1. In the southern Cambrian Mountains, in central Wales, there’s a Terrestrial Dead Zone of around 300 km². It’s composed of degraded blanket mires, entirely dominated by a coarse grass called Molinia, in which other lifeforms, such as birds and insects, are scarcely to be found.
2. It seems to have been pushed past its tipping point in the 20th Century, into a new stable state. The most likely cause, according to the scientists who have studied it, was a switch from cattle to sheep grazing, and an increase in the stocking rate.
3. Flips like this are called hysteresis. Although, in some places, there has been no grazing for 30 or 40 years, the land has not recovered. Once any complex system undergoes hysteresis, the effort required to reverse it is much greater than the effort required to cause it.
4. The data go back only 2000 years. It’s possible that the blanket mires were themselves artefacts of human action, such as burning for cattle grazing in the Bronze Age. The natural vegetation type in this region is likely to be temperate rainforest.
5. Here’s what British temperate rainforest looks like.
(Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, photo by Neil Burnell).
6. Here’s what the Terrestrial Dead Zone looks like from space. It’s a wet desert. Restoring it to either functional blanket mire or rainforest should be possible, but would require full investigation, doubtless followed by a lot of effort.
7. But before that happens, as in all cases, first we have to acknowledge that there is a problem. Even mentioning the issue can trigger anger and reactive denial. There are plenty of people who don’t want to accept that things have gone badly wrong, even if no one is to blame.
8. The Cambrian Mountains are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To my eye, these parts are among the most dismal landscapes in Europe. But when we tell ourselves something often enough, we start to believe it.
9. For many years, our national parks and AONBs have been blighted by Consensus Reality. We have told ourselves “this is thriving”, “this is beautiful”, even when an insistent inner voice asks “so where is everything, then?”.
10. I love Wales, and I want it to thrive, ecologically and socially. As in all countries and all cases, this means being honest about history, challenging consensus reality and facing difficult truths.
11. On a side note, it pisses me off when I hear people call heather moorland “Britain’s rainforest”. Like all deforested landscapes, it is highly impoverished by comparison to what once grew there. But more importantly, Britain’s rainforest is … rainforest.
12. Bizarrely, while heather moorland is treated as a conservation priority by the major NGOs, our rainforests, which - thanks to centuries of destruction - are much rarer, are not. It’s time to mend not only our impoverished ecosystems, but also our impoverished understanding.
13. For too long, we've celebrated denuded wastelands, while forgetting what they once were and could be again. Conservation in the UK has been timid, unambitious and anally retentive. As rewilding goes mainstream, this is now changing, at long last. But there’s a long way to go.
14. A couple of people have pointed out a mistake in the thread. The Cambrian Mountains are not yet an AONB, but the status has been applied for. Thank you.

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More from @GeorgeMonbiot

26 Feb
I’ve now withdrawn from the event I was doing at the @sciencemuseum, after discovering that it is still taking sponsorship money from the oil companies BP and Equinor. Such companies use these deals to sustain their social licence to operate – ie to destroy the living planet.
When I accepted the museum’s invitation, I naively imagined those days were over. I mean, what respectable organisation still takes money from this planetary death machine? I love the Science Museum, but it’s hard to express how disappointed I feel.
Please support @Cult_Unstained in their efforts to break this chain of destruction and the greenwash and normalisation of fossil fuel companies that organisations like the Science Museum enable. cultureunstained.org/oil-sponsorshi…
Read 4 tweets
18 Feb
I’ve just finished some research about the use of biosolids (human sewage sludge) as farm manure. The results will keep me awake at night.
¾ of biosolids in the UK are spread on farmland. The rules about what it can contain are not fit for purpose. Please read and share this 🧵
Biosolids typically contain a wide range of synthetic chemicals, including antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, personal care products, microplastics and persistant organic pollutants, among them “forever chemicals”. Yet testing is restricted to a small number of contaminants.
Spreading them across the land means spreading them through the foodchain and the ecosystem. There’s plenty of evidence of uptake of many of these chemicals by crops, earthworms and other soil animals, and of large-scale antibiotic resistance developing among soil bacteria.
Read 11 tweets
16 Feb
I keep being asked why I don’t go into politics.
There are a few reasons:
1. I'd be rubbish at it.
2. I mean really rubbish.
3. I'd prefer to see women, people of colour and young people entering politics, rather than someone else with my profile.
But more importantly … 🧵
4. To create change, we need an ecosystem: people with a wide variety of skills, performing a wide variety of tasks.
We need researchers, journalists, campaigners, organisers, supporters, fundraisers, administrators etc, as well as politicians.
5. Some of these tasks are incompatible. For instance, if I went into politics, I wouldn’t be free to decide what I think, or to change my mind as soon as the evidence changes. I would have to bite my lip and follow a party line. In other words, I couldn’t do the things I do now.
Read 5 tweets
16 Feb
The government is trying to prevent a "re-evaluation" of our imperial past. What doesn't it want us to see?
In this thread from last year, I list some of the skeletons it is seeking to keep in the closet.
Quick, look the other way!
Here's another thread on the UK's hidden colonial atrocities and their connections to today's power structures, which intersects with the first one, but draws on more examples:
Behind these histories lies an even bigger and more sacrilegious truth. It's that the system we call capitalism, which exists vaguely in our minds, but that most people see as "something to do with buying and selling" is really a system of global theft.
Read 8 tweets
15 Feb
Billionaire power exists in conflict with democratic power.
Billionaires happen because of regulatory failure (weak anti-trust, employment, environmental laws etc).
They persist due to fiscal failure (not enough tax).
No one, in a functioning democracy, should be this rich.
When billionaires become sufficiently powerful, and governments become sufficiently weak, people start believing that they can solve the problems that made them so rich, and which they have almost certainly exacerbated.
You might as well believe in magic.
But we are now creating a superman myth, investing people like Musk and Gates with powers they either do not or should not possess.
In doing so, we enhance their power, and democracy is further weakened.
Read 9 tweets
14 Feb
Perhaps it's unsurprising that a billionaire has no interest in structural and political change. But @BillGates's belief that he can save the planet with technologies alone, while dissing popular movements and systemic transformation, is as naive as it is arrogant.
Moreover, his attack on divestment campaigns suggests he hasn't grasped even the basic dynamics of preventing climate breakdown:
It doesn't matter how many solar plants you build unless you simultaneously, and proactively, shut down fossil fuel investment.
Otherwise the political power of those with sunk costs will impede and stymie transition. Technical change is essential, but it's only a partial answer to economic power, and no answer at all to political power.
Read 9 tweets

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