Thursday, 23 March 2017

'No Human Is Illegal' Yarl's Wood Protest, December 2016.


A short piece about a protest I attended outside Yarl's Wood detention centre, in Bedfordshire.

  Flat land, torn with ploughing and roughly covered in short, sharp scrub, with sudden bursts of fat, ripe, ruby-red rosehips drooping from scraggly post-autumn bushes. Sometimes there was a hedgerow of bare hawthorn bush decorated with rich, purple- red haws. We walked around a rusted fence and over ditches to a tall, dark green metal wall with fencing clad over the top, with Yarl’s Wood detention centre within its perimeter.
            As soon as I saw their hands reaching out and waving through the tiny amount the window could be cracked open, I shed some tears and held back some unexpected sobs. Those symmetrical square windows were the only contact the detainees could have with the two thousand odd people who wanted to reach out and assure them that they were on their side. Outside the window the detainees waved, swirled whatever clothing they could, and held up notes. In some you could see the full image of a woman looking out, and occasionally a Yarl’s Wood employee loom in the room. One window had a note pasted to it, that read, in large green letters, ‘TB.’

            We get to hear from the women trapped inside by a phone hooked up to speakers; a woman waves a reusable shopping bag or laundry bag out the window and claims that this bag held everything she was allowed to take with her. She is understandably angry, desperate for freedom. Another woman, audibly distressed, says she is not getting the correct medication she needs. Another says that outbreaks of tuberculosis and other diseases spreading through the centre, as the medical facilities are sub-standard. Another says that they don’t have access to sanitary products (a speaker from ‘Movement for Justice by any Means Necessary’ says that the detention centre stopped outside organisations from bringing sanitary products, which they defined as ‘consumables’) a Polish woman says she was punched in the throat, slapped in the face, and her legs were twisted. A woman from Trinidad says she lived in Britain for sixteen years, struggling with the ridiculous bureaucratic systems for applying for the right to work, and that she eventually worked with ‘Crisis,’ helping homeless people. Some women who aren’t in Dove block, the block facing the demonstration, are locked into their rooms in other blocks, but manage to call in to say thank you for fighting for us. We hear from Mabel, a woman who has been in the detention centre for two years, who is not allowed to see her seven year old daughter. Women cry for help from the windows.
            The detention centre system in the U.K. is a disgusting anomaly within our culture. The public recoils at horrors in Guantanamo, at war crimes the world over; people continually condemn regimes such as Kim Jung Un’s and rejoice in Fidel Castro’s death, while detention centres exist within out midst, where people are interrogated, tortured, raped, abused, denied their freedom, their human rights, their ability to see their loved ones, basic feeds of the outside world like television; these people suffer in prison-like circumstances, unsentenced, simply for making it to the U.K with hopes of escaping troubles the world over, as many are seeking asylum, or of simply beginning a new phase of life, which white British people afford themselves easily the world over. Many of the detainees originate from ex-British colonies, which would have been flooded with immigration from Europe and America years ago, but as soon as that flow threatens to reverse, it is condemnable, disgusting and a crime.

At four thirty, I had to turn my back on the detention centre, leaving many innocent people trapped in their block. I had the basic right to be able to make my way home, a right you don’t always realise just how much of a luxury it is, as it appears basic, boring, and universal. And yet across the United Kingdom, detainees, who want to work, study, and live in the U.K., wait for their fate to be decided for them, while the little money and possessions are confiscated and their families await for verdict.
Just before leaving, the police boarded every bus ‘looking for someone.’ The protest had a slight police presence, just a few police liaison officers, but officers swarmed the roads and blocked either end for public access. Whether or not it was intended, their intrusion into the busses waiting to leave left an unwarranted affirmation of power and control. We could leave but for the grace of their mercy; those in the detention facility were not given such rights.
During the journey back, the coach overtakes a large red van with ‘chevaux/ horses/ pferde’ written on the back in white. In a small compartment lit up within the van, a horse turns its large, beautiful head to look through its window, out at us.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017


Here is a poem for world poetry day- I wrote it yesterday after watching some footage one of the last Tasmanian tigers.

Brain; neurons; eyes; glasses lens;
air (microbes, atoms, molecules);
screen protector; screen; video of you;
 84 years; camera film; light; camera lens;
air (microbes, atoms, molecules);
you. Your fur your big head your teeth. The markings on your fur;
I don’t have those, we don’t have those, you had those.
Your snout your eyes your pouch for your young.
Once your were as simple as a raindrop, a spec of sand;
Now you are a fissure of crystal, a double-helix ballet.
You are dead , and alive on my screen,
Removed from you, I do not feel your evident pain.
With you removed, a hole becomes evident, somewhere.

picture from:

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Reintroducing predators or emulating them; the missing ecological relationship in Britain.

            Near Horsham in West Sussex is a castle estate called ‘Knepp Estate,’ which, alongside farming, has let a great deal of the estate return to the wild. Medium-sized herbivores such as longhorn cattle, roe and fallow deer, Exmoor ponies and pigs roam freely on the estate. So far, these rewilding techniques have regenerated the soil’s nutrient quality, making farming once again viable near the site, whereas traditional intensive farming had rendered the soil unworkable without large quantities of chemical fertiliser; farming is finally profitable once again in the area.
            The benefits of rewilding are numerous; vastly increased biodiversity and carbon sequestration, as well as social benefits such as those George Monbiot wrote about in Feral; the sense of adventure and wonder that is lost without true, unadultered wilderness. The cause of this article is not to reiterate these benefits. I am simply looking at a common cause for human intervention in rewilding projects; fencing out or culling herbivores.
Knepp estate has had to fence off certain areas of land to guarantee that young trees and other vegetation will survive undamaged by the grazing and browsing habits of the herbivores present. It is the intensive grazing of the ‘white plague’ of sheep and other large herbivores such as deer and cattle, kept for commercial use, that has helped transform the British Isles into monolithic and expansive grassland. As a natural process in a pre-human past, grazing and other herbivorous habits helped create mosaic-like environments of grassland, scrub and woodland believed to have existed in the Pleistocene era. In the Pleistocene, however, there were predators to maintain herbivore population and also their behaviours and approaches to their environment. The herbivores that existed were also diverse in species and especially size, with even Britain hosting megafauna; the skeletons of ancient hippopotami have been found underneath central London. Interestingly enough, Knepp Estate’s aims are to add more species of herbivore, to include elk and bison.
            Dundreggan, an area that rewilding organisation Trees For Life have been working on in the Scottish Highlands, has had success by fencing out the red deer that are endemic to the area. The result has been a surge in young tree growth and inception, sometimes species that one wouldn’t expect to find, all without much human planting necessary. The biodiversity in the area is vibrant, with more than 3,000 new species recorded in Dundreggan alone. The area is lacking a natural predator, specifically the wolf; were a wolf present, the organisation would no longer need to fence out the deer, as the wolves would maintain their population by preying on the weak and sickly deer, altering the deer behaviour by scaring them away from open spaces, such as open land on the fringes of forests, and also stretches of open water where a deer may be more at risk. This has a chain reaction, that has been highlighted with the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in America; as the deer left open water alone, trees were allowed to grow along the waters edge, shading and cooling down the water, making it habitable for fish and other animals which helped filter the water of impurities. Knepp estate fenced off an area of newly-planted trees along the Adur river, to eventually grow to cover the water and cool it down, in a venture the Ouze & Adure River Trust termed ‘trees for trout,’ and effect which  Yellowstone has achieved through the reintroduction of natural predators.

 Tree Planting Along the River Adur at Knepp Estate. Author’s own image.

Trees for life currently run a volunteering programme called ‘project wolf’ wherein volunteers emulate wolf behaviour to scare deer away from the vulnerable rewilded areas. Many concerned with reintroducing a natural predator to the British Isles have claimed that the Eurasian lynx would be the least problematic predator to reintroduce to the British wild lands. With a Pleistocene rewilding project such as Knepp Estate, what predator should be present? If one could be decided upon, in this present day with many stakeholders in rural areas so set against the reintroduction of predators, could it be emulated, such as the project wolf campaign? The estate already cull their animals to maintain a natural population, and so the need for a natural predator has not gone unobserved. Species are being reintroduced in Britain, albeit at a slow pace, and the predator question is enshrouded in cultural myths of fear, which forces rewilding organisations to sadly intervene where another ecological relationship has been persecuted and removed over time.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Thoughts on 'The Hunter' (2011)

Martin has a decision to make; allow for the loss of lives over an indefinite period of time due to his inaction, or the loss of a single life wherein Martin will be pulling the trigger. The details; should Martin allow for the on-going deaths of humans, some of which he has grown an attachment to, some who are children, all of whom are innocent, or, should he kill the last surviving Tasmanian tiger, who, for all we know, has suffered the loss of all companions in the world.
            The decision seems obliquely obvious; kill the damned tiger, people have died, people will die, all because of a classic mean-capitalist intention. In the narrative of The Hunter, the destruction of the environment is too far gone. Martin is in Tasmania, under the guise of an academic researcher, to hunt down the last remaining Tasmanian tiger for its unique venom, which he will be paid handsomely by his employers for. Along the way, Martin discovers that the hunt for the animal is a covert industrial war-ground; rival arms industries lust for the venom for replication, sending man after man to their death out in the wilds of Tasmania, usually at the hands of each other, ironically considering the underlying assertions that the environment is the main danger. While this battle is waged, an overt struggle continues in the human world; unemployed loggers engage in aggressive tensions with the environmental groups who are intent on keeping the wilderness untouched. Few are aware of the hunt for the Tasmanian tiger, but a few key figures are, and have been involved in the shady business. There is a strange feeling that the hunt underpins the issues faced by the entire community, thus lending more to the feeling that the animal must die.
            When Dafoe finally lures the animal within his range, and slays it, it is not for the initial reason; he completely destroys the body, and informs his employers that there is no longer a Tasmanian tiger left to hunt. The Tasmanian tiger’s body, in this film, is not a cherished or sad image, a reflection of humanity’s impact on benign creatures across the globe; the Tasmanian tiger’s body is a product, which Martin renders useless.

            If we are to see the Tasmanian tiger as a poignant and pitiable creature, then its death is somewhat of a mercy. Its life is alone in the alien landscape of the Tasmanian bush, lured to a hunter with old meat, showing perhaps that its life was an ending struggle. It’s loneliness is accentuated by the tight communities that humans have formed on the cusp of its environment; on a larger scale, the hippy group are welcoming and caring, and even the loggers have each other, and a hub, the bar, a constant and reassuring meeting point. On a smaller scale, the family Martin stays with are obviously warmer than he’s apparently used to, and even Jack, who seems to exist alone, has obvious and full interactions with various groups. The Tasmanian tiger is alone, scared, dying. It’s death allows for the continuation of the various human communities. However, if the body-as-product were to be used for its saught after purpose, then lives would still be lost due to the fabrication of whatever weapon Martin’s employers deigned to create. With this product uselessed, future deaths are negated. Martin pulls the trigger.

referenced: The Hunter, 2011, dir. Dan Nettheim