All this walking research has made me think about the environmentalists and their continued calls to preserve our landscape and the habitats of species under threat. Question is what landscape do they want preserved?
The South Downs are man-made, woodland felled for agriculture would soon return were it not for grazing and the plough. The wilds of Dartmoor was also once covered by woodland, the odd original isolated patch is still found but will never return to the remaining areas. Do the environmentalists want the modern idea of the South Downs and/or Dartmoor retained - or should we get rid of the heathlands, grassy slopes and the wild flowers in favour of deciduous woodland?
What about the animals? The hog is increasing in numbers in many parts of the country, beaver are being introduced into small controlled areas of Scotland. Yet while some laud the return of these mammals there are as many voices against. Birds such as the osprey, kite and peregrine falcon have famously been protected and numbers are increasing. The greater mouse-eared bat was declared extinct in 1990, I cannot see any dissenting voices to the reintroduction of these flying mammals. Rare species of ant have been monitored for seventeen years on the sandy heathlands of Scotland - can't see a mass outcry if year eighteen sees none to count. But what about the bear, exterminated by man in the eleventh century, or the wolf officially gone by 1740. Want to see those reintroduced to Britain? And how can reintroducing animals to 'specially selected areas only' be considered natural? Surely this is simply an open plan zoo?
So I hear how every species should have its own little niche where the species is protected. But isn't that one of the major complaints of environmentalists, that habitat is increasingly fragmented and small islands for this beetle, that bird, or the other flower don't allow them to spread sufficiently to widen the gene pool and thus isolating populations?
And where do we stop? Even if we limit the timescale to species which suffered through human influence we must go back to the end of the last Ice Age when humans returned in numbers to settle permanently in Britain. The idea of returning mammoth, Irish elk and other large herbivores is difficult enough. However to bring back the habitat of these grazers would involve filling in much of the North Sea to rejoin the land bridge with continental Europe.
Perhaps these campaigners should take the lead and offer themselves up as habitats for the human flea which has suffered from a lack of habitat in our comparatively clinically clean modern homes.
I ask again, just what is 'natural'?