Shared space: the importance of altruism and diversity

By Will Boyd Wallis |

Fundamentally, it is HOW we share the spaces around us that matters most.  My background is in ecology, conservation, communities and land management.  How we "share the land" is very important to me personally.  My daily working life revolves around finding complementary objectives for land use and trying to resolve conflicts where competing interests collide.  The pressure on the land from all directions - for recreation, food, housing, timber, fuel, minerals, energy and biodiversity - can only increase as populations rise and the need to find sustainable local solutions to climate change remains high on the agenda. 

I have witnessed land managers balancing these diverse pressures very successfully within relatively small areas.  In these places, Diversity in land use seems to be the key to diverse habitats and multiple benefits.  In essence this means being in it for the long term and 'not putting all your eggs in one basket'.  If diverse land use in an individual land holding makes economic, social and environmental sense, then... does it also make sense for the country as a whole?

If maximizing diversity is the key to sharing space at a landscape scale, are we in danger of turning lovely open spaces into a clutter? That is, of course, a matter of perspective.  Since this is a blog, I suppose I could share my own perspective... whilst I dearly love our open hills and moors and straths and glens, in many of them I also see emptiness, a loss of diversity, including human and I feel sadness.  A single minded objective to invest everything in one form of land-use (sheep), in the early 19th Century had a serious impact on diversity and of course on communities.  It turned a colourful page into a blank sheet that, in places, still remains today.  The clearances were the product of an extreme, singularly focused, land use strategy that had nothing to do with 'sharing the land'.  We could never imagine that being repeated today, but it very easily and inadvertently could be if we do not genuinely share the space around us.

At this moment I am trying to express some of these things while my daughter sits at my elbow with a collection of shells filled with rattling stones from the beach.  She is shaking the shells and asking for my point of view on whether a mussel with sand sounds better than the empty claw of a lobster with small stones.  We are sharing a small space: a table.  It is important that I now stop writing this blog and devote some time to her.

I feel sure there are always unexpected lessons we can learn from each other, perhaps especially our children.  Learning from each other is exactly what the Andrew Raven Trust weekend in June is all about.

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