[xxxix]A short walk from the noise and the crowds at Kings Cross railway station in London leads to this little gem: /London as a whole offers much potential:

[xl]This creature is not a new one: the scale of today’s transformation is unprecedented: attention normally focuses on Asia, Africa and Latin America, the same phenomenon is at work in older industrial countries eg;





[xlv]  On greening golf for wildlife, see: is an interesting scheme for surviving golf courses:

[xlvi]For some case studies, see:



[xlix]There is a revealing case study here: