Monday, 31 October 2011

In the midst of life is death...

I thought Halloween would be a good chance to challenge Dunc for gruesome posts. Out walking in woods over the weekends, we came across this bizarre, Blair-Witcheseque spectacle.

The fact that both squirrels lay dead together would not seem to be coincidence; as it was clearly a well-managed wood, with coppiced areas and hallmarks of game-breeding I suspect they were killed deliberately by the gamekeeper (shot? poisoned?). Looking closer I could see that their putrefying flesh was alive with invertebrates, such as this Sexton beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides or similar although you can't beat its common name!) This was no surprise, but it did get me thinking about the way in which the microcosm of the dead squirrel echoed the larger environment in which it lay, with man steering the cycle of life and death to his own ends, in this case woodland management for game rearing, ultimately to facilitate another round of managed killing. There is no avoidance  of the fact that as once as a species we became farmers, we put ourselves in this position of managing the cycle of life and death, and this is writ large in our landscapes. The beauty of estate woodlands, gently rolling arable fields, even the grazed uplands of the North are the result of position as master of all we survey, destroying and creating in equal measure. I do not judge, only noting that surely 'sustainability' can only come when that cycle is balanced between both? In this woodland this balance is more or less achieved (we could quibble about an excess of gamebirds...) as it is in the local fields with wide margins and deep hedgerows, but I suspect that this is increasingly the exception, as modern agribusiness drives us more towards the role of destroyer. I am not sure what the answer is, other than to consider how our own consumption patterns drive this process. I believe that the Gaia theory posits that man as part of a wider system must ultimately be subject to the corrective effect that will re-strike the balance. We will become the squirrel, the world, the wood, and sextons take us all - Happy Halloween!

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