Tag Archives: nature

Collaring domestication: human relationships with pets and pests

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

4 apr

Source: Author’s own photography

Pet-keeping in Britain is at an all-time high, so it hasn’t come as much of a surprise that The Secret Life of Pets, the latest animated film from the makers of Despicable Me, has proved so popular with the British public. Animal geographers often turn to domestication in order to understand human-animal relationships, the term, itself contested, serving to both separate and bind nature and culture, human and animal. From the turn of the twenty-first century, research in geography began to demonstrate the limitations of human control – in part due to animal agency – challenging the extent to which humans have control over domesticated animals. Whilst by no means a socio-cultural commentary on modern pet-keeping, The Secret Life of Pets reveals some of the key themes that challenge animal geographers today, most notably the idea of animal agency vs human control.

That age-old mystery of what our pets do when left alone in the house sparks excitement and imagination, in true Schrödinger’s Cat style. The Secret Life of Pets provides a rather comical answer to the puzzle; pets enjoying the freedom of the house getting up to all sorts of antics. The film shows pets watching TV, raiding the fridge, throwing house parties, and em-bark-ing on an even bigger adventure. Whilst these scenes are thought up for entertainment, many pet-owners can testify to having found the evidence of their pets’ mischiefs when left alone. Others have strapped GoPros to their animals in the hope of uncovering ground-breaking footage of their furry friends. Our apparently innocent intrigue, some argue, is underpinned by a desire for control, to be able to regulate our pets’ lives. An interesting piece in The Guardian has recently argued that being left alone often makes pets anxious or depressed, and, thus, the resultant (mis)behaviour is, in fact, caused by us, their owners (Pierce, 2016 [online]). Nevertheless, pet-owners, particularly dog-owners, often work hard at disciplining their pets, teaching them ‘good’ behaviour.

From a geographical point of view, Power’s (2012) study of pet dogs provides a framework for theorising this relationship. She states that pet dogs are created as ‘domestic’ bodies, disciplined to behave in ways deemed appropriate for the home. House training is a ritual for all new dog owners; dogs are taught to “modify their bodily rhythms”, such as toileting and sleeping, enabling them to be “integrated into household rhythms” (Power, 2012:376). Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) claims, are malleable and help their owners perform ideals of domesticity. However, our four-legged friends, of course, rarely fit with such an ideal. This leads dog-owners to make changes – conscious and unconscious – to their lives; they change their routines, they make decisions about house-layout, and they give special care to their companions’ individual peculiarities. Some cunning canines don’t even try to be subtle, manipulating us to give them treats or let them sit on the sofa! Whether consciously or not, people with pets allow themselves to be moulded by their cuddly companions, re-imagining and re-making their lives, their homes, and their relationships with their pets. Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) postulates, have agency to shape and control our everyday lives. In this way, through domestication, humans and animals are both (re)shaped. Domestication, therefore, is collaborative, humans working with their dogs, learning to understand each other.

This relationship can, of course, be juxtaposed with animals that do not conform to our expectations, such as feral animals, pests, or some wild animals. Such animals become marginalised by human society as their behaviour is deemed ‘out of place’ in the spaces that they share with us. Our reaction is to try to control them, either removing them entirely or limiting their spatial range. Whilst examples such as the grey squirrel, the feral pigeon, and the urban fox have been well-documented and hotly-contested, Ginn’s (2014) study of garden slugs proves that there is a huge range of animals that are not quite as lucky as our domestic companions. Living in close proximity with humans, their innocent slimy trails and taste for garden plants are behaviours with which we cannot live, ranking them highly in that imaginative category of ‘pest’, a category produced by humans to label – and simultaneously legitimise the exploitation of – any non-human whose behaviour does not fit with our own.

Whilst the title, The Secret Life of Pets, promises, and delivers, a film about domestic companions, the contrast with pests is pertinent. The stars of the film, pampered pets of all varieties, come face-to-face with a gang of abandoned pets, living in the sewers, going by the name of ‘Flushed Pets’. This vast army of human-hating, Pest Control-dodging animals includes dogs, stray cats, reptiles, rats, a tattooed pig, and, their leader, Snowball the rabbit. Their bitter hatred towards humans is extended towards domesticated animals, the simple collar seen by them as a tool for human control, defining pets as property or slaves. An exaggeration, yes, but perhaps something which should not be completely disregarded in an age when animal cruelty is worryingly common.

At the risk of giving away any spoilers, I’ll stop at that! A deep analysis of multi-species cohabitation, it is not, but The Secret Life of Pets can still help us reflect on our relationships with domestic and wild animals. The more geographers study human-animal relationships, the more they break down that once-rigid division between humans and animals that has underpinned the ways in which animals have been considered. Such studies of domestication show that the superiority and control over Nature, which mankind once thought was irrefutable, is being broken down, bit by bit, by every stray cat, every garden slug, and every mischievous pet.

 

books_iconGinn, F. (2014). “Sticky lives: slugs, detachment and more-than-human ethics in the garden”, Transactions of the IBG, 39(4): 532-544.

books_iconPower, E.R. (2012). “Domestication and the dog: embodying home”, Area, 44(3):371-378.

60-world2Pierce, J. (2016). “The Secret Life of Pets? Forget the movie, here’s what it’s really like”, The Guardian Online. Available at: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/28/the-secret-life-of-pets-forget-the-movie-heres-what-its-really-like

 

Geographers and the ‘beepocalypse’

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the buzz of the Great British Bee Count, which is currently in full swing, a recent article in Geography Compass, by Watson and Stallins (2016), has looked at the process of knowledge production about honey bees, evaluating the various oppositional approaches to theorising honey bee decline. As animal geographers repeatedly reinforce, animals and plants are inextricably linked to human lives, the honey bee providing a good example of human-animal entanglement. By examining honey bee populations, it is also evident, as geographers have contended, that our attempts to define, categorise, and control the non-human are constantly defied by the contingent nature of the natural world. Human-insect and human-plant relationships, however, Watson and Stallins (2016) stress, have been neglected in geographical literature. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate the role of the ‘more-than-human’ in order to inform our use of anthropogenic spaces. In the example of the honey bee, it is vital that we understand the dynamics of bee populations in order to inform agricultural land-use, due to the implications for both agricultural sustainability and human health.

The western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is semi-domesticated, beekeeping being practised on a range of scales, from the hobby apiarist to industrial bee farmers. The honey bee, wild or otherwise, is an important constituent of our ecosystems, worldwide; it is the chief pollinator of more than a third of global produce, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. In America, an estimated $12 billion of crop value is directly attributable to honey bees, generating $168 billion for the global economy (Watson and Stallins, 2016). Recent global decline in honey bee populations have variously been described as an ‘environmental crisis’, the ‘beepocalypse’, and a ‘planetary ethical catastrophe’ (Watson and Stallins, 2016). This has, therefore, caused concern in the media, as well as amongst the scientific community, agricultural businesses, and environmentalists.

In Britain alone, 20 species of bee have vanished entirely, and a further quarter are on the red list of threatened species (FoE, 2016a [online]). This concern about low bee numbers has led to the Great British Bee Count, an annual event which attempts to enlist the public in a national bee population survey. The campaign portrays the bee as our ‘friend’, as important to our ecosystems, and vital to the economy. The event, organised by Friends of the Earth, runs from May 19th to June 20th, and last year saw over 100,000 recorded sightings (FoE, 2016b [online]). However, surveys have indicated that only 33% of the British public can correctly identify the honey bee from a line-up of other bee species (FoE, 2016b [online])! It is, therefore, not surprising that environmentalists have got a bee in their bonnet about this subject.

Watson and Stallins’ (2016) article focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a little-understood cause of honey bee population decline – which has become sort of a ‘buzz word’ amongst scientists and agriculturalists. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), CCD is the formation of a ‘dead colony’, in which the queen is still alive but there are no adult bees to keep the colony going (USDA, 2016 [online]).  Whilst scientists have yet to agree on a cause of CCD, there are many suggested factors, involving both human and non-human actors. Amongst the anthropogenic causes are neonicotinoids (pesticides), climate change, pollution, changes in demand for certain luxury crops, and land-use changes associated with intensification of monocultures for industrial agriculture. The more-than-human is also partly to blame for bee population decline; pathogens, pests, viruses, and predation by other insects also pose threats to our black and yellow friends. The latter has, in fact, been in the news of late, the arrival of Asian hornets in Britain threatening bee populations (Boyle, 2016 [online]). A perhaps more discrete migrant than the people of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Devon were expecting, the hornets, originally from the Far East, have made their way over from France. They can eat up to 50 honey bees per day, and are also potentially deadly to humans, causing both DEFRA and the National Bee Unit to express a desire for the hornets to buzz off (Boyle, 2016 [online]).

Knowledge about honey bee population decline, Watson and Stallins (2016) state, is produced by scientists, the agricultural industry, environmentalists, and the media. They identify three ‘narratives’ or claims made about the causes of CCD, which work in opposition to each other. The first approach, the “Ecological Conservation Narrative”, stresses the causal primacy of the influence of industrial agriculture causing the proliferation of monocultures at the expense of vegetation diversity. The second approach, the “Reductionist Regulatory Narrative”, prioritises isolating the main cause – which it claims is the use of pesticides – over any historical analysis, or use of historical trends to predict future populations. The third and final narrative is the “Socioecological Complexity Narrative”, which recognises the complex combination of social and ecological causes. Watson and Stallins (2016), advocate a pluralistic approach that combines all three narratives and recognises the continuum of social and ecological causality of bee population decline. It is also, they argue, important to be sensitive to variations over space and time; it is impossible to have a rigid approach to such a fluid and complex ecological phenomenon.

It is hard to understand the sheer importance of honey bees to our ecosystems and economies, these tiny little creatures appearing so mundane in our day-to-day encounters with nature. They really are busy little bees, more so than they are often given credit for, and they are so closely intertwined with our lives that it would be a real cause for concern if the ‘beepocalypse’ was to become a reality.

Wbooks_iconatson, K. and Stallins, J.A. (2016). “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder: A Pluralistic Reframing”, Geography Compass, 10(5):222-236.

60-world2Boyle, D. (2016). “Deadly Asian Hornets that devour bees and can kill humans arrive”, The Telegraph Online, 18th May, 2016. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/18/deadly-asian-hornets-that-devour-bees-and-can-kill-humans-arrive/

60-world2FoE, (2016a). “About the Great British Bee Count”, Friends of the Earth. Available at: https://www.foe.co.uk/page/great-british-bee-count-about

60-world2FoE, (2016b). “Get involved with the Great British Bee Count”, 19th May, 2016. Available at: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2016/05/19/get-involved-great-british-bee-count/

60-world2USDA, (2016). “ARS Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder”, United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

 

‘Beach body ready’: Fitness holidays and the ‘natural’ body

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again; the holiday season is in full swing and many of us will be taking some much-needed time off for rest and recuperation during the summer. But instead of lazing about on the beach, drinking cocktails, and eating ice cream, increasing numbers of Brits will, in fact, embark on ‘fitness holidays’. Instead of crash-dieting in order to get ‘beach body ready’ pre-holiday, fitness holidays aim to have you ‘beach body ready’ post-holiday, having made some lasting changes to your habits and mind-set. Little’s (2015) paper in The Geographical Journal approaches this relatively new phenomenon from a geographical point of view, considering the intrinsic links to nature and the body.

‘Fitness holidays’ represent a large and varied market, which has expanded over the past decade. Offering exercise and fitness training, combined with health and well-being programmes, fitness holidays help relieve stress, improve diet, and promote fitness. The emphasis is on enjoyment and lasting health benefits; such holidays are transformative, encouraging sustainable lifestyle changes.

Sarah Knapton (2015), Science Editor for The Telegraph, wrote in March about the increasing popularity of fitness holidays amongst Brits, attributing this trend to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, at work and at home. She contrasts the active nature of fitness holidays to what she terms ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays, characterised by idleness and excess. Citing a recent travel survey, Knapton (2015) states that one third of Brits want to ‘tone up’ whilst on holiday, and one quarter want to lose weight. In January this year, the Telegraph listed the top 10 fitness retreats for 2015. From a detox holiday in Italy (£5,249 for seven nights), to trail running in the Alps (£1,145 for seven nights), to tennis in Cyrpus (£945 for seven nights), to sea swimming in the Mediterranean (£815 for seven nights); the options for fitness holidays are not cheap, but, nevertheless, are increasing as their popularity also booms.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Little (2015) conceptualises fitness tourism using a Foucauldian approach, arguing that underlying these holidays are important questions about the management of healthy bodies. Fitness holidays are, Little (2015) argues, a response to modern pressures to conform to the ‘ideal’ body image, including aesthetic norms in relation to size, weight, and appearance. According to prevailing discourses, the ‘natural’ body, a body in its ‘natural’ state, is fit and healthy. We are increasingly encouraged to take responsibility for our own fitness, disciplining and regulating – in Foucauldian terms – our own bodies, and learning more about our corporeal ‘needs’. Fitness holidays combine all of these elements, providing a way of (self-)regulating health and fitness.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The importance of nature to health is well-known. Natural landscapes are widely recognised as therapeutic spaces, having healing and relaxation effects. Nature has become an active agent in shaping our well-being. Throughout history, due to our increasing disconnection with nature following extensive urbanisation and industrialisation, access to the countryside has been linked with a better quality of life, the clean air and pleasant surroundings acting as natural medicine. ‘Untouched’ nature is deemed to provide a more ‘authentic’ engagement with the natural landscape and, therefore, is better for human health. Thus, fitness holidays, as a means of getting people out in the fresh air and into the natural environment, have perceived beneficial qualities for health and well-being. Simultaneously reinforcing and blurring the nature-culture binary, fitness holidays emphasise the exceptional qualities of nature, whilst highlighting the ways in which nature and culture combine to produce our bodies.

So how will you be spending your summer holiday? Indulging in ice cream and cocktails whilst acquiring some unfortunate tan lines, or making a real difference to your health and well-being?

 

books_iconLittle, J. (2015), Nature, wellbeing and the transformational self. The Geographical Journal, 181: 121–128. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12083

60-world2Knapton, S. (2015). “Britons ditch fly-and-flop holidays for fitness retreats”, The Telegraph Online. March 22nd 2015. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11488447/Britons-ditch-fly-and-flop-holidays-for-fitness-retreats.html.

60-world2www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/spaholidays/11307791/Best-health-and-fitness-retreats.html

 

Badgers and bovine tuberculosis: how geographical research can help

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

If I mention bovine tuberculosis (bTB), I imagine that a badger, not a cow, would come to mind for many people. British news has recently reported a push for culling these mammals and calls from others for vaccination, with the intention of curbing the spread of bTB. Some famous faces have also engaged in the anti-culling debate (e.g. see ‘Stop the Cull’). There are strong views on both sides because of the damage that bTB can do to cattle herds and farmers’ livelihoods. All parties, of course, want to see a decrease in bTB cases; it is just the preferred means that differ. Here, I outline the debate and move on to discuss how geographical research can help.

Attribution: By H. Zell (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Attribution: By H. Zell (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) ], via Wikimedia Commons

First, why are badgers getting all of the press? Badgers, along with a number of other mammals, are capable of contracting bTB and spreading it to cattle, the result of which can be devastating because cows that test positive are compulsorily slaughtered. Badgers, perhaps justifiably (they can and do infect cows with bTB), perhaps not (reported infection rates vary but can be very low), are often referred to as a natural ‘reservoir’ of the disease and there is now a strong association between badgers and bTB in cattle. The Government has approved badger culls in England, whilst the Welsh Assembly has favoured a vaccination programme. .

The BBC recently reported on the decision for future culls in England to not be independently monitored as they have been previously. Naturally, this has been heavily criticised and it is disturbing considering the outcome of last year’s pilot culls. However, to many, culling generally seems to not be a sensible or sustainable solution, not least because of the high uncertainty surrounding badger numbers and the associated need for highly costly surveys to decrease this uncertainty and reduce the risk of causing local extinctions, costs which potentially make the whole process financially impracticable (Donnelly & Woodroffe, 2012). Most importantly, such local extinctions would be a tremendous natural loss to an area.

Culls in England were criticised by a Welsh Minister earlier this year who referred to ‘promising’ results from the vaccination efforts in Wales. It has been shown that only a minority (even with varying figures) of badgers actually carry bTB (see The Wildlife Trusts infographic and references therein), meaning that many uninfected, healthy badgers are likely to be killed during a cull. Unlike with vaccinations, culling can also cause badger populations to spread unpredictably (known as perturbation), making control of any infected badgers not killed during the cull more difficult, thus potentially increasing the likelihood of the disease spreading.

Nationally, the Wildlife Trusts are leading the way with badger vaccination efforts and no Wildlife Trust allows culling on its land. Given that badgers live for 3–5 years, it is estimated that herd immunity could be achieved within 5 years (see bottom) as infected animals die over time and the proportion of vaccinated animals increases. How to target vaccination efforts, though? This is where geographers can help.

A recent article in Area (Etherington et al., 2014) recognises the importance of landscape isolation and connectivity, alongside data on badger presence and abundance, in mapping the spatial variation in bTB. Such knowledge is potentially very valuable for bTB management strategies. Indeed, understanding badgers’ local or landscape scale population dynamics and their isolation or connectivity within that broader landscape could allow for more effective vaccine distribution within an area surrounding a farm, for example. Namely, if a population is likely to be connected to certain other populations and a certain farm, it follows that these populations should be vaccinated in parallel. That is of course a simplification of reality, but an enhanced understanding of such dynamics will hopefully be able to contribute to bTB management.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that bTB in badgers represents a small, albeit significant, part of the overall bTB crisis. Overall, it seems to me that targeted vaccination of badger populations in combination with enhanced biosecurity (I have not discussed this here but it is a significant part of the solution; e.g. ‘badger proofing’), is clearly a superior solution to culling when it comes to achieving long-term reductions in bTB. Such an approach also ensures the survival and welfare of the badgers that so many people deeply care about.

(For another Geography Directions blog post on bovine tuberculosis, see ‘Badgers, borderlands and security‘ (by Helen Pallett), which discusses the inherent complexities of disease in nature.)

—–

books_icon Donnelly, C. A. & Woodroffe, R. (2012). Epidemiology: Reduce uncertainty in UK badger culling. Nature 485, p. 582.

books_icon Etherington, T. R., Trewby, I. D., Wilson, G. J. & McDonald, R. A. (2014). Expert opinion-based relative landscape isolation maps for badgers across England and WalesArea 46, 50-58.

Nature and economics: a necessary marriage?

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Adams et al. (2013; p. 585): “Neoliberalism may offer a new set of mechanisms in pursuing conservation ends, but also creates new risks and challenges.”

Sustainability and social and economic human prosperity resulting from ecosystem services provided by nature form the heart of the principle of human–nature connectivity (see UK NEA, 2011). Such services are categorised as supporting (e.g. soil formation), provisioning (e.g. food), regulating (e.g. flood regulation) and cultural (e.g. education, recreation) by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005). These services can then be assigned an economic value and, theoretically, be more wholly incorporated into a neoliberal economy where conservation is seen as protecting an area’s economic value, rather than diminishing it.

Adams et al. (2013) note regular mention of such ecosystem services in UK ‘Large Conservation Area’ (LCA) project descriptions; a shift towards neoliberalism in conservation, and the apparent need to assign an economic value to designated conservation areas, is present in the UK. Such themes also extend to conservation the world over, as we can see by two recent major biodiversity reports.

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Two separate recent international reports on biodiversity – Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and the WWF’s Living Planet Report – have been widely referred to by the press. Both reports discuss ecosystem services and the benefits of nature conservation to our well-being and economy. The Telegraph, on the WWF’s report, discusses how humans “depend on ecosystem services”. Meanwhile, The Guardian and Blue & Green Tomorrow discuss the Global Biodiversity Outlook report and the overall failure to meet current global conservation targets. Perhaps then, better incorporation of nature into neoliberal economies via ecosystem services is necessary to convey the value of nature to policy and decision makers, in the UK and beyond.

Of course, ideas of ecosystem services are seldom isolated from opposition to the valuation of nature and for its inherent value, which is arguably priceless. Key arguments against such valuation include: (i) not all of nature’s outputs are useful services, indeed some are disservices, or are neutral, in relation to ‘serving’ people, but the areas providing these may house amazing species and ecosystems (are they at risk if they cannot provide a useful service?); (ii) ecosystem service arguments imply that the conservation of nature should only happen when it is profitable to do so; (iii) technological advancement may surpass nature’s services in the future (then what of a nature reserve that was being protected just because of a service and associated value?); (iv) nature has an intrinsic value and would be better argued for on moral, rather than economic, grounds (list summarised from McCauley, 2006 in Nature). Also see The Ecologist on biodiversity offsetting who ask: “How many pandas is a five star hotel worth?”.

Nature conservation, and associated themes (e.g. biodiversity offsetting, ecosystem services), in the UK and the wider world will only increase in importance and relevance as environments continue to change and, perhaps inevitably, the so called neoliberalisation of nature continues. As territories reserved for nature (and the value of these) are debated, understanding the spatial patterns of biodiversity, and indeed how these will change through time, will be vital so that we can move towards informed, resilient and sustainable decisions. Perhaps true sustainability can only ensue if nature’s intrinsic value takes a dominant role in discussions? Perhaps not, though; perhaps economic valuations will dominate by necessity? Personally, I hope that such intrinsic value is never overshadowed and that economic arguments, where necessary, simply supplement moral ones.

 Adams, W. M., Hodge, I. D. and Sandbrook, L. (2014). ‘New spaces for nature: the re-territorialisation of biodiversity conservation under neoliberalism in the UK‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, 574–588.

60-world2 Bertini, I. (2014). Governments have failed to protect wildlife, UN biodiversity report findsBlue & Green Tomorrow.

60-world2 Global Biodiversity Outlook 4: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2014)

60-world2 Lean, G. (2014). Life on earth is dying, thanks to one species. The Telegraph.

60-world2 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.

 McCauley, D. J. (2006). Selling out on natureNature 443, 27 – 28.

60-world2 Scrivener, A. (2014). Nature as an ‘asset class’ – the free market’s final frontier? The Ecologist.

60-world2 UK NEA (2011). The UK national ecosystem assessment: technical report UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.

60-world2 Vaughan, A. (2014). UN biodiversity report highlights failure to meet conservation targetsThe Guardian.

60-world2 WWF et al. (2014). Living Planet Report 2014.

Adapting to coastal change: understanding different points of view in coastal erosion management

by Mark Tebboth

The devastating flooding in central Europe is a powerful example of the destruction that extreme weather can cause. Yet, finding agreement on the best way to protect citizens, infrastructure and nature from the sort of events witnessed in Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic is a difficult, sometimes impossible, balancing act. As an article published in February in The Guardian newspaper put it ‘Floods kill, wreak havoc and cost billions. And we know they’re coming. So why aren’t we doing anything about them?’ Happisburgh, a small village on the East Anglian coast, is typical of some of the issues highlighted in The Guardian article. The village has lost a number of homes and other structures in recent years (compare the pictures from 1996 and 2012) and is suffering from the consequences of coastal erosion. However, despite the urgency of the situation, it has not been possible to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all involved.

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

The inability of stakeholders to agree a way forward can be explained, in part, by the different ways in which the issue of coastal erosion is framed. For example, the Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), a local pressure group based in Happisburgh, highlights the problems caused by a lack of investment in sea defences. Conversely, the UK Government tends to emphasise the inevitability of coastal erosion, citing causes such as nature or climate change. By highlighting different causes as primarily responsible for coastal erosion these two stakeholders gravitate towards different solutions: increased and more appropriately targeted investment if a lack of investment is the problem and a different management approach if coastal erosion is inevitable. How is it that these two stakeholders, with access to similar information can have such different perspectives?

The different views held by institutions such as CCAG or the UK Government are, in part, determined by their implicit beliefs or how they think the world works. These beliefs help institutions to make sense of the world around them and can act as short cuts when to trying to understand complex issues. In the case of Happisburgh, this might explain why dredging is seen as a critical issue for one party (CCAG) but is barely on the radar of the other (UK Government).

In policy conflicts, revealing some of the more underlying beliefs that stakeholders rely on to support a particular point of view can helpfully inform governance and communication approaches leading to more realistic, acceptable and better designed solutions. For Happisburgh, this could mean a reframing of the issue of coastal erosion to focus on the more recent successes that have been realised through the Pathfinder Programme, rather than past failures. Such an approach offers potential to rebuild trust and understanding between the different stakeholders, increasing the chances of a more positive outcome.

The author: Mark Tebboth is a PhD student at the School of International Development affiliated with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

books_iconTebboth M 2013 Understanding intractable environmental policy conflicts: the case of the village that would not fall quietly into the sea The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12040

60-world2Harvey F 2013 Floods: a disaster waiting to happen The Guardian 2 February

60-world2North Norfolk District Council 2012 Happisburgh North Norfolk Pathfinder

60-world2Weeks J 2013 Floods cause chaos across Europe – in pictures The Guardian 6 June

Alternative reproductions, alternative kinships

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Last weekend, The Observer Magazine published an in-depth article by Emma John (with photography by Ed Alcock) which investigated unregulated services of sperm donation. The shortages of donors in many European countries and the consequential long waiting list for those needing in vitro fertilization from public health services and the lack of alternatives for those who have been denied this treatment (e.g. single women, gay couples), have led an increasing number of people to take up the offers of men volunteering their “reproductive” assistance over the internet (as the author of the article reminds us, it is a voluntary gesture as it is illegal to sell sperm in Europe). The level of involvement of these donors in the lives of their biological offspring takes different forms, from complete disconnection to open communication, if desired. Despite the obvious concerns that such unregulated practices raise with the related health, safety and legal risks for both bona fide donors and recipients; these types of practices allow us to reflect on the changing social and ‘natural’ landscape of reproductive procedures and their relationship to how we conceptualize kinship.

In an article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Catherine Nash reminded us how “[t]he development of new reproductive technologies has been the subject of some of the most significant work on the ways in which the categories of nature and the natural are troubled by bio-technologies that threaten to disrupt kinship’s natural facts of paternity, sex, gestation and birth and are reproduced via new technology” (2005: 453). These new practices of human reproduction add to the debates that this author discussed under the banner of “geographies of relatedness”. In the article, Nash argued that there is a need to reconceptualise kinship away from dualisms based on genetic essentialism or on purely relational performativities unsettled by the persistence of essentialist and individualist ideas; she proposes that the focus should be on “explor[ing] the diverse effects of kinship in practice”. The new kind of personal “connections and disconnections” (Nash, 2005: 460) created by alternative ways of undertaking the act of human reproduction may offer fruitful avenues to understand the effects of alternative kinships.

 Read an online version of Emma John’s article: “Conceivable ideas: meet the modern sperm donor”, The Observer Sunday 27 June 2010

 Read Catherine Nash (2005) “Geographies of relatedness”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 30(4): 449-462.