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What is Nature for?

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Moral Maze’ recently posed this question. It’s Genesis, the first book in the Bible, that tells us that the earth’s resources are for the benefit of mankind but it was the programme’s resident cleric Giles Fraser who was the only participant to speak clearly for the notion that nature must be acknowledged in its own right – that our planet has rights that are separate from the role of us humans. One of the non-panel members interviewed for the programme was a property developer. She clearly could not get her head around the notion that nature might have a purpose outside its relationship to homo sapiens.

I suspect that’s a problem shared by many people. The Age of Enlightenment brought us the notion that science could do away with the need for religion (and, in particular, belief in a power beyond our existence) and offered the prospect of everlasting progress for the benefit of mankind. The result of such thinking now stares us in the face – an environmental crisis that threatens all life within a generation. And yet, listen to any discussion about nature’s place in our lives and it’s always about how nature can serve us.

How come? How can it be that one species – out of around 9 million – is the sole measure?

Groups like WildCookham are, in their own small way, grappling with this question. We are asking people to turn much of traditional thinking on its head. And that’s difficult for all of us. We are, after all, the top predator, like it or not, and we tend to get what we want. But what if we turned the argument round? Instead of assuming that we humans should be able to do what we want unless there is an over-riding reason why we should not (a somewhat arrogant assumption perhaps), can we instead assume that we won’t mess around with nature, we won’t put our interests first, ahead of the other 8,999,999 species? Instead we will only do what we want to do if there is an over-riding reason for us doing it, taking into account the need to acknowledge nature’s rights.

Sure, we’d still need to build houses and provide some of the essential things to human comfort and survival. But would we still insist that public access always is more important than protecting nature? That economics must always trump nature when deciding between green and brown field sites? That exercising our pets is an essential human right even if it destroys or significantly disturbs the homes of many thousands of other species?

The Government’s and our Borough’s call for 30% of our land to be saved for nature by 2030, and to end species decline in the same timescale, will only happen if we can change our basic assumptions. Can we do that?

If you think we should and can, get in touch at We need you.

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