CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 41

Marsh Harrier hunting over snow-covered marsh. Paul Sawer/FLPA
Naturally Opinionated
ow to be wild
ony Juniper has just been made president of The
Wildlife Trusts. Good choice. His books What Has
Nature Ever Done for Us? and What Nature Has Done
for Britain should be required reading for all politicians
and, for that matter, all voters. His calm, confident
explanation of the value of ecosystem services will give
the most nature-blind person cause to think again.
I applaud every syllable of those two excellent and
increasingly relevant works.
All the same, Juniperism is not for me. The essential
argument of these two books is that we must look after
the wild world because we need it. Because it is useful
to us. Because without it we should all be worse off, in
many different and, above all, quantifiable ways. And in
that word lies the entire strength and weakness of the
Juniperist position.
Here is a Juniperist justification for the music of J. S.
Bach: It has been a great boon to the tobacco industry
and allowed a lot of people to stay employed and to
make money. (Readers of a certain age will recall that a
chunkette of Bach was used in the advertising campaign
with the slogan ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’.)
And here is a Juniperist justification for the National
Gallery: It gets people out of the rain. It brings in
tourists and that helps the economy. It also adds
to British prestige, and that’s helpful when it comes to
exports and international negotiations.
All that is all very fine and good and true, but it’s not
exactly the whole story. It ignores the possibility that
The Goldberg Variations is what angels listen to on
their tea-break and it ignores the suggestion that van
Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses is a fragile fragment
of heaven.
There’s no point in explaining such things to the
philistines, to the Widmerpools who run our world: if
you don’t understand it, I can’t explain it. But although
most public people – at least in public – hesitate to line
up with the philistines of art, they are dismayingly eager
to line up with the philistines of nature. Which is why
we need Juniperism.
The trouble is that Juniperism falls down if you can
replace nature with something better. If you could, say,
invent a transpiration machine powered by the wind,
we wouldn’t need rainforest, would we? If the only
Simon Barnes
argument for nature is financial, the argument fails as
soon as you get a cheaper alternative.
Let me stress here that I have not the slightest doubt
that Juniper is aware of this, and that he shares with
most of us a wider view of nature. I’m sure that we are all
agreed that there is more to nature than Juniperism, just
as there is more to Gauguin than the fact that someone
paid US$300 million for one of his paintings last year.
Sit down for a few moments in the rainforest. Or
on the banks of the Luangwa River in Zambia. Or in a
butterfly meadow or a wet wood full of bryophytes,
or my back garden – choose your own favourite place,
choose your own favourite group of species, you can
even choose your own weather. We all think the same
thing in such circumstances, do we not? We think: this
is good for humanity. People really need this. This stuff
really matters in terms of the survival of my species.
Do we hell! Not even for a second. We think: God
almighty, isn’t this absolutely bloody wonderful?
We may be collecting data, studying for some
qualification, doing a job, be committed to science
and to reason and to logic – and still we are smitten
by this shaft of holy joy: the sheer glory of being
alive and breathing the same air as these wonderful
living things.
And that, too, is relevant. It’s as relevant as any bit
of financial calculation and we need to remember that.
Those who work professionally in conservation need to
walk away from the flickering screen more often and
remind themselves why they got there in the first place.
Juniperism is for the unfortunates, for those who lost
the love of nature they were born with. Juniperism has its
purposes, and I applaud it from the bottom of my brain.
But for me and, I suspect, for most of us, the real
response to the wild world comes from the bottom
of another vital organ. We need to establish this joy as
part of mainstream thinking: so that public people will
become as reluctant to admit their philistinism about
the wild world as they are to admit their philistinism
about the arts.
The marsh I can see from my window as I write is
important because it sequesters carbon and holds water
and breeds pollinating insects. But sod that! – I’ve just
seen a Marsh Harrier flying across it.
February 2016 British Wildlife 187
BWM27_3 08 simon barnes.indd 187
29/01/2016 13:53


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