I was honoured, this weekend, to be invited to be a witness at an ancient ceremonial event, one that has taken place, year after year, in every county in England and Wales since before the Norman Conquest. It was a wonderful, moving event attended by high ranking dignitaries and people whose families have been part of this Welsh community for centuries. Tradition mixed with local history perfectly, and yet, despite the joyousness of the occasion, there were hints of the great divide in this country life over the environment: of how the environment is dividing society.
As farmers mingled with lords on a remote estate high in the Upper Wye Valley with kites and buzzards wheeling overhead and the river sighing just below, I talked and listened, and heard some guests talking of the beauty of our Welsh lands and wildlife and the blessing it is to be a part of it. I heard, too, others speaking of the stupidity of new environmental protection schemes introduced for farmers, and how if it were not for generous grants they would reject them totally. There was strength of feeling on both sides, and even bitterness from some who, while working with the land, and with animals, viewed the environment as a commodity just for profit and not a gift to be respected. The beauty, and needs, of wildlife meant nothing to them.
The environment seems to be either loved or despised, ignored or forgotten, and increasingly I see that it is an aspect of life that divides society, whether it is a small community like mine in mid-Wales or people chatting round a dinner table in London. The proposed High Speed 2 Rail Link is criticised today by an Environmental Audit Select Committee for the irreparable damage it will do to some rare and endangered species in ancient woodland, but whether anyone, apart from environmental campaigners, will take any notice is questionable.
How people see nature is a good indication of their own nature. It is extraordinary to me, but perhaps not to others, that those who do not care about or who choose to abuse the environment cannot see that without it we would be nothing, that it serves everyone and everything to honour it and to help it. Through no fault of its own, the environment divides society, and will do so increasingly as pressures on the Planet build and hard choices have to be made.
Money spent to make money at the expense of the environment is money wasted: money spent to assist the environment is money well-spent. This truth will prove itself, and soon.