Thought for the Day by Luke Verrall (St Michael’s)
Rams and Goats
Daniel’s reading is one of power being overthrown. A powerful ram is stood with two horns and is butting away all creatures that try to approach it such that ‘it did as it pleased and became strong’. That was until a male goat with a single horn approached, apparently flying, and struck the ram, breaking its two horns and trampling it to the ground. The goat then grew ‘more powerful than ever’ with its horn splitting into four and reaching into all lands and heaven, challenging power and overthrowing armies etc.
It appeared to me that this passage can be an analogy for much that is happening in the world today. We have the all-powerful ram of Trump holding on to power whilst the goat of Biden is set to replace and, we hope, reform American politics. We also have the ram of humanity that has stood growing ever more powerful for centuries, commanding the land and taking so much more from the earth than it ought, then bang, 2020 arrives and with it so does the goat that is Covid-19 which as we all know, has caused much health, economic and social devastation. It can feel like it has overthrown humanity and taken charge. The disease is something of mankind’s making, we have taken from the land without regard for too long, the balance is off. It is the all-powerful ram of humanity versus the goat of Mother nature that this passage really spoke to me about.
We are here to be stewards of the Earth, are we not? So why is it then that our social feeds and news outlets are littered every day with reports of trophy hunting, raptor ‘disappearance’ on UK moorlands, increasing pollution levels, discarded face masks (snip those loops and put them in the bin or better still, use a re-usable one), depleted fish stocks, ancient woodland removal, paltry fines for wildlife crimes, fracking, oil spills, sewage pollution and so on…? Humanity has grown exponentially, and with it, forgotten just how much it relies on nature and the environment for absolutely everything. We recently celebrated Harvest in which we give thanks to God for the food we produce, but nature isn’t just there for food production, although that is incredibly important. Nature gives us the clothes we wear, the medicines we need (and possibly a vaccine??), the air we breathe, the materials to build houses, the wildlife we so need at this moment and always, and so much more. And it is this last point, wildlife, that I would like to focus our thoughts on.
The events of this year have left most of us with little option than to spend more time outside which has brought many of us closer to nature. Several people have pointed out to me this year how they feel there has been more wildlife about than in recent years; more birds, butterflies, amphibians, bats and bees, which is great to hear, and I have thought it myself, however I don’t believe it to be the case. Whilst some local variation in wildlife populations will be inevitable year-on-year, what I believe has changed this year, is that with little else to keep us occupied, we have listened and appreciated nature more. Traffic levels were greatly reduced in lockdown 1.0 and still in lockdown 2.0 very few planes are flying over Leeds, so it is easier for wildlife to communicate, and for us to hear that. Myself and my girlfriend have been on many walks noticing the absolutely wonderful colours that we were treated to in Autumn and definitely thought it had never looked so good, but in reality we had just noticed it more, become more re-tuned to the pure vibrancy of colour that autumn brought.
I do believe that if this year teaches us anything about nature it is that there is hope. As an Ecologist I spend most of my time surveying wildlife and preparing reports to accompany planning applications. Ecologists work with clients to produce the best wildlife mitigation we can whilst also achieving the aims of a proposed scheme. Sometimes it can be a struggle to get the desired measures for wildlife into a scheme for many reasons. Once it receives Royal Ascent, the new ‘Environment Bill’ will mandate that all development in England must deliver biodiversity ‘net-gain’, likely to be at 10%. This means that once a development is complete, the site must have an increase of 10% biodiversity than was there pre-development, or where that is not possible on-site, the developer makes a payment to the local authority to create/enhance habitats nearby to achieve the 10% gain off-site. Whilst this isn’t likely to be law until 2023, many local authorities are already asking for net-gain, which is a really great sign and definitely a move in the right direction. The new Biden Administration is set to be far ‘greener’ than Trump’s and will take America back into the Paris climate agreement whilst the UK Government is also looking to ‘go further and faster’ to act on climate change as evidenced by the news on Saturday that the UK government is likely to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. So, environmentally speaking, there are rays of hope shining through this cloudy year.
What the passage from Daniel, and the events of 2020, have taught us is that humanity cannot live independent of nature, after all we are also mammals. We cannot take the planet for granted any longer and should treat 2020 as a lesson. We have been the ram, and nature has been the goat crying out for help and desperately trying to give us a wake-up call. Let us restore balance and answer that call.
 You can follow the Environment Bill’s progress here: https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/environment.html. Or search for it online to find out more.