“Of swallows, hares and horrors” – Simon Barnes on nature in the Age of Terror

Original here:

Wild June moves into Day 5 and I’m spoiled for choice again. Shall I write about the swallows above the meadow? Or the hare in the garden? We saw each other at the same time and we both froze, holding a 15 yard stand-off for a full minute. Or perhaps I’ll turn to the butterflies that –

Tell me: is it wicked to enjoy such things in a time of devastation, after the horrors of Manchester have been followed by the horrors of London Bridge? Of if not wicked, is it not infinitely trivial, lacking in all seriousness, to bother with nature at times of random urban murder?

I did a piece for The World at One the other day, on the drastic decline of lesser sported woodpeckers. They put it on right at the end, cheerily describing it as “light relief”. I was a little surprised that extinction is now light relief, but I said nothing; I was glad to say something I thought worth saying on a damn good programme.

All the same, I really don’t think that the future of the planet is light relief. And I don’t think that it’s trivial to discuss that subject, even when we’re preoccupied with more immediate horrors. The environment is something that we all have to live in: our health, our happiness and our future are tied up in it, and so are those of our great-grandchildren.

The environment doesn’t become irrelevant, no matter how disturbing recent events have been. Swallows are useful indicators of the health and long-term viability of the planet we live on, being good monitors of pollution. The future of swallows is inextricably linked with our own. Swallows mattered before the events of the weekend, they matter today and they’ll matter even more tomorrow.

And then there’s the matter of consolation. Nature, the wild world, the non-human world, greenness, birdsong, running water, wildness and wilderness and weeds under swallow-filled skies: these things make life better, not just for bird-spotters but for everyone. They’re part of good times. But just as important — perhaps even more important – nature can also make life less bad.

Nature helps us to endure the terrible things in life just a little more easily. Nature makes life better on our good days; nature stops life being worse on our bad days.

Nature is not a pat solution to horror, grief, loss, terror and hopelessness. But we need nature to make us happy, we need nature to keep us safe and we need nature to console us. We need nature because life is wonderful and we need nature because life is terrible.

We need nature.

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