The dark side to John Muir – Mendip AONB Young Rangers at Chew Valley Ringing Station

The dark side to John Muir – Mendip AONB Young Rangers at Chew Valley Ringing Station

In June 2015, I signed up for the Mendip Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) Young Rangers programme. I found out about it the previous year at the Chew Valley Bird-fair, but they only recruited every two years and so I had to wait for the next intake.

Blackdown, Mendip Hills
Copyright Mendip AONB

We started in September 2015 for the two-year conservation programme based on the Mendip Hills, not far from where I live in the Chew Valley, South of Bristol.

Everyone who started was either 12 or 13 years old and we all lived in places on or around the Mendip Hills. Quite a few of the others lived in Cheddar, so it was good for me to meet young people from new places. It is a two-year course, where you have to attend once each month and try something different each time. A lot of the focus is on the Mendip Hills and on its conservation.  Some months we visit somewhere to learn about the history of the place, like Wells Museum, and other times we visit places like a local quarry.

Mendip AONB Young Rangers, Navigating Session, Mendip Hills (Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig 3rd from left)
Copyright Mendip AONB

At the end of the two years, we get the John Muir Gold Award for Conservation. That is fantastic, but there is a bit of me that feels uncomfortable with that. John Muir was a Scottish American conservationist living in the USA who did a lot for conservation, lobbying for the formation of Yosemite NP, California in 1864. We visited the park last summer and it is really, really beautiful. However, there is a lot more to John Muir, and a lot that is very unpalatable to me. This blog post in Scientific American is essential reading http://bit.ly/2pyDEez:

“I was raised in the mountains of Northern California and walked the trails near the site of this [native american] massacre as a child. But I had never heard of John Savage nor the terrible events that lay behind the formation of Yosemite National Park, a picturesque symbol of the conservation movement and a vacation resort for millions. Rather it was John Muir, that storied wanderer and founder of the Sierra Club, whose name was synonymous with this national treasure. When my brothers and I climbed out of the family station wagon to witness the majesty of this glacier-carved valley, it was Muir’s name that adorned the signs along the manicured trails and the celebrated volumes in the gift shop. If the indigenous population was mentioned in any of the brochures or trail guides I have no memory of it and I left with no indication that the region had once been inhabited. The impression I received was that Yosemite had always been a pristine wilderness, as sparse and pure as the Ansel Adams portraits that hung on my family’s wall for years afterwards.

It was this skewed interpretation of U.S. wilderness that John Muir had successfully promoted, a vision that has haunted the conservation movement ever since. In his famous nineteenth-century travel writings in the Sierra Nevada Mountains Muir described Yosemite not just as a picturesque marvel of nature, but as something divine that was beyond human frailties. The landscape of the “Sierra Cathedral Mountains” was a “temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” he wrote. It was a place that was “pure wildness” and where “no mark of a man is visible upon it.”

[T]he main canyons widen into spacious valleys or parks of charming beauty, level and flowery and diversified like landscape gardens with meadows and groves and thickets of blooming bushes, while the lofty walls, infinitely varied in form, are fringed with ferns, flowering plants, shrubs of many species, and tall evergreens and oaks.

It’s not that Muir didn’t encounter native peoples in his travels. He did, but he found them to be “most ugly, and some of them altogether hideous.” For a wilderness as pure as his holy Yosemite, “they seemed to have no right place in the landscape, and I was glad to see them fading out of sight down the pass.” But, ironically, these “strange creatures” as Muir described them were the ones responsible for many of the features that gave Yosemite Valley its park-like appearance, the “landscape gardens” that Muir so valued. It is this forgotten legacy that has undermined many of the successes in the U.S. and even the global conservation movement today, one that traces directly back to John Savage and John Muir and the first protected wilderness site that later became the model followed around the world.”

I am not sure whether to accept my John Muir Gold Award or not; I have worked hard for it and it is recognised highly here. I think not, though I might refer in my CV to being entitled to receive it. For those who have been involved in race issues, what is your advice?

Of the twenty young people who started the course with me, two have dropped out, but the rest of us are good friends.

Mendip AONB Young Rangers – Caving Session, Mendip Hills (Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig)
Copyright Mendip AONB

On 18 March 2017, Mendip AONB Young Rangers visited Chew Valley Ringing Station which was organised by me and my Dad, Chris Craig who is Treasurer. My trainer, Mike Bailey, gave a talk about the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and why we do ringing (banding), about the SSRI and the types of nets and traps we use.  I then helped give a bird ringing demonstration, led a tour of the site and did some birdwatching. After that, we spent the rest of the day taking part in coppicing to create a new net lane. That was lots of fun and I think that everyone had a good time.

Mendip AONB Young Rangers – Ringing Session, Mendip Hills (Chris Craig 2nd from left)
Copyright Mendip AONB
Mendip AONB Young Rangers – Ringing Session, Mendip Hills (Chris Craig 4th from right) Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig 2nd from left
Copyright Mendip AONB

It was great to organise a session that connected the group to nature as so much of the conservation work we have done doesn’t actually involve that. Much of the Mendips is overgrazed with little vegetation or trees, so it would be good for it to be re-wilded, but we haven’t learnt anything contentious like this.

Mendip AONB Young Rangers, Beach cleaning Session, Mendip Hills
Copyright Mendip AONB

 

Mendip AONB Young Rangers Posters – Caving Session, Mendip Hills (Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig)
Copyright Mendip AONB

About The Author

Hi, I’m Dr. Mya-Rose Craig. I am a 19-year-old prominent British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist as well as an author, speaker and broadcaster. At age 11 I started the popular blog Birdgirl, and at age 17 I became the youngest person to see half of the birds in the world.

Buy My Book

Lyrical, poignant and insightful.’ - Margaret Atwood

This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

Lyrical, poignant and insightful.’ - Margaret Atwood

This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

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To find out more about working with me or to buy my book, please use the links below.

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7 Days Not Very Wild – Day 7 – 7 July 2015

7 Days Not Very Wild – Day 7 – 7 July 2015

7 Days not very Wild – Trying to do something wild each day

My idea is that sometimes even if we look for that great wild thing in nature, it can be hard to find because of all sorts of reasons mainly to do with humans destroying the world.

Having celebrated the nature we can find for 30 days, I wanted to highlight the nature I couldn’t find for 7 days, sort of as a warning that things aren’t just hunky-dory.

Day 7 – Rewilding the Mendips

The Mendip Hills are just a little way up the hill from us on the escarpment. We call them the Mendips. They are designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) including the area where we live in the Chew Valley.

I am due to start as Young Ranger in the autumn.

In the meantime, I can’t but question what is being preserved in some of the areas.

Mendips AONB
Photograph taken by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

George Monbiot has talked a lot about rewilding. Turning areas back to how they were. Not 50 years ago in the case of the Mendips but what it was like 500 years ago when much of it was probably covered in woods, which are now mainly left on the escarpment like Compton Woods next to us.

Feral by Geoge Monbiot
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

George Monbiot shows in his book Feral how by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. He sets out a new positive environmental vision in which nature is allowed to find its own way.
His manifesto on rewilding is set out in:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/27/my-manifesto-rewilding-world
What he concludes is:

“Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it. Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, and culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.
The only thing preventing a faster rewilding in the EU is public money. Farming is sustained on infertile land (by and large, the uplands) through taxpayers’ munificence. Without our help, almost all hill farming would cease immediately. I’m not calling for that, but I do think it’s time the farm subsidy system stopped forcing farmers to destroy wildlife. At the moment, to claim their single farm payments, farmers must prevent “the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land”. They don’t have to produce anything: they merely have to keep the land in “agricultural condition”, which means bare.
I propose two changes to the subsidy regime. The first is to cap the amount of land for which farmers can claim money at 100 hectares (250 acres). It’s outrageous that the biggest farmers harvest millions every year from much poorer taxpayers, by dint of possessing so much land. A cap would give small farmers an advantage over large ones. The second is to remove the agricultural condition rule.
The effect of these changes would be to ensure that hill farmers with a powerful attachment to the land and its culture, language and traditions would still farm (and continue to reduce their income by keeping loss-making sheep and cattle). Absentee ranchers who are in it only for the subsidies would find that they were better off taking the money and allowing the land to rewild.”

I think this applies perfectly to the Mendips. The AONB ensures that the area is kept as it is now, barren. We need to stop grazing sheep and let a large proportion of the area rewild, with woods and moorland.
These are just a few photographs showing how little nature is on much of the Mendips.

Mendips AONB
Photograph taken by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Mendips AONB
Photograph taken by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Mendips AONB
Photograph taken by Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

About The Author

Hi, I’m Dr. Mya-Rose Craig. I am a 19-year-old prominent British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist as well as an author, speaker and broadcaster. At age 11 I started the popular blog Birdgirl, and at age 17 I became the youngest person to see half of the birds in the world.

Buy My Book

Lyrical, poignant and insightful.’ - Margaret Atwood

This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

Lyrical, poignant and insightful.’ - Margaret Atwood

This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

Find Out More

To find out more about working with me or to buy my book, please use the links below.

Work With MeBuy Book