Another year, another Wood Festival – and another tent filled with the thoughts and passions of amazing people. My little empire, a small geodesic dome, has become one of my favourite places. I get to invite people to speak on subjects that interest them – and the results, well, while it is not as carefully crafted as a TED talk, can be rather special.

I won’t go through everyone – but here are some of the highlights.

George Monbiot – I have been wanting to get him here for three years now – so glad he came and spoke on the theme of rewilding – he opened proceedings, thus setting an impossibly high marker for following acts in terms of eloquence and audience …

George Monbiot

George Roberts stepped into the breach when I found that my second speaker was unable to appear (while my first was on stage) – thank you George for poems that continue to startle and sparkle.

George Roberts

Merryl Gelling was given the chance to talk about Oxfordshire’s mammals (she is chair of the Oxon Mammal Group of which I am the world’s least attentive member) – she was assisted in her presentation by her very own small mammal … who sort of stole the show! Lovely to hear about otters making their way back into Oxford – and one being seen right by the Hinksey swimming pool!

Merry Gelling

Great to have news of the update of the success of the Oxford City Farm in getting planning permission from Lucie Mayer – she has been and talked each year about their plans – now it is really happening.

I had booked in Tom Burnett on a recommendation but had not followed up what he planned to talk about very well – so I thought it was about playing football in Palestine … which it was, sort of … but it was also about the plight of Palestinians who are finding themselves subject to a brutal regime. He went out with the Bristol-based social club – the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. As he pointed out, yes, there are some idiots who shout about wiping Israel off the face of the earth, but for the majority of Palestinians, there is a desire for peace – painting them all with the same brush is like assuming all Americans are represented by Donald Trump.

Easton Cowboys

Saturday night is always tricky at Wood – working hard all day means I feel I have earned a pint … but I have to work hard the next day too – and in this instance also had to get up at 0630 to ensure my son was bathed and smart for choir duty … which was always going to be a challenge.

Tiger facepaint

However, I managed it while having fun too – highlight of the night – Xogara.

Xogara

Sunday – bleary Sunday – came with a shock of sun. When you run a tent like Kindling the rain can be your friend, driving people in for cover … damn you sun … but still there was a demand – for Richard’s didgeridoos!

didgeridoos

I was very disappointed that the entire field of the festival did not descend to see Stevyn Colgan – he is one of the QI elves – witty and with a voracious need to know things, he was wonderful. Buy his book! He is as close as I am ever likely to get to Douglas Adams or Stephen Fry …

Steven Colgan

Following on was Charles Foster – his latest book, Being a Beast, is magical – eccentric and transcendent nature writing (I think I said something like that for the book cover) – how does it feel to be another animal? Not an easy task to accomplish – and I will be finding out more from him when we share a stage for the Oxford Festival of Nature on the 8th June.

Charles Foster

How to become a climate rebel was the mission of a quartet of mischief – Danny Chivers, Sheila Manon, Phil Ball and Richard Howlett … tales of derring-do from blocking Heathrow runways to months in a Russia prison – but what is the best way to tackle this global issue? They were brilliant, challenging and entertaining.

climate rebels climate rebels 2

Somewhere along the way I talked about hedgehogs – I packed up my tent on Monday lunchtime – it is now Wednesday afternoon and I am still shattered. The Kindling tent makes me equally happy and tired! So, who will be on stage next year? Will Robin, Megan, Claire and Joe Bennett let me back in? Leave a message if you have a story to tell.

I think you are not allowed to release new polling data on the day of an election, but as you will probably know, hedgehogs are notoriously slow at responding. So it is only now that the results are in and I can reveal the startling news that ….. hedgehogs around the country are near unanimous in voting Green.

There was a time when many hedgehogs were seduced by the silvery words of David Cameron – he promised the ‘greenest government ever’. But then he imposed the arch-enemy of the natural world, Owen Paterson, as Environment boss … for a short while hedgehogs thought this was some sort of elaborate joke – about like Donald Trump running for the Whitehouse … until the truth emerged and ‘all that green crap’ started to be dismantled.

As George Monbiot said: “The final shred of credibility of “the greenest government ever” has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter. The appointment of Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary, is a declaration of war on the environment, and another sign that the right of the party – fiercely opposed to anything that prevents business from doing as it wishes – has won.”

There was a time when hedgehogs were tempted by the moderate words of Nick Clegg – he seemed so reasonable on all the key issues – friends to everyone. Whatever happened to him?

A few generations ago I met some hedgehogs who were partial to new Labour – Tony Blair, bright-eyed and evangelical was seducing some of the suburban hedgehogs into thinking that he might present a solution to the massive housing shortage that has followed rapacious industrialisation of agriculture. But he turned out to be just like all the others too.

Clearly there are some hedgehogs who are rather insular in their outlook – who do not take kindly to incomers (all those African Pygmy Hedgehogs, coming over here and clogging up the internet with cute buck teeth, or setting up cafes). And for them the easy lure of the fascist had, for a short while, the potential to swing a few votes. But even hedgehogs are not stupid enough to vote for UKIP.

And that leaves, for hedgehogs in England at least, only one option – it has to be the Green Party. They are the only political party to have a deep understanding of what underpins everything we do – and that is not the economy. It is the ecology on which the economy rides. As the ecological economist Herman Daly said:

“Once you sit down and draw a little picture of the economy as a subset of the larger ecosystem, then you’re halfway home as far as ecological economics is concerned. That’s why people resist doing that,” he says. “That means you would have to say well, there are limits, we’re not going to be able to grow forever. That means the economy must have some optimal scale relative to the larger system. That means you don’t grow beyond the optimum. How do we stop growing? What do we do? These are very threatening questions.”

Without this rudimentary understanding of the way the world works, no political party can be trusted with power. So – if you can – get out there and vote Green – it is what the hedgehogs would want!

 

 

When I saw the first edition of EarthLines I had an immediate rush of excitement … the merging of nature and culture; the recognition that we are part of what we see, not separate. I loved the absence of adverts for crystal suppositories and quick-fix shamanic apps for your iPhone. But at the same time I loved the acceptance that there are things we cannot measure that are as important as the bald statistics on which I might argue a case about hedgehog survival. And I loved its local-ness. It is produced by a ludicrously small team (Sharon Blackie and David Knowles) up on the Isle of Lewis and the material I have read has been so much more familiar than the exotic output of the nearest competitor, Orion. Read More →

This is just a quick note to reveal yet another attempt by the hedgehogs to help stave off planetary annihilation. It is not that long ago that the Big Issue carried on its front cover the bold claim ‘Save the Hedgehog, Save the World’. I had brazenly purloined that from Heroes – and feel that it is more important when attached to hedgehogs, not cheerleaders. My favourite bit about the cover was that the following was pushed over to the margins, to make way for me and the hedgehogs – ‘Obama and me, Desmond Tutu speaks’ –  I had managed to marginalise two of the most important people on the planet!

But now, even more serious, hedgehogs are back.

There is a plan by the current government to help maintain our standing in the world by buying large bombs. They want to replace the Trident nuclear missile system with something even snazzier. It is a bit like a poorly endowed middle aged man buying an expensive sports car – he sits in it thinking he is cool while everyone around him is thinking of a joke … what is the difference between a hedgehog and a Ferrari/Porsche/Range Rover etc etc …. the hedgehog has its pricks on the outside … boom boom (goes the trident replacement).

So, the UK is trying to maintain its geopolitical standing with go-faster stripes and the loud revving threats of – ‘don’t mess with me or I will drive me car very fast at you and kill you’ – because that is what would happen if we entered into a nuclear exchange – we would all die.

But it is not just about the absurdity of this stance – there is also the cost. Whether it is a sports car of a new nuclear missile system, these things don’t come cheap. And in the case of Trident, we are looking at £97 billion pound. Banks and bombs – always money for banks and bombs … but what else could that money be spent on? A very interesting question, and one that Greenpeace has asked my dearly beloved to ask many many people – and feed the resulting films up onto a video wall … there is a great range of opinion – from a retired General (who thinks that troops could do with proper kit rather more than a very big bomb that they will not use) through to George Monbiot, George Marshall Alastair McGowan and a host of others who have very good ideas about how to spend that money. And me … I point out that just one millionth of that figure would help us to find an answer to the problem of declining hedgehog numbers in the UK and around the world – so by funding research into the complexities of life, rather than funding arms manufacturers to destroy life, the world would be a much better place. So, see what the hedgehog says on the video wall – and vote for your favourite … no pressure now!