Who and What Are You Saving The Fens For?

MANY years ago, maybe 30, I was a prime mover in founding the Isle of Ely Green Party – I was an original tree-hugger as we were dismissively called. I don t believe the world exists just for humans either, it makes me ask what is this little local cla

MANY years ago, maybe 30, I was a prime mover in founding the Isle of Ely Green Party - I was an original 'tree-hugger' as we were dismissively called. I don't believe the world exists just for humans either, it makes me ask what is this little local clamour, 'Saving the Fens' they say, well for who or what?

It's now too late for the Blotched woodwax, Pashford pot beetle, Mallow Skipper or Marsh Dagger, names which the environmentalist George Monbiot says "should cause anyone whose heart still beats to stop and look again". For him and for many others of us too "the global collapse of biodiversity hurts almost beyond endurance".

According to a new report from the government agency responsible for the countryside, Natural England, "Over the past two millennia, hundreds of England's native plants and animals have been rendered extinct" as the human population has risen from about one million to more than 50 million.

The common eel of Ely itself is now listed as critically endangered, in my lifetime it was as common as muck, almost a pest to the local angler. It was thought to be a universal indestructible species able to live almost anywhere, even in stagnant water where no other fish survived, able to travel overland on dewy nights, extraordinary in its transatlantic migrations. Almost gone now, joining 24 per cent of our butterfly species, 22 per cent of amphibians; mosses, anemones, wolves, wildcats, many birds including the golden eagle; the devastation of our wildlife is chillingly apparent. Who are we to lecture others about habitats, rainforest destruction, eating whale meat, pollution or the plundering of the oceans?


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A silent meditative sit in Wicken Fen, a pause in life's busy whirl, can astound with the richness and variety of its aural texture. Whines, clicks, buzzes and hums from creepy crawly and flying insects, birdsong burbles, trills squeaks and whistles impinge upon the ears as the fantastical well of life pursues its vital courses and purposes, noisily or silently. Hunting for food, mating, fighting, rearing young, all the eternally busy skein of nature.

'Save Our Fens' indeed, what a crying shame they were not saved from the rape of profiteering adventurers centuries ago who inflicted their politically encouraged wholesale environmental vandalism on an epic scale. The locals then fought "like fen tigers" to preserve their eel catching, fishing, wildfowling and stock grazing rights and ways, but lost out to money, power, and aristocratic bullying. What a miracle it seems that an odd and beautiful little corner like Wicken has even remained, preserved, and now with the potential to be a species reservoir to repopulate and grow into an essential natural restorer of a small sample of that we have lost and wasted. One hopefully that can benefit on a larger scale those future residents in the huge population agglomeration of our south-eastern corner of England.

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Sutton Gault

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