We spent the recent Bank holiday weekend in Somerset visiting many of the sites associated with the legend of King Arthur. Whilst visiting Cadbury Castle (a windswept hillfort and a contender for the fabled site of Camelot) I thought about a tale I’d heard back in Glastonbury; it spoke of King Arthur and his knights “sleeping under a huge mound of a green hill quietly awaiting the call to arms for their beloved country”. It would appear that the great king is quietly biding his time and, when England is at her greatest peril, he will rise up and save the land.

As I trod wearily (and out of breath) towards the summit I wondered if they were indeed sleeping quietly beneath my boots and cursed the fact that I hadn’t brought a copy of MP Nick Boles’ latest announcement on the future of England’s countryside with me to read aloud and possibly rouse them from their turf-covered slumbers.

For, according to Mr Boles (in a tone remarkably reminiscent to the environmental minister’s slamming of anti-badger cull protests as “sad sentimentality”), said “the sum of human happiness that is created by the houses that are built is vastly greater than the economic, social and environmental value of a field growing wheat or rape”.

Really? Tell that to the increasing numbers of poor and hungry next time we have a wheat shortage and can skylarks nest in the middle of a housing estate?

No, but, I’ve witnessed them nesting in crops of oil seed rape.

This is simply another justification for the wide scale demolition and concreting over of our once, ‘green and pleasant land’ that, yet again, focuses on the already filled-to-the-brim South of the country. He goes on to admit that the government is “determined to speed up the rate of house building”.

And where is the “happiness” Mr Boles speaks of? I certainly don’t see much evidence of happiness in the urban sprawl although I’m quite sure that the landowners and developers will be wearing Cheshire Cat-like grins as they carve up the countryside in their relentless march of urbanisation. I would say happiness goes hand-in-hand with a sense of space, liberty and being in close contact with nature – qualities we seem to be losing everyday. Surely there is no happiness living with the risk of flooding? And, no joy can be found in polluted waterways and beaches, the increased need for landfill sites or the reduced air quality with its accompanying growth of respiratory disease. All these things come with unrestricted population growth and urbanisation.

Mr Boles (possibly with a straight face) maintains that our towns and communities need to keep growing so that “their high streets can attract the likes of M&S and John Lewis”. I would argue that the ability to enjoy green field, be surrounded by wildlife and to breathe fresh air is far more conducive to the state of human health and happiness than a couple of high street stores.

The argument often put over by Boles and his cohorts is that, “85% of our land is undeveloped so it’s plain nimbyism to object to proposed planning”. I disagree; for, most of us know that this magical 85% includes floodplains, marshland, water meadows and moorland – land that cannot be farmed or be built upon. We also know that the majority of the planned development is targeted for the South (an area already groaning under the weight of its population) and at the expense of some of the best arable land.

How does Mr Boles suggest we are to feed our burgeoning population? Ruin other countries’ environments to feed our own? Continue to rely on air-freighted fruit and vegetables? And, if one were for a moment to suspend disbelief and accept the 85% undeveloped land figure and go with the notion of giving up 10% for housing, what happens when the children (born in these new houses) grow up and want a house of their own? Do we then give up another 10% and then another? After all, it’s not just housing that’s needed. With proposed development comes an additional need for land-hungry public amenities such shopping centres, supermarkets and schools.

Recently, the ‘State of Nature’ coalition produced its analysis of the condition of our wildlife and it was a sobering read – one in three species had halved their numbers in the last hundred years. Surely it cannot be mere coincidence that our own numbers have sky rocketed over the same period.

Wherever I have travelled in the world I have always noted that large populations of people sited near to wildlife never seem to make happy bedfellows. The wildlife and natural world always seems to suffer.

So, whilst experts and scientist dither over what’s causing such catastrophic declines, the truth is plain to see for a growing number of us. Directly (or indirectly) our population growth is taking a terrible toll on the natural world.

I always smile at the irony of those who call for the culling of the latest fashionable species to be blamed for various declines – those being badgers, sparrowhawks and buzzards. Funny how the same ones who are so vociferous in their calls to ‘control numbers’ remain so tight-lipped over the thorny issue of the need to control our own damaging, littering and polluting species. And, it is a similar scenario being played out across the globe yet those in power seem to turn a blind eye to the urgency of an escalating human population preferring instead to look for scapegoats in nature.

There seems to be far too many in power in the same mould as Nick Boles – those who seem to see success only in the ringing tills of M&S, John Lewis and Starbucks.

Next time I visit the legendary burial sites of King Arthur I think I will take a gong with me to bang loudly, for if ever this country needed his royal supernatural assistance, surely it is now!

 

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