“You can’t help nature, or fit in to it with less damage, unless you wrap your head around what nature is trying to do on your land. And to do this you have to do a little bit of ecological homework to understand how it functioned before humans changed it—what was it? What flora and fauna thrives in it? What role did the different animals and plants play in it? What did those species need in terms of habitats and processes?”
– James Rebanks, Lake District shepherd and author of the book English Pastoral,
in conversation with Gracy Olmstead
“You know we belong to the land. And the land we belong to is grand.”
– Oklahoma!, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Wessex is a region with a population of over 8½ million. Unfortunately, its carrying capacity based on the biocapacity deficit for the United Kingdom in 2017 is just under 2.1 million. It will require a combination of population reduction (see separate paper on Population, to follow) and a less energy-intensive and polluting lifestyle to ensure that its global footprint does not exceed its biocapacity.
Wessex is predominantly rural in character, a region dominated by small to medium-sized market towns, with Bristol as its only core city (though still small in comparison to other core cities such as Manchester and Birmingham). As a regional party, we have a closer connection to the land than the London-based parties, and our policies are geared towards reconnecting the people of Wessex (that is, all those living and working in the region) with the land of Wessex. While other environmentally conscious parties seek to preserve the energy-intensive western lifestyle by switching from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable sources of energy, the Wessex Regionalists take the more difficult path of questioning whether this lifestyle is worth preserving. Climate change (see separate paper, to follow) is only one of the challenges we face: the collapse of global biodiversity is no less serious. Our approach, as set out in our Aims and Values is planet-centred, not human-centred, though we believe this ultimately to be in the interests of humans too, particularly those yet to be born, who will bear the brunt of current ecocidal policies.
The importance of agriculture to Wessex’s economy sometimes leads to concerns about a potential conflict between the desire for ecological restoration and the needs of farmers. However, we believe that when managed sensitively in accordance with our values of community ownership and vital democracy, rewilding and agriculture can coexist harmoniously. Virtually all the land in Wessex suitable for farming is already being used for farming. As with fracking, calls to give over more land to agriculture would cause environmental damage that would far outweigh any benefits from the increase in production. Our aim is to create a patchwork of different habitats across Wessex, encouraging a diversity of species and land use. In the long term, we see Wessex’s future primarily as one of small farms and artisans, with more space given over to wilderness.
We believe that this has several advantages over the current system of industrial farming and manufacture. Air, soil and water quality would all be improved, and there are proven mental and physical health benefits to being connected to nature. A small farm future would, most likely, also involve a switch to a healthier diet; lower in meats and cereals, and richer in vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. Local production for local need would vastly reduce food miles, and journeys to work.
It is likely that in the long term, a degree of technological regression may be necessary, unless a more sustainable alternative to existing technologies can be found. For example, computers such as the one on which this document was created require the extraction of rare earth minerals in their production, often by people working for little money in unsafe conditions. But there has been some promising research into using sodium as an alternative to lithium in batteries. See separate paper on Technology and AI (to follow) for more details. In such cases, the technology would have to be proven to work. Techno-utopianism can be a form of greenwashing, deferring action on replacing harmful technologies with the promise of a better alternative that is always just around the corner.
Short Term – campaigning within the UK – Wessex Regionalists will:
- Promote a transition towards local commons and participatory democracy.
- Incorporate ecological restoration into agricultural policy and other policies for land and marine use, e.g., forestry and recreation.
- Oppose environmentally damaging road-building schemes, and support more sustainable modes of transport such as rail, cycling and walking, car-share and working from home in order to reduce travel (see also our policy on Transport, to follow).
- Oppose any attempts to reduce air, soil, water or beach quality standards to below EU levels in the wake of Brexit.
- Encourage a reduction in meat and dairy consumption, in order to free up more land for arable and rewilding use.
- Support those campaigning to minimise the role of advertising in order to avoid wasteful and meaningless consumption, including a presumption against planning permission for advertisement hoardings, and stronger enforcement against roadside advertising in fields.
- Adopt a zero waste strategy for local authorities, and ban the export of waste from Wessex, with waste being dealt with at the most local level possible.
- Promote No Mow May.
- Support the creation of a container deposit scheme, and outlaw single-use plastic products.
- Ban on excess packaging of all types.
Long Term – in a fully devolved region – Wessex Regionalists will:
- Create a taxation regime based on Land Value Tax, heavily weighted towards less polluting land use. (See separate paper Paying for it All, to follow).
- Implement a regional living income, payable to all residents of Wessex, to lessen the financial risk from switching to less polluting practices.
- Heavily tax second home owners and forbid the use of Airbnbs as unregulated holiday homes. (see also our policy on Housing and Homelessness, to follow).
- Ensure that planet-centred thinking is taught at all levels of education (see also our policy on Education).
- Devolve the management of the Crown Estate in Wessex to the Wessex Assembly, enabling rent from renewable energy developments in Wessex waters (sea and river beds) to be paid to Wessex instead of London.
- Devolve the powers of the Forestry Commission to the Wessex Assembly, whilst protecting and strengthening the historic powers of the New Forest and Forest of Dean Verderers, and similar organisations, creating new ones for any additional community forests that are planted in the region.
- Combine the functions of the Environment Agency and Natural England within the region into one body, Natural Environment Wessex, reflecting the similar merger in Wales.
- Require all companies to publish environmental and social, as well as financial, audits.
- Make all major infrastructure schemes undergo an Environment Investment Review to ensure they have a payback to the environment within a minimum period.
- Reform the system of agricultural subsidies to favour small-scale, organic farming oriented towards local needs and away from environmentally damaging intensive farming (see also our policy on Farming & Food, to follow).
- Allow local communities a say on the size of nearby quarries, and use exhausted quarries for rewilding.
- Localise the economy to reduce food miles and support local production for local need where possible.
- Subsidise large scale increase in provision of allotment spaces and promote their use; allotments have been shown to be the most productive use of land for growing.
- Take development out of the hands of developers and into the hands of local communities, by encouraging the creation of community land trusts, legislating to ensure that they have at least as much access to funding as housing associations and property developers do under the current system.
- Create a new Green Belt around Winchester, to protect it from further overdevelopment, and a Forest of Dean National Park.
- Create new nature reserves, and marine protection areas off Wessex’s coast.
- Replace Gross Domestic Product with the Genuine Progress Indicator (see Appendix 5) as a measure of economic health, seeking the best scientific advice on how to maximise the environmental factors within Wessex (see paper on Measuring Success, to follow).
- Reduce size of mega-fields; preserving and extending the system of grants for the re-introduction of hedgerows to create green corridors through the landscape.
- Grant regionally protected status to species more threatened in Wessex than elsewhere.
- Impose the most stringent air, water and soil quality standards possible, including filtration of microplastics out of drinking water.
- Impose a ban or heavy tariff on imported products that do not meet the same standards as Wessex producers/farmers would have to meet, in order to protect them from unfair competition (and protect the citizens of Wessex from unhealthy and harmful products).
- Ban the use of non-porous hard surfaces in driveways, footpaths etc, in order to drain the land better and prevent flooding.
- Target each shire to become self-sustainable for energy, clean water; stop using good agricultural land for solar panel arrays and wind turbines – make maximum use of buildings in towns and cities for solar panels, wind turbines in parks.
- Make provision of grey-water schemes part of the building regulations for all new buildings and as a condition for planning permission for extensions to existing buildings; make all car washes dependent on use of grey water.
- Create a program of large-scale tree planting of native species in towns and cities and creation of new urban wetlands and green space to aid drainage.
- Ensure all new products introduced are only made of fully recyclable parts.