A Natural Step – Acting Together

As the Countryside Council for Wales was completing its 2012-2013 programme of work towards targets agreed with Welsh Government, Chair, Members of Council and Directors felt that it would be appropriate to record key aspects of the work of CCW over its 22 year existence1.  As a result a collaborative resource entitled ‘A Natural Step’ was produced. The following piece within this blog post is an extract from the publication. It was written by Alan Underwood and outlines the emergence and contributions of community groups – the environmental third sector2.

Chapter 5 – Acting Together: Local perspectives, global outcomes

Having started this book with a look at changes in society, with examples of CCW partnerships in following chapters, Alan Underwood describes the emergence and contribution of community groups – the environmental third sector. Volunteering drew its inspiration from a desire to maintain the natural world for its own sake, and ‘citizen scientists’ have provided a unique contribution to this goal. The arguments have now broadened as people have come to recognise that the natural world and the ecosystem services it provides are vital to our future and that much can be done on a broader front at the local community level. Community woodland groups have spread rapidly, and opportunities for waste management have generated effective social enterprises. Alan argues that we should not underestimate the role of inspired individuals and groups in seeking out a route to sustainable living.

Fallen leaves crunch crisply underfoot, made brittle by that same early visitation of cold air that sprinkled this woodland glade with glittering white while this small band of volunteers slept. Ahead, the sun’s weak rays pierce smoke that rises lazily through the still air and reveals, as does a scatter of freshly cut coppice stools, that the volunteers have been out of their beds and hard at work for some hours. Warmed by their labours, the flames, and cups of steaming tea, their fireside chat turns to the coming spring and the waves of white and blue that their morning’s work will help unfold across this woodland floor, as Wood Anemones and Bluebells take turns to carpet the ground, as a new year rises in vitality.

Fig 5- 1    Waves of Bluebells flow over the ramparts of this Iron Age hillfort at Coed y Bwnydd, a National Trust woodland and Scheduled Ancient Monument overlooking the Usk Valley in Monmouthshire [1].

Fig 5- 1 Waves of Bluebells flow over the ramparts of this Iron Age hillfort at Coed y Bwnydd, a National Trust woodland and Scheduled Ancient Monument overlooking the Usk Valley in Monmouthshire [1].

If there is a traditional stereotype of environmental volunteering perhaps the cameo scene above goes some way to capturing it. The volunteers here are in intimate contact with Nature. They come to this wood to recapture some sense of an imagined idyllic and bucolic past. They do so by mimicking the everyday activities that our ancestors once engaged in to wrest the resources that sustained a way of life now long gone. Volunteers come to conserve that which the flood tide of modern times threatens to sweep away. To conserve the intrinsic natural beauty of the wood for future generations. To maintain the potential for simple wonder and delight that comes from contemplation of the spontaneous activity of Nature, of things unbidden by the mind of man.

A quarter of a century ago these echoes of Romanticism still provided much of the justification for the activities of environmental charities large and small, national and local. It all formed part and parcel of the soft sell to the public that by turns sought, via the seal pup and the tiger for example, to appeal to feelings for the sentimental and the awe-inducing aspects of Nature as things worth keeping in their own right, for their individual beauty and splendour.

Traditional national or well established voluntary organisations have always operated from a wider platform than this. They have been the home of the amateur naturalist; the volunteer experts in botany, entomology, ornithology and more; the acclaimed and accomplished citizen scientists that have done so

much to record, investigate and celebrate the natural world – and to chart its relentless decline. Their role could never have been filled by professional scientists. It is they and the national environmental charities that played a large part in raising the alarm about what man was doing to the environment and the living web by which every member of our species is sustained. For many years to proclaim the value of the natural and the wild was itself to be in a wilderness imposed by society’s lack of understanding. Through these times the environmental charities (the environmental third sector) persisted in championing and acting, to promote and conserve that which was largely unseen, unaccounted for and hence undervalued by society at large.

As the decades have unfolded and the flood tides of modernity and post- modernity have continued their seemingly unstoppable and all-engulfing rise, to the detriment of all things natural, other new perspectives have come to be articulated. These fresh perspectives on the significance and importance of Nature have gradually come to be less specific and more encompassing as the focus of the effort to conserve has moved from individual species and the scenic, to habitats and smaller protected areas, to landscapes and ecosystems, and to that most encompassing of concepts, sustainable development.

  Fig 5- 2    The dormouse is one of many woodland creatures whose populations have declined in recent years.

Fig 5- 2 The dormouse is one of many woodland creatures whose populations have declined in recent years.

It became clear that if individual species were to survive in the long term they would not do so in zoos, aquaria, or even relict areas of natural habitat with special protection but only as parts of the wider natural environment and systems which had, through evolution, given rise to them.


The full chaper, written by Alan Underwood for this CCW publication can be found here: http://www.environment-wales.org/resources/a_natural_step_-_ccw/1249

Source:                                                                                                                               1CCW (2013) A Natural Resource

2 CCW (2013) A Natural Resource pg. 64


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