My heart sang when I learned on Wednesday that the Welsh Government has passed a law that puts sustainability at the heart of Welsh decision-making. The protection and enhancement of nature, land, water and air are highlighted, as well as measures to do with waste management and cutting emissions. There is more to be done, but it is an encouraging start.
My pleasure at the news was sadly dampened when I heard, at the same time, that the British Government’s plans for the High Speed 2 Railway will result in the destruction of many acres of ancient woodland in England. 50 woods will be affected directly, and a further 48 will be damaged by the effects of tunnelling, creating access roads, noise and pollution. A spokesman for the Woodland Trust said that the importance of these woods, the trees and soils of which are hundreds if not thousands of years old, was equivalent to that of our finest Grade 1 listed buildings. They are our treasures.
When I have an emotional reaction to an occurrence, I try to challenge myself about it, seeing alternative viewpoints in order to be fair. Here, the Welsh and the English positions on nature are very different, and I incline strongly towards the former’s principle of protection and responsible sustainability. I know, however, that legislation can be misused and I have seen environmental vandalism that has been encouraged by Welsh local authorities, so my support for the Environment (Wales) Bill is tempered by caution.
On the other side, I recognise that change is inevitable and that sometimes sacrifices must be made to achieve what is for the greater good. I know, too, that everything will die one day, including woods and forests, and that being sentimental is unhelpful. I wonder, though, as I try to be reasonable, whether the destruction of what is so precious for the sake of saving a few minutes travelling time, created at great expense, is worth it.
The British Government’s priority is to stimulate the economy at whatever cost, and, for ministers, their national treasure is making money and being re-elected. The Welsh Government wishes to enhance Wales according to her uniqueness, and to differentiate the country from the rest of the UK – as well as being re-elected. Neither is perfect, and both mistakes, as do we all.
Sometimes it is necessary to pause and to reflect upon what our priorities are – what are our national treasures? David Cameron and George Osborne have forgotten that a treasure is something that is loved for itself, honoured for its special qualities and guarded respectfully for the sake of past and future generations. For many Britons, our woods and countryside are a true treasure, bringing a sense of peace and beauty, and linking us with our past and our future.
Soon, if we are not careful, all that will be left of what is most precious will be the mourning for its loss. How sad that would be.