In this year of elections, the environment has already emerged as a fiercely contested issue. It is with slogans that interest-groups will seek to turn the debate to their own advantage. To counter this, we certainly need to be informed and to develop a more sceptical relationship with social media. But above all we need to ground ourselves better in stories that are truer to our surroundings.
Energetic river and coastal groups, for example, have sprung up around Lyme Bay, especially since the pandemic, to challenge the water companies. How many of them are aware that 2024 will also be the year of a landmark scientific report into what has been achieved since scallop-dredging was banned in large parts of the bay in 2008? Or indeed of the opposition encountered by an American oil company when it applied to drill there in the 1960s?
The story goes back so much further than our public culture now allows for. The region figures prominently in Poly-Olbion, a long poem written by a friend of William Shakespeare. In it, at ‘the dawn of the Anthropocene’, the rivers, hills and forests of England and Wales themselves spoke. A new edition is nearing completion at Exeter University.
Flood-defences against the sloganeering and counter-sloganeering may take many forms. The best kind is an understanding of what has over centuries shaped, and is continuing to shape, the landscapes and seascapes we meet with every day.
Horatio Morpurgo campaigned for the first Marine Protected Area of significant size in UK waters, established in Lyme Bay in 2008. He has since written extensively about the sea-bed’s dramatic recovery. His essays on the environment and on European affairs have appeared in many publications, including PN Review, London Magazine, New Internationalist, New European, Resurgence and the Ecologist.
He is the author of The Paradoxal Compass (Notting Hill Editions), Lady Chatterley’s Defendant & Other Awkward Customers (Just Press) and How Thomas Hardy Expressed His Doubt – reflections on Weymouth’s Olympic Road and the resulting destruction of Bincombe Down (Erewhon Books).
The HOP talks are part of an initiative aiming to inspire and inform individuals, families and local communities with tangible actions to help combat the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, and to raise money for charities working in these areas. Each month the charity is chosen by the speaker. The project was initiated by Philip Howse OBE (Professor Emeritus, University of Southampton) with Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS VMH (former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) and the late James Lovelock CBE. Patrons include: George Monbiot, Clive Farrell, Dr George McGavin and Dr Kate Rawles.
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