Scrub Bashing - a Pagan Morality Tale
Should a pagan feel guilty about chopping baby trees? I've seen some people's views that man shouldn't 'mess' with nature. It was something I was pondering as I hacked down the scrubland of Ash, brambles and Whitethorn and various other scrub plants on the South Downs. It was one of my employers charity days where we get the opportunity to spend a day out of the office working for a charity. This was for the National Trust on Newtimber Hill.
The question of why we were clearing the scrub, opening it up for pasture to allow the cattle and sheep to graze the land was soon answered. The real reason was the ants... yes ants! As you walk over this downland you find various tussocks across the landscape. These tussocks on chalk downland are often ant nests and they form a little micro-climate around them. This micro-climate allows a variety of rare downland flowers to thrive, including the Horshoe Vetch. However, of equal significance is the interesting symbiotic relationship between these ants and the Chalkhill Blue butterfly (Polyommatus coridon). The Chalkhill Blue lays it's eggs near it's food plant on the ant tussocks. The ants, so I'm told, then gather the eggs and take them deep into their nest to look after them. When the caterpillar hatches the ants feed the caterpillars and harvest secretions they give out, the caterpillar also produces secretions that the ants like when it pupates. The Chalkhill Blue is a key Ancient Chalk Grassland species and symbol of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Ancient Chalk Grassland is also a very bio-diverse habitat.
The land that we bashed scrub on, it's hard work on a steep hill but we managed to clear all this:
Ancient Chalk Grasslands and their ant's are important. What happens when the land is not managed is that shrubs and trees invade shading out the flowers and ant's nests. The habitat is destroyed, an ancient habitat that's been the environment on this landscape for thousands of years. They were around since the Bronze Age and were most probably created during the Neolithic. This would place the age of the Grassland on Newtimber at a minimum of 4,500 years, probably older. The last Ice Age ended around 9,000 years ago which means that the Ancient Chalk Grassland has been the predominant environment in this landscape. An eco-system that humans have been an integral part of maintaining through their management of livestock, cattle and sheep. In this respect it is our eco-responsibility to maintain that environment and ensure its sustainability.
Which brings me to Vegetarianism and whether it is eco-responsible or not. To maintain Ancient Chalk Grassland it requires livestock, sheep and cattle. The type of sheep and cattle that thrive in this environment can be typified by the South Down sheep, these are raised for their wool and their meat. Their wool is not prolific enough or fine enough for the sheep to be considered solely for wool production. Their meat, however, is very good. In this respect to maintain the eco-system it is necessary to eat some meat, as it is a by-product of maintaining the eco-system. So as long as you know the provenance of the meat you buy, fortunately my local butcher specialises in meat from local farms, eating meat a few times a week is the eco-responsible thing to do. The argument that veggies often come out with is that there is enough land to feed everyone if they were vegetarians. Their argument has two main assumptions:
- that all agricultural land is suitable for arable crops
- that the land can be intesively farmed
But I didn't mean for this scrub bashing to become veggie bashing! I have no problem with vegetarians, I have issues with vegetarians who take the moral high ground for the reasons above. If someone doesn't like or want to eat meat then that is fine with me. I'll stick to a bit of Minty Lamb Chop from a South Down sheep sourced, via my butcher, from a local Downland farm.