The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 20 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Sunday, 16 July 2017

To Rewild or Starve - More Futile Trade-offs masking Perverse Incentives

Or why the 'Food Security Lobby' are a bunch of self serving benefit scrounging scaremongers!

Two good articles in the press this week have got me to discuss concept of the 'Futile Trade-offs' as in food or wildlife. But we must look deeper into the 'perverse incentives' inherent in our economy that make us destroy wildlife to put wasted food down the waste disposal unit or to feed intensively farmed pigs and cattle soya from destroyed rainforest! As ever the real sin is the perverse incentive to waste land we need for wildlife and keeping our environment healthy, the very life-support system all humanity relies on.

An article in 'The Conversation' posed the question: What would happen if we abandoned Britain’s farms and left them to nature? 

And the BBC came out with this:

World's large carnivores being pushed off the map

Both articles produced a lot of flak from the 'Food Security Lobby':  My answer is this:

Calories produced by farming on marginal land are tiny. One allotment can produces over 100 times the food of the same area of upland or sub marginal farmland if not a lot more. Food security is about distribution and never amount. Farming produces 10 to 20 times, at least, the food we need, the problem is distribution and poverty.

I have always considered the food security augment fallacious and one designed to ‘keep the free cash from subsidies rolling in’. The reality is we have lots of land to rewild. We could rewild 40% of the UK and it would save the taxpayer about £1 Billion in wasted subsidies and have virtually no impact on food production or prices as the land is so unproductive. less than one half of 1% of our food is produced on such land. The benefits would be huge. From flood prevention, massive increase in water quality, reduced water bills, gigantic carbon capture as soils replenish and woodlands grow.

We could increase economic activity as Jobs shift to recreation and other land uses in harmony with rewilding. Rewilded land can be land full of people doing things, just not making a big impact…. We could achieve this with greater economic output and prosperity if we learned to tax Land and Natural resources instead of ordinary people’s incomes as well, to dispel the myth of these 'Futile trade-offs' as food or wildlife; or the perverse incentives to destroy wildlife for so very little gain....

Monday, 3 July 2017

Rewilding with Wolves – How Far Should We Go…?

Or how rewilding with wolves could save the Scottish Taxpayer Millions and prevent many avoidable fatalities?

Wildwood Trust’s recent press activity including a piece on Radio 4’s Today Programme and articles in the Telegraph and Express on our Devon Wolf project have causes a stir on social media.  I have been lambasted in comments as a fool etc. But what kind of fool am I for wanting to see the return of wolves and bears to the UK.

My critics have said wolves would be dangerous and costly if returned to Scotland. But would they? Many conservationist favouring classical conservation have said we should have rewilding ‘lite’ such as letting roadside verges go wild but not the wolves.

As a small thought experiment (trust me I have not been drinking!): let’s compare the negative externalities of 2 forms of rewilding:

  1. Leaving roadside verges uncut (rewilding 'Lite') 
  2. Reintroducing 5 packs of wolves to Scotland 

Rewild the Verge

Grass verges (I did a contract on this in 1994 for Scottish Wildlife Trust putting a tender in for managing major road verges for wildlife for the then Scottish Office) calculating the negative impacts this could cause about 1 to 5 deaths a year due to more dangerous conditions for visibility when driving. Tree growth could cause about 200k of damage to roads a year. Net gain in biodiversity about 20,000 hectares + appreciable benefit in wildlife corridors.

Rewild the Wolf

Wolf reintroduction say 1 death every 10 to 20 years (probably save more in deer collision road deaths).  Would cause land abandonment and net loss of income by some £200 Million to sheep farms and hunting estates as thier businesses become uneconomic.  But tourist income would probably be equal or more and would save the taxpayer about 200 Million in agricultural subsidies and another 200 million in tax dodging land scams. Net gain in wildlife habitat lets be conservative and say 250,000 hectares.

So rewilding with road verges would be an order of magnitude more dangerous to people and be far less cost effective costing the tax payer more!

Interesting most of the benefits of wolves go to the average Scot in more jobs and economic activity and Government revenue for public services and the benefits of not having wolves go to landowners and tax dodgers...

I would be interested in any informed criticism of my guesswork!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Brexit Tea, injustice and the Georgist Journal

My blog post about BREXIT was picked up and rewritten for a global audience in the Georgist Journal - a great honour for my good self.

The Georgist Journal has a wealth of articles which I recommend anyone to read it

If you are after a much deeper investigation into the issues surrounding Brexit and an explanation of how Land Rent Capture is the solution then read the excellent book by Fred Harrison: Beyond Brexit: The Blueprint:

You can get it on amazon here:

and do visit Fred's excellent website  where he published an excellent article '

Brexit and the Last Great Injustice


Sunday, 16 October 2016

St Ambrose of Milan & the Causes of Poverty & Environmental Damage Today

A friend sent me some choice quotes from St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397), who could have wrote these yesterday and not in the 4th century.  A man who understood the natural world and that the fundamental causes of poverty and evil all stem from the private ownership and exploitation of the gifts of nature.

This got me thinking, while I was just reviewing my pension today, the main reason I will live in penury in my old age is rent, not just rent of a house or the high cost of a mortgage but all the rents on all the things we have in life in a million complex ways that pervade our society. To get around this many old people cling on to property they do not need, and vehemently oppose the one fundamental solution to poverty and environment damage..... taxes on land. Thus we make the situation worse for all and the future, from our greed and fear today.

Poverty and environmental destruction today both stem from the private wealth to be generated from forcing rent onto to the poor and the money to be made from exploiting nature for private gain. A tax on land and environmental destruction, offsetting other taxes, is the fundamental solution to all the worlds problems, recognised by the leading thinkers throughout history including St Ambrose.....  From Aristotle to Einstein, from Henry Ford to Benjamin Franklin. from Winston Churchill to Confucius history's greatest thinkers have all saw the wisdom of using economic rent as public revenue and its vital place in lifting humanity to greater heights. Yet still our political systems serves the rich, lazy and powerful who milk the rest of humanity through such a monopoly, a monopoly that devastated economies, creates poverty, drives us to war and to destroy our beautiful planet and its wildlife....

The Quotes of St Ambrose:

"In the beginning people practiced the natural policy, after the example of the birds, so that both work and honors were common, and people knew how to divide among themselves the obligations as well as the rewards and power, so that no one was left without reward, not free from labor. This was a most beautiful state of things. . .Then the lust after power came in, and people began claiming undue powers, and not relinquishing those they had."

"Why do you {the rich} drive out of their inheritance people whose nature is the same as yours, claiming for yourselves alone the possession of all the land? The land was made to be common to all, the poor and the rich. Why do you, oh rich, claim for yourselves alone the right to the land?"

"The world has been made for all, and a few of you rich try to keep it for yourselves. For not only the ownership of the land, but even the sky, the air, and the sea, a few rich people claim for themselves. . .Do the angels divide the space in heaven, as you do when you set up property marks on earth?"

"When you give to the poor, you give not of your own, but simply return what is his, for you have usurped that which is common and has been given for the common use of all. The land belongs to all, not to the rich; and yet those who are deprived of its use are many more than those who enjoy it."

"God our Lord willed that this land be the common possession of all and give its fruit to all. But greed distributed the right of possessions. Therefore, if you claim as your private property part of what was granted in common to all human beings and to all animals, it is only fair that you share some of this wealth with the poor, so that you will not deny nourishment to those who are also partakers of your right {by which you hold this land}."

"Greed is the cause of our want. The birds have abundant natural food because they have received in common that which is necessary for their nourishment, and they do not know how to claim private ownership. By claiming the private, we lose the common."
"Why do you consider things in the world as possessions {proprium}, when the world is common? Why do you consider the fruits of the land private when the land is common? Birds, who own nothing, lack nothing."

"Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy: mercy as shown chiefly towards the poor, that you may treat them as sharers in common with you in the produce of nature, which brings forth the fruit of the earth for use to all."

"But this is not even in accord with nature, for nature has poured forth all things for all men for common use. God has ordered all things to be produced, so that there should be food in common to all, and that the earth should be the common possession of all. Nature, therefore, has produced a common right for all, but greed has made it a right for a few."

Another great quote shared bu my friend is this one, penned by the great 6th-century Greek hymnographer St. Romanos the Melodist, also resonated with me:

"The rich man is exalted above the poor, he devours all his substance:
The peasant toils, the landlord harvests; the one labours, the other is at ease."

Thanks to Jared Baker from Summerville, South Carolina‎ for his research that unearthed this work

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Sheehy Effect - Why Pine Marten 'Rewilding' will allow Red Squirrels to Return to England

It is one of my big ambitions to return red squirrels to all of the UK; non-native North American grey squirrels, introduced at the whim of some aristocratic thinking they look cute to his grounds,  have edged out our native red squirrels to near extinction in England. But it has been noted by many naturalists that red squirrels are present in the same place pine martens exist. Pine martens were wiped out in England by gamekeepers to keep them from their shooting estates, allowing our landowning elite to shoot that other alien invader, the pheasant, bred in their millions still today.

It is rare for reds, pine martens and grey squirrels to co-exist, in fact the return of Pine Martens to central Ireland has spelt doom for the invasive greys and a leap in red squirrel numbers this has been coined the 'Sheehy Effect' after Wildwood's good friend Dr Emma Sheehy who has done so much of the Pine Marten Surveys that have confirmed this hypothesis.  In fact Dr Emma Sheehy is working with Wildwood on more projects to assist her research into this effect.

This example highlights the need to get our ecology back in balance to stop invasive species, but also stop killing off our own species in the wonderfully termed ‘trophic cascade’ as is used by rewinders such as myself or George Monbiot. The scientific research and the conservation community have now been amassing evidence and the Vincent Wildlife Trust have already released pine martens to Wales.

I have been working up plans to restore pine martens and Red Squirrels throughout Southern England at appropriate sites and our plans were documented by the BBC on thier Inside Out programme this week.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What’s killing our wildlife?

What’s killing our wildlife, is a question that occupies my mind a lot & getting to the bottom of the issue and addressing it is my lifes work. So it is my mission to understand why many people do not critically assess this and put the policies in place that address wildlife loss as efficiently as possible. In my career I have two issues with fellow conservationists and ‘greens’who have been getting it wrong for so long:
  1. Following the herd and not addressing the real needs, chiefly not addressing the issues of inefficient land use as the primary driver of biodiversity loss
  2. Focusing on ineffective solutions that are counterproductive to biodiversity conservation, chief of which is subsides to landowners and not on fundamental solutions such as a Land Value Tax and taxes on environmental degradation.

One approach, to put some real numbers on the relative importance on the things that are killing our wildlife, is to look at all the threatened (and near threatened) wildlife and look at the most prevalent threats to their survival. A new study reported in Nature has just done that by Sean Maxwell & collaborators at the University of Queensland.

Obviously such research has many limitations and is just one way of looking at biodiversity loss. Firstly, biodiversity is not just some species numbers, it is a complex mix of biological life. Issues such as abundance, interdependence, complexity, endemism, ecological processes and inorganic biodiversity all have to be taken into account when assessing 'biodiversity'. The second is that we have little knowledge of many species and the data collected by the IUCN is far from comprehensive. The list of such limitations is long but we can use this as a rough guide to threats to wildlife across the globe.

If we look at the UK, the list here will change significantly as extractive industries are much smaller and most of the biodiversity being destroyed by the UK through such extractive industries is perpetrated abroad by the things we import.

In the UK agriculture especially livestock farming will be the greatest threat to UK biodiversity which is why the conservation movement is waking up to this and starting to challenge cultural norms, powerful vested interests and reassessing the impact of sheep farming against its economic value as the biggest win for wildlife at the least cost to the country. 

Housing is another area where the UK will differ significantly from global trends as we have some of the smallest, densest, houses in the developed world. What we have is grossly inefficiently allocated making the Uk have probably the worst housing in developed world. I have blogged before about why the economic rules the Uk is using both harms wildlife and harms peoples chances of having a decent home:

This is a legacy of our almost unique history of enclosure acts, stealing common land and forcing people off the land and into industrial working. Since the 'thatcher revolution' we have increase lending to land values while at the same time reducing house building further exacerbating the land monopoly. Land Value Tax would solve this issue very quickly and efficiently making us develop what land is already developed far more efficiently, increasing the living quality of all, and even return some land to agriculture and nature. Good quality planning can create housing that allows us to reduce environmental input and create spaces for nature and wildlife corridors getting a win-win for people and wildlife & LVT will help this process. 

"Land Value Tax is a rocket to put up the backsides of landowners & developers to make the most of what we have, in doing so we put all our human effort into building better housing on the land already developed, we will make farming and recreation ‘land efficient’ and thus create the space to rewild Britain and at the same have great housing & jobs aplenty."   Peter Smith

When formulating conservation policy, we must look at the activities we carry out against their economic and cultural benefit. In doing so we would find the big anomalies that are destroying British biodiversity are sheep farming, grouse shooting and golf courses.

The Woolly Maggots

Sheep farming in the UK, my personal bĂȘte noire, an activity that strips our land bare causing global warming, floods to towns and catastrophic loss of wildlife. Yet in total the area of land affected is greater than all our arable land put together, yet sheep farming only makes up one half of one percent, 0.5%, of all farming revenue. A colossal waste of land and one that is only possible by taxpayers giving huge subsidies to this otherwise uneconomic activity.

"Agricultural subsidies: the mad idea that we have to pay taxes to give to landowners and then legally enforce those subsidies are used to destroy wildlife." Peter Smith
George Monbiot talks about our sheepwrecked uplands:

Inglorious Basterds 

In the UK well over 1.3 million Hectares of land is devoted to grouse shooting (source British Association of Shooting and 'Conservation') a essentially worthless activity that burns and over grazes land, destroying biodiversity, causes flooding and a colossal release of carbon from its soils equivalent to 140,000 cars a year; Source: John Muir Trust 'A Burning Issue'  
Not only is this activity very bad for wildlife to ensure enough grouse are living at high densities the 'managers' of these places have to kill all the predators and competing wildlife on these moors leading to the catastrophic loss of birds of prey, especially the recently reported Hen Harrier debacle or the death of 8 golden eagles reported in Scotland. Again this land use recieves huge subsidies and tax breaks a terrible waste of public effort.

A Good Walk Spoilt

Mark Twain put it best with his quote: "Golf is a good walk spoiled." But in England Golf Courses take up more than twice the area of land than all our houses put together (Source: Golf Cub Management) yet thier carefully manicured greens are often very poor for wildlife. It is a testament to our times that some golf courses, especially 'links' courses do harbour rare wildlife but that is just relative because there's so little land for wildlife left in this country and only for a few grassland plants.

So to save wildlife we must start charging a Land Value Tax on all land to suppress such wasteful activities as Sheep farming, grouse shooting and playing golf. We do not need to ban them(apart from prosecuting those killing Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles and the like), but a land value tax, removal of subsidies and tax breaks will make those wishing to use land have to do so efficiently when compared to other activities that Britain needs, especially rewilding. Additionally taxes should be levied to cover damage to ecosystem services such as carbon release, drainage causing flooding and we should of course remove all subsidies and tax breaks associated with these activities. 

Excuse the extreme profanity but I think George Carlin summed it up best for me:

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why Conservation NGOs Must Target the Financial Drivers of Ecological Destruction

"Something vital was missing from the campaigns to alert the world to the way our natural habitats were being wrecked." Conservationists must relaunch their vision to target the financial drivers of ecological destruction:

So says Fred Harrison, the economist who predicted the financial collapse of 2008 in his blog commenting on the chapter I wrote in the new book 'Rent Unmasked'

Read his blog about it here:

Saving Nature: the Missing Link