Meanwhile, amidst the turmoil and news headlines, there’s another England. Think this is a country bereft of untamed and unchecked wilderness? Think again. But think smaller. Picture a railway embankment, the bulk of it lost under brambles, tall grasses bent and brown with the sun, the track ablaze with flaming pink willowherb. Picture a quiet corner of an otherwise busy university campus, an unmown woodland clearing turned hogweed forest. Each flower-head is a seething metropolis of cumin-seed sized black beetles, visited now and again by bumblebees or fat hoverflies that mimic the bees’ drone and pollen-tangled fur coats.
These are the places that have given me hope this past week. Not nature reserves, with their visitor’s car-parks, rarefied atmosphere and pressure to see something rare or unusual. Not ‘true’ wilderness with its illusion of complete human abandonment. Just peaceful, nothingy spaces, popularly known as edgelands in the annals of contemporary nature writing, dismissed elsewhere as weed patches. Close to our homes yet with a spirit that seems beamed in from another dimension, these tiny oases are in many ways the frontlines of day-to-day nature conservation.
For whilst the prospect of a closely monitored wolf somewhere out there – lurking amongst arguments over the latest conservation fad or buzzword* – might prompt excitement, or fear, isn’t the hogweed patch next door more urgent, more crucial to our everyday wildness? It’s a practical vision, too, or so I like to think. The seeds of hope really are sown in all corners of our countryside, our villages, our towns and cities, insubstantial as they seem. They just need a bit of space and time to grow: even the most perfect wild orchid starts out as nothing more than a speck of dust.
*For effect I sound more dismissive of the rewilding debate than is fair: for thoughtful commentary on what exactly rewilding may or may not be, and why that may not be the right question anyway, see Peter Cooper’s blog. I’m going to return to this subject soon.