Can it be any coincidence that in the week of the launch of Rewilding Britain, a new charity inspired by George Monbiot’s Feral, National Parks England publishes a short pamphlet titled ‘National Parks: England’s Wildlife Wonders’?
According to the pamphlet, the National Parks, under the management of the National Park Authorities, are judged to ‘provide valuable space for nature on a large scale, allowing species to spread and move through the wider landscape and adapt to pressures such as climate change.’ There is a lot going on in this sentence. Note the emphasis placed on ‘nature’, which contrasts with the historic tendency of the NPAs to emphasise what used to be called the ‘amenity value’ of the parks, including beautiful scenery. Here is a nature that is provided sanctuary by human beings but is also granted autonomy – it can ‘spread’, ‘move’ and ‘adapt’ – what the rewilders like to call a ‘self-willed’ nature. It is less a nature conserved than a nature facilitated. The emphasis on movement is important too, contrasting the great expanse of the NPs with the modest ‘corridors’ nature conservationists try to create for flora and fauna who cannot survive within the monocultures of modern agriculture.
The pamphlet goes on to argue that the NPs ‘also provide the setting for millions of individual interactions between people and nature every year.’ Again, the accent is placed on nature rather than scenery, and it is boasted that these interactions are ‘life-changing experiences’. Monbiot emphasizes the need for our ‘re-involvement’ with nature; National Parks England claim that this involvement is already happening.
What can be seen here, I think, is a shift in discourse, slight but significant, in which National Parks England has responded to the emerging language of a new landscape politics. In subtle ways, it seems to be adapting and adopting the language of the rewilding movement, using it to describe firmly-established conservation priorities and methods. It is hard to believe that this is subconscious. If I’m right, it tells us a lot about how unstable the political meanings of words are. Can an emerging political discourse, posing a radical alternative to the status quo, be so easily tamed, losing its transformative charge? That remains to be seen.