As Common as Muck

Ten male Adonis Blues; the nitrogen fix and other wildcat forays: Chance and a different kind of derive.


As common as muck: all male assembly around a piece of shit! Ranmore Common, Surrey, August 25th 2005. However the Adonis Blue is far from common and to see 10 together is a once in a lifetime sight. Included amongst them were a male Common Blue and a male Chalkhill Blue. Though female Adonis Blues were nectaring close by, none ventured onto this all male preserve. Male aggression and the territorial imperative were briefly forgotten as each butterfly drank its cocktail of mineral water at this faecal lounge bar on the roadside verge. Photographed over a half hour period around 13:30 hours.

Butterflies  Butterflies
1 2
Butterflies  Butterflies
3 4
Butterflies  Butterflies
5 6
Butterflies  Butterflies
7 8
Butterflies Butterflies
9 10
Butterflies  Butterflies
11 12


The numbered sequence above captures the moment (Figs 9/10/11/12) the sun came out from behind the intermittent cloud. It was, for late August, quite a breezy, cool day, though perfect for observing blue butterflies that then did not hesitate to open their wings. The bank side that skirts Denbies Hillside (honoured with an aerial view in E.B. Ford's opus) was also sheltered from the wind and this, combined with the overnight rain that had softened the dried outer crust of the dog faeces, made the conditions ideal. Hence this wonderful chance occurrence, making up for what otherwise would have been a disappointing day. This marvellous natural spectacle will stay with us forever.Possibly because dogs are carnivores the mineral content of their faeces is higher than those of herbivores. On the manure left by the horses on the hillside only two blues, or at most three, could be found tarrying at any one time. Once the sun came out some Adonis Blues almost immediately quit their dog's dinner, necessary for the repair of cell tissue, and elected to nectar on the blooms of marjoram close by. On the far right of fig 12 a singleton can be seen doing just that. One can make out a male Common Blue with its wings open in the centre of fig 3and 4. In fig 8 a male Chalkhill Blue is just about discernible in the upper left corner.

 The spring emergence of the Adonis Blue in 2005 had been exceptional. And if the 26th Aug 2005 was anything to go by, the second emergence was just as impressive. The cold spring weather of 2005 appears not to have affected the Adonis Blue though it decimated the first generation of the Common Blue. Our original purpose on Aug 26th had been to photograph the Common Blue, particularly the female Common Blue, on the Surrey Hills to compliment the numbers of second generation Common Blues we had photographed in South and West Yorks around Sheffield, Castleford, Leeds and Bradford. However we were disappointed to find the second brood of Common Blues all but gone. Even so, compared with the reasonable number we found in the north, there appeared to be far fewer.


The following is a theoretical drift sparked by this unusual encounter...........

This chance encounter of rare butterflies, dog excreta and two genuinely unprejudiced 'socio-biologists' (well let's pretend for the moment) keenly aware of the indissoluble unity of both man and nature and the need to conserve and liberate both in a single undivided act of revolution, immediately stimulated several lines of enquiry. For those attuned to the significance of 'chance', this encounter exhales the scent of certain radical avant-garde currents of the last 100 years, which have yet to bear their uncompromising fruits. However for the more 'scientifically' minded it led to a consideration of the nitrogen cycle, which is equally explosive. For the darling butterflies were intent on procuring the mineral content of the dog's faeces, in particular the nitrate compounds so essential to all life whether plant or animal.            

When we allude to explosive consequences we were not just thinking of the discovery of nitro glycerine in 1846, of TNT in 1863 and dynamite by Nobel in 1867, all of them compounds of nitrogen, the 30th most abundant element. Though increasingly an essential element of war from the mid 19th century onwards, nitrogen became in the 20th Century also an essential element of agriculture. In fact one could say the agricultural use of manufactured nitrogen compounds was war carried on by other means, a war that is still being waged by biochemical companies, giant agricultural conglomerates and supermarkets to gain total control over food production worldwide. Prior to 1905 the fertility of soil had largely depended on plant bacteria and microorganisms in the soil. However in that year a German chemist Fritz Haber showed it was possible to make nitrogen and hydrogen gases react when heated to 500c to form ammonia, the basic feedstock for the chemical industry and the basis of artificial fertilizers.

 78% of the earth's atmosphere is made up of nitrogen and today close on 50 million tonnes of nitrogen is extracted yearly from the atmosphere. It is an energy intensive process because nitrogen is an unusually inert gas and the nitrogen molecule N2 is one of the most stable molecules, being held together by an extremely strong bond. Only when a high temperature is supplied does a reaction begin to take place and ammonia produced. Ammonia is, of course, very soluble in water and ammonia based fertilizers (nitrates) can be poured onto the ravaged soils of the world's breadbaskets and rice bowls which, with each passing day, become ever more depleted of all organic nutrients. Had the soil a voice we would hear it repeatedly scream for its seasonal fixes of nitrates, phosphorus and potassium cooked and packed into bags labelled NPK/Agricultural Narcotics, K being the chemical symbol of potassium. Once set in motion the use of nitrate fertilizers becomes a vicious spiral it is nigh on impossible to escape from. As the soil howls for an even bigger fix of nitrates, it is a habit far harder to break than coming off junk because to the farmer and agribusinesses increasingly hooked up to, and hooked on, the world market there is even less margin of choice than there is to a junkie. Despite the growing organic sector, cold turkey on an industrial scale would spell near worldwide economic ruin as well as widespread starvation.

 A century ago we were solar-derived energy eating animals. But not any more. Today for every calorie of food energy consumed, ten calories of manufactured energy goes into its production and transportation. As we vainly strive to reproduce the energy that powers the sun (atomic fusion) we are becoming less directly dependant than ever on that energy. This primal act of hubris can only result in the most terrible disaster.

 Prior to that watershed year of 1905 for agriculture, war, pesticides and chemical defoliants, nitrogen fixing was almost entirely an organic process. When we inhale we take in oxygen and breathe out CO2. However the large percentage of nitrogen we breathe in returns to the atmosphere unchanged. The process of biological nitrogen fixing, without which human and animal life could not survive, is the work of symbiotic bacteria, rhizobium, present in the root nodules of certain plants (the leguminosae) and which are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, and azobacter, free living soil micro organisms. From there the fixed nitrogen was (and still is, of course!) incorporated into living things both plant and animal and from which it emerges as excreta from animals and from decomposing dead matter.

There also has been an enormous increase in the atmospheric nitrogen that soils can absorb and which previously was largely due to lightning that  caused the highly stable nitrogen element, because of  the high voltages passing through the inert atmospheric nitrogen, to change into a weak solution of nitric acid (HNO2). Combined with rainwater it reaches the ground where it forms nitrates, which are then absorbed by plants. Back in 1850 it has been estimated each hectare of ground received about 10 kilos of nitrogen per year, mostly from nitrogen compounds dissolved in rain. Today however about 45 kilograms per hectare is deposited annually. Most is from the burning of fossil fuels, car exhausts and the fuel burnt to heat homes, which produce various oxides of nitrogen. It is only now becoming apparent that this is seriously threatening the diversity of plant communities favouring certain grasses, in particular mat and bent grass.  Combined with global warming encouraging the unseasonable growth of grass, it is paradoxically leading to a year round, bilious greening of the countryside at the expense of other plant life. Together with the brochure appeal of smart rye grass, so favoured by house builders and newbuild industrial construction firms, this deathly green substitute for the deceased and unlamented Astroturf, only adds to the depressing spectacle of invasive expanses of mono-grassland with not even a hint of daisies and dandelions to relieve the monotony. Again we are just learning about this as we are about the role of nitrogen in the acetcholins, the neurotransmitter that passes messages from one nerve ending to another. Nitrogen is also a component of many other biologically important molecules such as haem - part of haemoglobin. So the storehouse of knowledge increases but to no avail because true knowledge and the capacity to use it has been stripped of power. Sciencia no potestas est.

But to return for a moment to those lovely blue butterflies feasting off excreta. Like every other butterfly enthusiast we were familiar with the sight of butterflies drinking their fill around the perimeter of rainwater pools on non-porous soils. This rainwater also contained water-soluble nitrogen compounds. In old woodlands the nitrogen content of standing pools would be largely organic deriving from the action of largely non leguminous, nitrogen fixing bacteria of the genus Frankia and other tree and plant bacteria and finally micro-organisms in the soil that are uniquely adapted to absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere and turning it into a usable compound.

 However because chalk and limestone are porous this terrain dries out far quicker than it would on more acidic soils. So the chance of rainwater forming pools and remaining for any length of time is considerably lessened. In that case for downland butterflies the only other ready source of nitrates has to be animal excreta, especially excreta that has been made soluble by a downpour. Hence the somewhat revolting and quite common sight of beautiful butterflies gorging themselves on shit and so different from those fairy-like woodland pools, glinting in shafts of sunlight, around which assemble White Admirals and even the occasional Purple Emperor.

 We also began to wonder if faecal feasting was once a much more common sight than it is today, not only on chalk and limestone down land but on all types of soils. Reliant as soil was on crop rotation (the practise of leaving fields fallow) and natural organic processes, nitrates would have been in much shorter supply than they are today and so butterflies would have tended to seek out the excreta of grazing animals far more than they now do simply because standing water and damp, muddy soils are nowadays far richer in nitrates than they were in times past. We are, of course, guessing but the reasoning is soundly based even if the facts are lacking. The most destructive excess of this super abundance of nitrates can be seen in the phenomena of eutrophication, the excessive growth of algae and higher plants on natural waters due to their 'fertilization'. The plant life dies off and pollutes the water as it decomposes, removing oxygen in the process and killing of fishes and other freshwater life. In fact fertilizers are the largest source of the pollution of ground and drinking water.

Happy as pigs in shit, these Adonis Blue males were wholly absorbed in downing their faecal cocktail. They were oblivious to our presence and had we wanted to feast at the trough alongside them they would have given place but not flown off. A National Trust estate van passing within two inches of them and even a dog sniffing around as dogs do, failed to rile them and only the suns rays seemed to affect them, closing their wings when it clouded over. This was a living testimony to the power of nitrogen and if we reflect that that the average human being carries around a total of 1.3 kilograms of nitrogen that is quite a weight to lug about. We cannot argue the case for nitrogen too strongly: it is a constituent of DNA and as such is part of the genetic code and a constituent of the many amino acids that form enzymes, the basic ingredient of all proteins.

It must have been a rich cocktail indeed because one certainly cannot approach puddling White Admirals, Clouded Yellows, Purple Emperors or the Brown Argus with the same ease. The fact that it was a carnivore's faeces and not a herbivore's must have made all the difference. The high protein meat diets of dogs contain more concentrated nitrogen compounds than that of typical ruminant let out to pasture and which invariable spends more time feeding - and defecating. And so the liberal amounts of horse dung on Denbies Hillside proved far less attractive to the butterflies when compared with the dog dirt moistened by the over night rain and partially reheated by the sun. Admittedly the dung was more exposed to a cooling breeze on the hillside but, even so, one or more butterflies would, as they did in the past, occasionally alight to imbibe the nitrate content. But a closer inspection of the dung clearly showed the presence of plant fibre (i.e. undigested cellulose) because most mammals lack the enzyme catalysing the degradation of cellulose and which is found in some invertebrates (e.g. termites) fungi, bacteria etc. Had the horses on Denbies Hillside been fed with artificial feed rather than left to graze on sparse down land grass it may well have been a different story. It also led us to wonder how much artificial feedstock, either directly or indirectly, went into canned dog food and just how energy intensive the rows of Chappie on the shelves of supermarkets really were, including the energy that went into the manufacture of the tin cans. For any estimate of the nitrogen cycle, which is today a highly capitalised cycle, must include an estimate of the vast amounts of energy expended on the manufacture of artificial fertilizers not to mention the energy expanded on the global food transportation network. The nitrogen cycle is inescapably part of the looming energy crises and these assembled Adonis Blues were radiating a message from those unclouded blue wings, the most saturated, intense blue wings of the genus that in the not too distant future, thirty years at the maximum, the game will be up.

With the rapidly approaching energy crises there will undoubtedly be a return to a more traditional form of agriculture, particularly soil husbandry. Already the value of the nitrogen-based fix is being increasingly questioned. For instance the UN's Food and Agricultural organisation admitted in 1997 that wheat yields in both Mexico and the US had shown no increase in 13 years. An intensifying energy crisis will only increase the cost of artificial fertilizers as soils become ever more organically impoverished. And it will take years for these manufactured soils to recover from decades of drug dependency. But what form the social content of this latter day farming revolution will take is anybodies guess and is dependent on the tempo of the struggle against capitalism, a struggle that has been all but annihilated and never have the rulers of this world felt so secure in their desperation.

It could result in a hell on earth, somewhere between a warped physiocracy (with a bizarrely reworked 'Tableau Economique' to match this new agrarian emergency) and modern feudal vassalage with the manufacturing sector restricted to the repair (recycling!) of whatever machinery is still around. Paper money would cease to exist and there would be a return to solid coin based largely on the produce of the soil with vast estates inherited from today's immense agriculture concentrations, overseen by vicious modern landlords disposing of the labour of armies of truly 'post modern' agricultural labourers living a brutalised hand to mouth existence. Defra could be replaced by a lethally bureaucratised Soil Association. For the moment, this amiable, approachable though somewhat naive association has yet to undergo the malforming transformation of a high profile organisation like Greenpeace. Though never a paragon of clarity, its woolly populism once gave more than a margin of free scope to individual initiatives and to a joyous, if confused, contestation. Not any more for Greenpeace is today a 'bloated corporation' run by suits on 'substantial salaries while someone else does their job', intent only on avoiding confrontation, striking deals with oil corporations and putting the rest of the organisation's employees on short term contacts. (See the interesting article 'War and Greenpeace' by John Castel, former captain of 'Rainbow Warrior', in 'The Independent' 8/8/2005). It all sounds very familiar and Greenpeace looks to be gearing up to face a future that in terms of previously unbelievable and aberrant forms of capitalism, will make the last 30 years of fictive values and treading water appear  'rational' and benevolent.

It is becoming obvious that if humanity is to be in with a chance of surviving the next hundred years, the future will have to be predominantly agrarian once more. The number of individuals compelled to draw this conclusion is rising exponentially. Inevitably it is a very mixed bag, ranging from the greater clarity of Rene Riesel (formerly of the Confederation Paysanne in France) to the far more muddled Colin Tudge. The latter's latest book 'The Secret Lives of Trees' is a fascinating study of trees and, by continually emphasising humanity's never ending dependence on trees, revolutionises our evaluation of them. Not quite the same can be said of 'Oak: The Frame of Civilization' by W.B. Logan, a book that appeared around the same time. Though it is about the oak tree's human story, the age of oak ends with the steam driven, iron-clad ships of the  American Confederacy in the civil war of 1860-65. Dealing not with a particular species but with the tree family, the sheer quantity of tree science Tudge gets to grip with in a masterly fashion, leads him to conclude we can never do without trees. He is therefore forced to confront political economy in the shape of money, government, political parties, big business (however not the state, which is crucial) but by seeking an alternative within political economy rather than its abolition which includes money, government, political parties, business and the state, it is unlikely he will be able, in the long run, to prevent a single tree from being felled. Riesel would never make the same mistake and thus neither he nor Tudge would ever see eye to eye. However it is up to Tudge to make the first move. For we have every reason to believe this totalising approach is on the increase, particularly from within the life sciences, though it also turns up in other unexpected places with increasing frequency (e.g. geology). This approach is driven, as never before, by scientific logic, it does not come from without in response to a social upheaval. It is therefore not a moral choice but recognition of inescapable fact. However there are false and true totalities and regrettably it is the former that is likely to predominate and do more harm than good. Hence it is necessary to stress, above all else, the correct critique of political economy.  Yet this very wording  'correct' causes the flesh to creep reminding one of all the other absolutes no longer relevant. What you can say is that over the last 75 years a certain still largely unknown path has been clearly though slowly demarcated which we now have to traverse and discover a lot more about negotiating its many twists and turns. It began with a Marx contra Marx, a separation of the state capitalist Marx from all the theoretical subtleties surrounding Marx's analyses of the capitalist mode of production and the potential points of transcendence. Such approach has already accounted for a great variety of insight. For those looking for a more grounded approach to the ecological crises this montage is yet in its infancy and for those who are naive on this subject they could do worse than peruse Loren Goldner's website at www.Break Their Haughty Power  all the while recognising that Loren has yet to bring  eco-critique and energy crises into his wide-ranging and excellent general orbit. Despite the well-intentioned and broadly right perspectives belonging to the green anarchists there lack of theoretical rigour leaves much to be desired.

And now for another drift related to the Adonis Blues..... 

Extremes meet and a coda has to be affixed to this scientific preamble one that stems directly from the avant-garde movements of the past 70 years and their harbinger from even earlier times. The manner in which chance - a once in a lifetime chance opportunity - has been emphasised and its capture on camera is significant. For some it will immediately evoke that now classic instance of all chance events, 'as beautiful as the meeting of an umbrella and typewriter on a dissecting table'. To describe it as an image (though it let loose an endless stream of images in art and advertising it cannot be held responsible for) is just plain wrong for it is intended as a frontal assault upon the stock in trade of literature. Most likely written within weeks of Darwin's publication of the 'Origin of the Species' it has the quality of a direct observation, a record of a simple, though disturbing, coincidence, something that the man, Isidore Ducasse, and not the author, Lautreamont, had chanced upon on his daily rounds. It is overwhelmingly present in a way a novel restricted to a specific place and time, and therefore safely cordoned off by history, can never be. It is also not intended as a poetic metaphor, a mere seeming that alters nothing in reality: it simply is. Lautreamont's observation was intended as a blunt instrument that doubled as a demolition hammer and a tool essential to the task of reconstruction.

The objects that make up Lautreamont's embryonic observation are utilitarian objects that were, at least as regards umbrellas and typewriters beginning to be mass manufactured. They are not ornamental but everyday objects free from the stylistic mishmash borrowed largely, though not exclusively, from the Greco/roman/renaissance past an anxiety ridden industry, fearful at the lack of precedent, was becoming good at faking. The concomitant Greco/roman/renaissance body beautiful ideal was also undermined by Lautreamont when he wrote 'as beautiful as the trembling of an alcoholics hand'. It would be a mistake to think Lautreamont found beauty in disintegration rather that the realization of beauty is not possible other than by personally undergoing a profound experience of disintegration and understanding it from within. Otherwise one will be trapped by one of the palliatives to capitalism none of which ever succeeds and only makes matters worse.

 And in an aphoristic addendum entitled 'Poesies' (more like the 'pocketful of poesies' that plague victims caught a sweet spring-like whiff of as they were first struck down) to the Songs of Maldoror, Lautreamont states unforgettably 'poetry will be made by all'. This chance meeting, the most famous in all 'literature' even as it was consigning literature to the dustbin, also implied praxis, a praxis that was to be taken up by the most radical moments of surrealism in the 1920s and early 1930s like their perambulations, which endeavoured 'to leave behind the ball and chain of art'. Though 'a dismal failure' by 'setting out on the road' they set a powerful and very influential precedent that would be repeatedly taken up in one form or another, throughout the rest of the 20th century. Unquestionably the most significant was the derive initiated in Paris during the late 1950s which sought to rid the perambulations of their aimlessness and overarching emphasis upon chance. They were meant as a prelude to urban insurrection (and in fact were in retrospect) a reconnoitring of terrain with that end in view.

 However from its origins in Lautreamont (and others like De Quincey and up to a point Nerval) these perambulations, becoming ever more lucid with the passing of time, at least up to the mid-sixties when the original purpose of the derive was irrevocably lost, were overwhelmingly urban in character. The countryside was dismissed as boring, uneventful and predictable, the antithesis of encounter - by chance or otherwise. There is no adoration of nature in Lautreamont: it is as repulsive as everything else. It is a grotesquely deformed, aberrant nature that has evolved (the debt to Darwin is obvious) beyond anything we would recognise as nature. With hindsight the Songs of Maldoror could be said to be an anticipation of the bio-economy, the stage at which biology becomes industrialised and Fordist assembly lines give place to the bio-assembly line of genetic engineering and bionic prosthetics. Unlike Fukuyama's 'Our Post Human Future ' The Consequences of the Bi-technology Revolution' (the title of his 2002 book) this supernature has all gone horribly wrong and, at the end of history, the promise of a superior technohumanity  is cruelly betrayed and turns into the ugliest, subhuman, deformity.

 An anticipation of what is still to come, this hateful nature has become the ultimate commodity. But even before Lautreamont, in fact from the closing decades of the 18th Century, nature had become the object of a rescue operation. To the failed painter Goethe, it had to be visualized differently one that implied the metamorphosis of painterly values (transcendence of art and post Newtonian science) into a new unity of nature. Kant's 'Critique of Judgement' was unquestionably the main influence behind this advance. Under the theme of 'Nature as Art' it was carried further in the Germany of the 1800s than anywhere else, a development that has never been recognised, still less analysed, as fully as it deserves to be. It led to the most preposterous claim to be able to see into the life of things to such an extent it was possible to surpass nature and become a demiurge of creation, a designer of life. For this was part and parcel of the logic of absolute idealism. It was in this spirit that Goethe wrote his grandiloquent creationist preliminaries for what would eventually become the very sober 'Metamorphoses of Plants', though his idealism reflected that of Hegel rather than Kant who would never, for one moment, have countenanced such exaggerated claims.

These inflated pretensions were a response both to the French revolution and the industrial revolution and in them there is a deepening awareness of the dialectics of man and nature and that, though a part of nature, man - universal man - was beginning to impose himself on the rest of nature with a power and scope unprecedented in all of human history and in the process appeared to be reinventing nature, society and man.

Strangely enough in the hands of Keats' poem 'The Song of Opposites' this dialectic becomes a homely cockney dialectic within nature: a cheery song of opposites and chance occurrence as if nature itself was becoming a boring routine event, the natural equivalent of mass production. One says 'strangely' because of course Keats is far from cheery enmeshed as he was in an opulently-denied despair and yearning with nature as a vast metaphor of promise and thwarted desire. Looking for the unusual in nature also became a disguised wish to change life and hence comes into the inheritance of the avant-garde tradition. A history extending back over 200 years also shaped our response to these Adonis Blues, which we were well aware of at the time.

 After the defeat of the UK's miners' strike  (1984-5) all hope of a better world ended in this country. And so the both of us some 15 years ago began to seek solace in the countryside. Something then happened we were not prepared for, that caught us unawares like we had been pushed from behind. Not only did unexpected things happen within the order of nature like finding a Hedge Brown a 150 yards from Wormwood Scrubs prison and then a few years later stumbling by chance on a small colony on the scree slope of Malham Cove, but we began to have significant encounters in the field. If we chanced on someone with a camera or a pair of binoculars it invariably led to far more than an exchange of pleasantries. These encounters would with increasing regularity hit on the very basis of contemporary civilisation by continually asking awkward questions seldom raised elsewhere. Conversation would float as effortlessly as the clouds over head from observation on the behaviour of a butterfly to the catastrophic consequences of a consumer boom in the newly emerging brics (Brazil Russia India China) as if neither contradicted the other but were profoundly interconnected - as they are.

Tramping, as we often did around the Surrey Hills and the Chilterns we were struck by the place names which were richly evocative of the puritan revolution and the civil war of the 1640s, names like Burford, Puritan Way, Milton Close, Pulpit Hill and St George's Hill forever associated with the name of Winstanley and that profound moment that was to ring throughout the ages, when a group of men and women took over the land and began to dig. From a patch of ground on which the Small Blue was flying we had gazed at the hill from afar. A short while later, without ever leaving heath land, we were on Banstead Down where the Marbled White was introduced during the 1950s after dying out there. As for Pulpit Hill -----we had gone to Little Kimble in the Chilterns in the late spring of 1997 to look for the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary when we came across this  rounded, steep sided, chalk mound with the name of Pulpit Hill. Entirely by chance we had, earlier on in the day, stumbled into the ground of Chequers, the prime minister's country residence. We had left quickly not because ordered to by security staff rather that we had no desire to remain there, it was so park-like and barren of wild life. How enticing in comparison was Pulpit Hill, the true victor in the civil war and not Chequers or parliament.

 On the summit of Pulpit Hill there was a lone cow, as unmoving as stone, framed against the deep blue sky. There was also a thick grove of hawthorn through which ran a carefully tended tunnel roofed by impenetrable branches that had been cut and shaped probably centuries ago. And round and about the Common Blue teemed in such numbers that, when they came to roost, as many as five could be found on one grass stalk. And yet we also felt something was missing, the name reminding us of the days when the countryside was also teeming with people and hedge preachers who found in nature not just equality but the blessings of desire, a god given and therefore equal right to indulge the passions freely, endowing what was to become the stand point of enlightenment scientific neutrality with a new meaning: 'nature to be commanded must be obeyed'. However this was passionate, not instrumental reasoning in which we ourselves have still to be the test beds of the humanely possible.

 This also has became a feature of the new terrain of encounter a place where a hidden love of darting, stolen looks of undoubted warmth and the thoroughly genuine seems about to burst its shackles and find new forms of expression. The air crackles with a muted eroticism as though the sexes were beginning to be at ease with each other and more able to speak their minds and be their true selves. A surrealist worth his or her salt would have instantly recognised it. Once when visiting Hell's Coppice in Bernwood Forest a couple of miles walk from Sandbeds on the outskirts of Oxford to search for the Brown Hairstreak we happened to bump into a middle aged couple with grey hair who had also stationed themselves in a lane bordered with buckthorn and blackthorn in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive insects. After awhile they moved off and we followed a half hour later. We knew the Brown Hairstreak likes to jink around tall ash trees usually ashes situated on higher grounds. There were several large ashes that bordered a large ploughed field a few hundred yards away and we had in the past espied the Hairstreaks on the top branches. The path to these ashes ran through a dense woodland so thick with scrub it muffled the sound of intruders. And intrude we did, for on straightening up after crawling practically on all fours through a tangled mass of low branches and brambles, we came across the couple leaning up against a tree laughing and kissing each other full on the lips, the woman's skirt riding up around her waist. They were not the slightest bit abashed and carried on as if all that had surprised them was a pair of muntjac.

 We were slower to recover from our embarrassment and yet we both remarked how such a scene would once have been typical and that the divorce of human passion from the setting of nature was to the detriment of both. To the lyrical sound of giggles coming from within the wood we did see our Hairstreaks high up in the top branches of the oaks. A couple appeared to be performing a pre-nuptial mating ritual and presently disappeared from view. How I wish at that moment I had a balloon which could carry me up, up, up and away just above the canopy for I knew no one had ever witnessed or photographed a pair of mating Brown Hairstreaks in the wild.

Climbing up into the canopy would not have been the same as hanging there just above the tree tops, able to move about silently and at will without disturbing as much as a leaf. I half imagined to myself a dream like structure that could do this. Viewing  'A Treetop Odyssey' in the summer of 2005 I realised that my dream machine had become half fact and was even being devised whilst I lay on my back in the ploughed furrows staring up at the top ashes sometime in the late 1990s'. This scientific adventure story was about a journey atop the canopy of Madagascan forest, a unique vantage point from which to view a unique island with a unique flora and fauna. An airship had been used from which was suspended a webbed cradle, nicknamed the pretzel, which enabled scientists to walk the canopy. However the thrill of the new at what up to then had been impossible, soon gave way to doubt then contempt, and finally outrage. The cost must have been colossal and the credits gave no indication who paid for the bulk of this expedition. Led by Prof. Halle from Montpellier University, academic funding could never have stretched this far. Seeing that the expedition included a couple of botanists employed to capture scents by a cosmetics company and other scientists employed by biochemical companies in search of - in fact the biopirating - of yet another block buster drug, the source of the funding was immediately clear, so clear that on no account had their sponsorship ever to be mentioned. This was a seductive example of the kind of bio rapacity that had underwritten the Rio biodiversity conference of 1992 and the rules stated, though no one dared say so out loud, that conservation had to yield a profit. This, after all, is the opinion of the eminence grise E.O. Wilson, sociobiologist and myrmycologist, whose views on bio diversity had played such a part in the conclusions that flowed from the Rio conference. That biodiversity - not withstanding its profound scientific claims that biodiversity tends to yield even more biodiversity - has been guided by the profit motive from the moment it began to slip glibly off the tongue, is a major reason why biodiversity groups attached to councils (yet another reason for their being totally ineffective) are worse then useless at the local level when it comes to stopping the annihilation of the species. Capitalist society is rotten to the core. Nature is not yet but could be entirely engulfed by it, beginning with the free market monetarist philosophy that underlies biodiversity.

What gladdened me the next day were the number of friends I met in the street who had watched the program and had felt the same way as I did without me needing prompt them. This indignation was much greater than could be expected given the present climate of rewarding robber barons, pension fund cut purses and the haves and have more. It demonstrated how sensitive the issue of nature is becoming, as sensitive as the cap on a phial of nitro glycerine.

 It was in Hell's Coppice we encountered an amateur naturalist who though an ardent wild life photographer and still high from having photographed a Wilson's Petrol (possibly the world's commonest sea bird but not around these shores), had long ago rid himself of his TV. He was so proud at having done what, at some time or other, we had all wanted to do but lacked the resolve.  Would our lives change, had his, and the question went unanswered because no one  asked it, though I could now kick myself for not asking it. Here was an opportunity to probe the depths because TV is a media that has yet to find its form and content and will never do so while capitalism exists.

Earlier on that day we had fallen in with a tutor from Balliol College. How the conversation drifted is yet another example of the potential that now exists for encounter in the countryside. It began innocently enough, while we were casting our eyes over the blackthorns. 'Looking for the Black Hairstreak,' he enquired, for this was the exact spot the Black Hairstreak was discovered by a school boy in the early 1900s'. Immediately the news got out the place was swarming with lepidopterists from nearby Oxford University and come Friday afternoon tutors would say 'see you in hell' rather than 'see you after the weekend'!

 We have yet to see our first Black Hairstreak in Hell's Coppice but according to this young man still in his 20's he had, several years back, counted as many as 20 on one bush. They may now have gone for good and he also mentioned he had been privileged to see the hibernacula of the March Fritillary by the side by the side of the path leading to the makeshift car park. Not anymore for the National Trust in its absolute lack of infinite wisdom had seen fit to lay a tar macadam road to the now paved over car park, and - heyho - the Marsh Fritillary is now only a distant memory. We each shook our heads in disbelief and it was then by the by it came out he was a tutor in Balliol College almost as if it was something to be ashamed of, for he certainly did not go out of his way to mention it. Of course we immediately wanted to know if the memory of another being, a human being, had survived the passing of time - that of E.B. Ford's. Very much so, and we were regaled with a number of telling stories, well worth recounting some day, regarding this great lepidopterist. The close relationship between J.B.S. Haldane and Ford had always interested me for Haldane had dominated the biological sciences in this country during the 1930s and 1940s, exercising a profound influence on Ford. Knowing Haldane was a 'red' (though being a Stalinist that also meant red with the blood of the workers he idolised, and writing trenchant articles on scientific subjects for their edification in the pages of 'The Daily Worker') I attempted to move the conversation in this direction. Alas, he did not perceive what I was driving at and all he could say, in this respect, was that Ford had objected to opening up the senior common rooms to women on the grounds their voices were too shrill! After the scandals surrounding 'the dark lady of DNA' (Rosalind Franklin, who succeeded in photographing the helical structure of DNA before Crick and Watson deduced it and who has only received a very belated recognition and astronomers like the all but ignored Henrietta Levitt who painstakingly mapped the Cepheid Variables, crucial to understanding the scale of the universe), the male dominated scientific fraternity is now desperate to make amends for its sexist past, an act of contrition that conveniently covers up a far more fundamental question; the relationship between capitalism and science.  Despite the increased integration of women into science this question is still scarcely ever asked.

This also had a bearing on my desire to know more about Imms who had written a very influential book in the 1930s entitled  'General text book of Entomology' though he was better known as the author of 'Insect Natural History' which came out after World War Two as part of 'The New Naturalist' series. He had also been a close friend of Ford's and when he died in 1949 it was, to Ford, not only a loss to entomology but a deeply felt personal bereavement. Imms had brought together a vast mass of material into a very readable whole. He also marked the moment entomology lost its innocence and was fortunate enough not to have straddled the two worlds of pure entomology and applied entomology with World War Two as the dividing line. Even so he anticipated this development being appointed in 1913 reader in agricultural entomology at Victoria University Manchester and then, on the outbreak of war, crop inspector of the board of agriculture and fisheries. It wasn't immediately apparent that the chlorinated gases used as a chemical weapon on the western front could, once suitably modified, be deployed against insects.

At the same time Imms was putting together his masterwork, Vincent Wigglesworth was composing 'The Principles of Insect Physiology' which came out in 1939. With a name to match the job description, Wigglesworth profoundly influenced the course entomology was to take following the end of World War Two, hitching entomology's so far unsullied reputation ineradicably to the bio chemicals industry and the green revolution, actually the first of the 'green' misnomers. The post war green revolution was part of a campaign to sell a complete package including heavy machinery, prodigal irrigation schemes and hybrid varieties of soy, wheat, rice etc. responsive to pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. It was the first attempt to gain global control of agriculture, the latest being that of GM foods.

 Entomology's changing face began commendably with Wigglesworth telling his students at the London School of Tropical Medicine that more people had died in the First World War from insect borne diseases than had been killed in action. With this sobering thought, applied entomology had come of age, just as the shift in emphasis meant any extra entomological investigation into social causes would henceforth be strictly off limits, especially a probing analysis - and one that badly needs to be done - of the relationship between applied entomology and the agrochemical industrial military complex. A 1945 edition of 'Time' had published a picture of the first atomic bomb explosion alongside a report announcing DDT as the ultimate weapon in the war on insects. In 'Silent Spring' Rachel Carson had cited four examples from the 'Journal of Entomology' wherein researchers had listed chemical industry support for their researches. The Colorado beetle is perhaps the worlds most recognisable and notorious beetle. It was also the first to become resistant to pesticides: genetic variation and the insect's rapid rate of reproduction kept yielding generations able to tolerate each new poison.

 The indiscriminate use of pesticides violates a fundamental law of evolution and it always amazes me how the agrochemical companies in their search for the ultimate insect poison, continue to overlook the obvious. Or do they? Most likely they are aware of it; only it does not make business sense to publicly acknowledge it. In fact Wigglesworth spanning the two worlds of pure and applied entomology was also aware of another shift, that from state to private capitalism. He did not unfortunately express it as bluntly as this but the tendency towards the privatisation of science bothered him greatly not seeing that state sponsored science was not the same as a genuinely public science, a science  open to all and only possible once commodity society is abolished. This confusion continues to this day and was particularly marked in the feud that broke out around the mapping of the human genome. Of course we prefer Sulston, and the others that helped him, to Craig Venter who threatened to undermine this international effort and make the human genome into a corporate monopoly. But the title of Sulston`s book 'The Common Thread' detailing the history of this scientific breakthrough refers to more than just DNA for it is also a plea on behalf of the public realm which, as is typically the case with virtually every scientist, becomes confused with that of the state-of-the-common-people, which, regarding the present day state (or any other), is a meaningless populist illusion.

There is a revealing entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Wigglesworth - and also telling on account of its pulled punches but which is enough to wish for a more candid exposure: 'By the time he died much research in his chosen field had become managed, unpublished, or even hidden, with untested information reserved for industrial gain, business profit, political showmanship or military power'. Perhaps the only well-known scientist in this country in recent years who would have scoffed at the dichotomy of public and private in terms of the state v the private market is Dr. Chris Pallis, the eminent  brain surgeon and former 'head' of the ultra leftist group, Solidarity but who was nonetheless, quite nervous about mingling his scientific research and career with his theories on society. In a way this was hardly surprising as the frequent visits to his house by the Special Branch received savage tabloid attention. It can be said that Chris Pallis as a scientist was partly in the tradition of Needham and Haldane, his specialism separate from his identification with the workers' movement. It was though a significant advance as Pallis forthrightly saw through all the cruel and bloody deception inherent in what officially was known as the past workers' movement, not only its variant social democratic forms but those of Leninism, Maoism and Trotskyism. However lack of a critique of society's totality (which also marred Solidarity's contribution) meant comments on medicine and medical research were limited confined primarily to a condemnation of the growth of a cumbersome NHS bureaucracy.

One of Wigglesworth students, James Beaumont (who was later to be knighted as indeed was Wigglesworth) - we have come along way since Lady Glanville was judged to be off her rocker, citing as evidence her passion for butterflies - found that insect skins were covered with an infinitely thin layer of wax. It would be a mistake to think an entomologist like Beaumont was an unwitting dupe: his researches on the permeability of insect eggshells that are even more waterproof than the insects were done with the aim of showing how poisons can get in. In the 1970s he was to work for Geest devising a means of coating bananas in wax which did away with refrigerated containers: these cryogenic bananas would still look fresh after being shipped thousands of miles and unripe fruit became a thing of the past. The analysis of insect wax had advanced the science of poisoning; now it was serving the make believe art of fresh-food retailing, which since the 1970s has invaded the shelves of every supermarket.

The career of Sir James Beaumont reflects the changing fortunes of entomology from its gradual acceptance as an academic discipline of no 'use' to anyone, to being of central importance to the giant agrochemical companies and latterly to biotech firms seeking a final solution to the insect question.

We had wanted to put these questions to our new acquaintance from Balliol College in the hope this more informal setting in a country lane, well away from the prying eyes of academia ever ready to snitch on those not prepared to shut up, would lead to a more frank exchange. Surprisingly he had never heard of Imms and was temporarily put on the back foot but his new regard for us was at once apparent. The only chapter in Imms 'Insect Natural History' which could be of practical use is the one on biological forms of control, the only really effective form of insect control up to World War Two. However to read it as a statement of Imms's ecological sympathies would be mistaken: he was lucky enough not to know any better.

I am indebted to our new friend for another reason for he made me aware of the surreal starting point of Ford's book on butterflies. 'What other book on butterflies' he claimed, 'begins with the Fall of Constantinople'' He was right and I had forgotten or rather the fact had never struck me, as it should. Yes, there was always something not quite right in the head about lepidopterists and would that we got out of our heads more often.

However this young lecturer was not altogether secure in his ivory tower. With a wry smile he mentioned how the city of 'dreaming spires' had been renamed the city of 'screaming tyres', referring to the habitual practise of 'taking and driving without care' cars from the city centre and racing them to an appointed spot on the Blackbird Lees estate where residents of all ages and sexes would turn out to watch the live performance. This was not much more than harmless fun with an edge and well before the fire and brimstone game playing became a deadly business and the screech of tyres a prelude to a drive-by shooting. Though town and gown and the saga of the Cutteslow Walls - a wall separating the university precincts from plebeian quarters - have long passed into history, this lecturer was still gnawed from within by something more demanding than a social conscience in the abstract. If butterflies were to die out    (and make no mistake, this is a very real possibility) so would his scientific specialism. To him the former luxury of scientific neutrality was not an option and his indignation at the wanton destruction of the Marsh Fritillary in Hell's Coppice that of a person with his back to the wall.

Not everyone we meet in the field is quite so committed to nature though as a general rule there is a great openness and readiness to show interest. This is particularly true of brownfield sites and other places that have so far eluded classification permitting nature to flourish unchecked and unaided and frequently the better for that. In the summer of 2005 - on the 9th of August to be precise the very same day we were to see  second generation Dingy Skippers at Waleswood, South Yorks - we met nearby a former engineer on what had once been the Kiveton Park pit spoil heap now in the throws of the most goddam awful makeover sponsored by Yorkshire Forward. We explained we were concerned  about the fate of the Dingy Skipper and that despite specific instructions, essential habitat requirements had been wilfully ignored. He was immediately interested and soon he was  giving us an invaluable lesson on the geology of the spoil heap, picking up bits from the surviving portions of exposed spoil without which the Dingy Skipper does not stand a chance of surviving. What I had taken to be iron ore or oxidised iron and which imparted to  spoil heaps a touch of ochre was, I learnt, burnt shale and a reminder that these nature rich heaps once had a tendency to catch fire. A self-taught geologist, he was fascinated by atomic weight and marvelled how a small lump of iron ore could weigh as much as a far larger chunk of coal.

 This former engineer was an innocent at large, a typical South Yorks type whose disarming authenticity and sincerity belongs more to the industrial past than present. Though he didn't say so in as many words, the miners' strike of 1984/85 had changed his life.  And now he passed his days drifting from one derelict site to another, rummaging amongst the bones of long dead industries in and around Sheffield like he was searching for his sanity and lost hope in the crumbling remains. He said he had taken early retirement but he was only in his early forties. Bit by bit the true story came out. He had become a victim of the intensification of labour and the lengthening of the working day, driving 200 miles to work where he was then expected, at eight in the morning, to launch himself into exacting calculations, on which lives depended, and then, come knocking off time and tired out, do the return journey amid ever mounting levels of traffic. He was going to visit a friend in prison who was convinced the CIA were listening in on him. His friend had been given a 7 month stretch for boarding a bus, snatching a mobile out of a woman's hand, and then after first smashing the mobile to bits, fighting with other passengers and the bus driver. It was possible to sympathise with this 'theft' of a mobile, for this act of paranoid critical activity had nothing to do with making money. A mental hospital was by far the more appropriate place where, if lucky, he could at least rest. But from now on our new found lapsed-engineer friend would be looking out for the Dingy Skipper on every abandoned spoil heap he visited.

Of all mental disorders there is today none more ubiquitous than depression.  It is a growing affliction seemingly hell-bent on becoming a universal malady, the mental equivalent of the common cold. I recall some years back reading a book on botany that mentioned how a particular botanist was prevented from completing important work on account of a recurrent manic-depressive cycle. I mentioned this to a friend - the same who had come up with the title 'Dialectical Butterflies' for this website - how such details were becoming worthy of mention. 'And not before time' he replied.

 'Nature Cure' by Richard Mabey is an account of a depressive episode in his life and his subsequent recovery from it in nature's arms. Yet there's no escaping the fact it is a 'nature' reeking of wealth.  Nowhere in his book do we meet up with the forlorn souls who are in the habit of frequenting nature reserves, heathlands and wastes where traditionally idiots get the drop on royalty and being without money is no stigma, unless of course you are tempted into a hut run by the RSPB. At one point Mabey was so bad that he admitted himself into the same asylum near Peterborough the great John Clare had passed the majority of his later life. The penniless Clare was sectioned, Mabey went of his own accord paying for the privilege, which would not have come cheap. Rejected by a farmer's daughter because of his lowly labouring origins and then eventually made homeless by the enclosing of common land, Clare gave a new grounding to the romantic treatment of madness and depression. He was driven mad - and nature with him - by social forces and the loss of nature that he felt so deeply, was also an act of the expropriation of his livelihood down to his childhood memories. Though much transformed, this melancholy dialectic of man and nature is essentially our own.

This is not to minimize the pain of depression but it is obvious that the sad people we have met and cause tears to prick at the mere thought of them, have a different tale of woe to tell than that of 'Nature Cure', one of broken relationships, of lives blighted by poverty and unhappiness with not the slightest prospect of ever finding a job.

 Like the person we met in Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk one day. His torn coat, frayed trousers, shabby shoes and spectacles held together by elastoplast, told its own story. He was from Nottingham and his weather beaten face meant his life was passed in the wild. He was carrying an old tripod on which was mounted a very battered, second hand birdscope, the very inferiority of his equipment contrasting with the very latest in camera and optical technology competitively hung around the necks of a number of others, for the fen is managed by those fat cats of nature conservation, the RSPB. He did not fit in and we instantly warmed to him as he did to us. Whenever he sighted anything of interest he made brief notes in a fat, soiled notebook. How we would have loved to dip in that notebook. Did it contain more than just field observations, perhaps cryptic records of his mental states, or equally brief accounts of his conversation with others, which only he could understand? Where did it begin and where did it end? Did it even have a beginning or end? Were such notebooks the start of a real dialectics of nature, a taking up where Clare left off, though minus the rhymes, in which madness, nature and property relations, which the seizure of common lands was only a part of, were raised? We discussed train times journeys and travel concessions, one that would have enabled him to get to and fro on the same day from Nottingham to Ashstead on the North Downs where, with any luck, he would see the Purple Emperor. In the meantime we would break off to look at a Marsh Harrier or Swallowtail or fall silent to listen to Ceti's Warbler in between discussing the pros and cons of introductions, which he was unsure about. For this guy was learned and with a past he preferred to forget about and by becoming totally absorbed in nature able to achieve, in the best sense of the term, forgetfulness of self.

Fragments of conservations that were going somewhere and other half forgotten recollections slowly worm their way up. Like meeting an ex-soldier dressed in battle fatigues, his army issue tent draped over a branch in a corner of Raw Nook, a former railway siding on the line between Bradford and Halifax. He had made himself an unofficial warden of this now rich wild life habitat. By expressing a need to draw closer to, and bivouac if only for one night, in the heart of nature he clearly wished to do more than just conserve nature. Nature was a bolthole in more ways than one for it allowed him to escape from his housing situation on the Woodside Estate where his harmless eccentricity had attracted, and was bound to attract, the attention of conformist local bullies (i.e. not youths) who never gave him a moment's peace. The fact that he was  ex-army - and therefore not a danger - would only have increased their cowardly determination to hunt him down. He had come upon me unawares, materialising out of the undergrowth, and causing me to jump. His army uniform of green and brown and likewise his tent were the green and brown of nature's primary means of camouflage Used by standing armies worldwide for aggressive and defensive purposes, this camouflage had been put to other uses permitting him to close in on shy birds and take impressive photos. It also allowed him to disappear into the background and find the faceless anonymity he craved.

 Sometimes addresses and e-mails are exchanged on parting and the polite au revoir, 'be seeing you around', turns out to be true.

 Once upon a time we chanced on a school teacher in her thirties in Strumpshaw Fen. A year later we just happened to meet her in the same location. We straightaway asked her if she had managed to get up to Garton Loch to see the Ospreys. Her blushes were poignant and lovely and, starting to feel more confident, spoke of her hatred of teaching and how like a prison school had become and the little she actually felt for her pupils. She couldn't wait for Friday afternoon when she would make a dash for her car and race through the countryside like a mad woman, ignoring all the rules of road safety, just to get a glimpse, for instance, of the Stone Curlews before it grew too dark. Still living at home with her parents and sleeping in the little bedroom she had been brought up in, nature was her salvation, her release, her reason for living, the benchmark from which to judge the rest of society, and the bedrock of her frankness when it came to speaking her mind about school. For this woman cared and did not have to lie and spout nonsense in front of nature like she was required to do in the classroom.

On brownfield sites especially those, which by definition implies a significant amount of industrial dereliction, other kinds of fruitful encounters are possible, especially if the industry is still just to say ticking over. These places attract industrial historians - and in the case of Healey Mills Marshalling yards in Horbury, West Yorks and where the Grayling was discovered in 2003 - railway enthusiasts in their droves. Sometimes they position themselves at the perimeter and stare through binoculars and many is the time we have asked them what bird were they observing.  They, in turn, immediately assume we are there for a final examination of the elderly rolling stock that has been shunted into this industrial grave yards prior to being interred by the yard's undertakers. From talking at cross-purposes initially, a strange cross-fertilization could ensue. On being told of the yards unexamined, but already astonishing insect life, and the need, at all costs, to preserve it, appreciation of this living museum turned to wide eyed wonderment. One often feels like accompanying these train buffs if only to learn the correct names what to us, is little more than a heap of scrap metal but which is essential if we are to bring out a reality that is sometimes beyond belief, like when the Grayling lands on an old hand-operated railway points lever.

 It also brings back memories of our childhood in the 1950s when one day we would be out chasing butterflies, the next sitting at the end of Doncaster or York railway station with another identification guide in our hand: Allen's 1/- guide to the steam trains of the LNER. And how in the company of other kids and, in the genuine spirit of youth, game for anything, we would sneak into the railway sidings and poke our heads around the corner of Doncaster engine sheds or the Roundhouse in York sidings. We knew it was not really permitted but a blind eye was turned more often than not. How I wish I could today trespass with the same ease onto the sprawling and increasingly derelict railway sidings of Doncaster, York, Leeds and elsewhere to see what wonders await amid the decaying rolling stock, now too eaten away and fallen to bits to ever move. Nationalization is not the same as socialization but even so the illusion that nationalised industry was owned by the public meant access was far less restricted even to us kids. Some must have been injured for hoards would invade sidings and main railway stations on a Saturday but still the practise was tolerated. Nor were we ever really warned of the dangers of playing on railway lines not on account of parental irresponsibility but because we were freer to make up our own minds and equally free to shoot the rapids and drown in the river Calder if the raft made from oil drums and odd bits of wood nailed and lashed together had capsized.

On the 23 July 2005 I was detained for a short while in Healey Mills Marshalling Yards and threatened with arrest. Prior to this for some three weeks in the late summer of 2004 I became quite depressed and took to my bed. A dismissive letter from a stuck-up biodiversity official on Rotherham Council saying he had not seen the Dingy Skipper on the site of the former Orgreave coking plant had been the trigger. Nor according to him had there been any other recordings even though we'd seen them there in relative abundance. And his word was law so let the destruction roll-on, this time with the approval of the local biodiversity group. It was enough to make anyone give up the ghost. Having found the Grayling colony in Healey Mills the saving of it has become a deeply personal matter to the both of us. As I was being escorted out the yards perhaps 10 or more Grayling rose in front of me. I excitedly pointed them out to my captors: 'look, look' I said 'the Grayling'. I forget the exact reply but the intention was to crush all life out of the Grayling and me: there were plans afoot to develop the yards in the next eight years and if I was ever to go anywhere near the yards again I would be arrested on sight. Just the thought of pulling the wings of the Grayling and every other butterfly and insect in the yards excited their malice like they had regressed to being five year olds, bloodying a stone with the bashed-up bodies of flies and beetles. It was this that I found the most wounding. How I wish I'd had the foresight to keep my camcorder on and I know now never to turn it off during confrontations like these. For it gives an idea of the unspeakable readiness of people, invariably that little bit higher up the social scale and in some minor managerial position, to quite happily consent to the destruction of every living thing, not just as onlookers but as active participants. I had been in the yards during weekdays and the May Gurney track maintenance workers had paid no attention to me, which had given me a false sense of security.

 As I walked up Healey Rd, Ossett and then on past my old school, the road rose up to meet me and my eyes were blurred with anger for I couldn't see straight. The last time I had done this walk was over 50 years ago. I mentally rehearsed a gallows speech as I was been led of to the cells of how it was a far, far better thing to save the Grayling than my own life! Back in Bradford the mock-heroic, self-dramatisation gave way to more considered reflections. Why hadn't my captors taken me out by the fishpond when I specifically asked to be led through the grounds of the angling club that rent the land from EWS, the yards owners? Were they afraid the anglers would come to my rescue and point a few things out, like the yard's ambiguous legal status? With a long tradition of poaching from country landowners behind them, anglers make excellent backroom lawyers, for the seizing of fishing rights had been a big part of enclosure. (No account of Thomas Bewick, the greatest bird and wild life illustrator this country has known, would be complete without mentioning his sympathy for poachers and his unswerving loyalty to radical causes up to his dying day in the late 18th century). I had pointed out that public rights of way ran through the yards and were clearly indicated on old maps. Later I was to find out the land the Yards had been built on had been requisitioned by the War Department during World War I when a de facto nationalisation of industry had prevailed. It was essential the coal and iron ore be quickly moved to the furnaces to aid the war effort and the area between Horbury and Huddersfield and around Dewsbury was crammed with pits, the last ones at Emley Moor and Caphouse closing after the defeat of the miners' strike in 1985. (Incidentally both sites may well have contained colonies of Dingy Skippers. Emley Moor is now a bleak modern industrial estate with bleak nature-furnishings and Caphouse the site of the National Mining Museum. Though we did not find any trefoil on the latter site there was plenty in the lanes round about, which suggests it grew on the former soil heap prior to it being made into, of all things, a nature trail!) But before 1914, the land the Yards now occupy was under water for some of the year, for it was swamp land, part of the wide Calder flood plain and possibly it was on this very spot a singleton Swallowtail, once on show in the Tolson Memorial Museum in Huddersfield, was seemingly caught in the 1840s. Swamplands, or to give them their more fashionable title, wetlands, belonged to everyone, even more so  than tilled or grazed common land where a system of primogeniture based on custom was in operation. Enclosure of common lands in each case required a separate act of parliament, which plainly did not happen when the wetlands on which the Yards are now situated were first seized. It was an illegal act, that for reasons of state ignored parliamentary procedure and if push came to shove EWS could find themselves in a very awkward position. Even if EWS are unaware of the doubtful legal grounds it is standing on overall (as unstable as the land it was built on, evident from the widespread subsidence), the brutal over re-action of local managers suggests they are bent on preventing access by blocking off both ends to what they admit is a legal right of way through the yards along the elevated pathway that runs from Horbury Bridge to Healey Mills.

A protracted legal campaign could bring EWS to its knees or at least to the negotiating table for, as I learnt from one train buff, EWS is deeply in the red. Nonetheless, if past experiences are anything to go by, the heart would go out of the Yards if they became an official nature reserve. The fact that it is an underemployed working yard and functioning industrial museum in which the exhibits quickly end up as scrap metal, makes it a constantly changing environment all the more magical because nothing in it is simulated. It is for real. Everyday one freight train pulls out the yards around three in the afternoon. It grinds slowly forward along the railway lines that have buckled under the weight of the big diesel locos and lack of a proper foundation, a legacy of the haste at which ballast was thrown over the bog at the outbreak of the First World War nearly 100 years ago. The train does not dare to pick up speed until it joins the mainline to Dewsbury otherwise it would almost certainly be derailed. Out of sight we watch the train pull past us. It is long and drawn out and the effect can be mesmeric close to. After that the yards proper fall silent but we never feel safe until we have seen the May Gurney van depart. The yards are then ours but we now know not to expose ourselves to the view of passing passenger trains. We keep an eye on the same signal box  we did when we were young kids in short trousers and dive for cover if on the off-chance we should see anyone, though we are by now pensionable hooligans.

And now imagine (it's easy if you try) a tannalised wooden fence running down the centre of the yards: to one side there is a functioning marshalling yard with its splendid array of old diesel locomotives, burnt out carriages, aged rolling stock, thrown away oil cans, rusting bolts, rubber pads, rotting sleepers, concrete pads and what not. On the other there is a large area of exposed hard core from which the rusting railway lines and all pieces of jagged metal have been removed, everything in short likely to remind us this was once a railway siding. Sure the Grayling is there and doing very well but nothing is going to stop me or you from looking wistfully at the other side of the tracks as a Grayling flies over the fence and weaves in and out of the silent, drawn up locomotives and rolling stock. I know what I would do: I would ignore the signposts telling me this is the limit of the nature reserve and not to trespass on the railway sidings and be over that fence like a shot. For we cannot confine nature to the nature reserve and if we continue to believe we can safely section it to places of asylum where it will be looked after, we ourselves will eventually go mad and die off.

 What angered me most about my temporary detention in the Yards was the humiliating manner I was infantilised by this wretched nobody of a yard manager (or so he said) who was only obeying orders. His first words to me, so loud they echoed around the deserted yards, were  'do you know you are trespassing on private property' not that I was in danger of been run over, though it was quite obvious the only way these crooked twisting railway lines could accommodate rolling stock is if it was shunted up the track inch by inch. There was no reasonable answer to such a question: at 61 I was a naughty boy all over again. It would have made not one scrap of difference either if I had asked why there was no notice warning people not to trespass at the entrance to the yards on the path that leads from Horbury Bridge. And it would merely have been academic to this apology for a human being, used to giving and taking orders rather than questioning them, had I pointed out that when I was a schoolboy how come no one, including the police or rail workers, had ever once said to us kids 'do you know you are trespassing on private property''. Rather we were ushered off railway precincts and warned not to come back for our own good, which of course we still roundly resented. This yard manager's first words to me had emphasised the retreat of the public domain and the fetishism of private property to such a pitch it was now hallowed ground. By rights I should have instantly sunk to my knees. For it reflected the wholesale privatisation of life where even the public realm is being swallowed by the private as we are forced into a cell like existence(i.e. home life) somewhere between a monks cloister and a prison landing.

      Private debt good public bad and the raving insistence on private property before all else.

Earlier on that day the first of August 2005 waiting for the cloud to clear I had taken refuge in 'the heather triangle', the site of the former Ossett sewerage works where in the space of 50 years since its closure there has been a rapid succession from sphagnum moss, to clumps of soft rush and other grasses that root on boggy ground, to broom, birch and sallow and finally to heather and trefoil and a generous covering of early marsh orchids. Whenever a passenger train travelling from Wakefield to Dewsbury had passed I would slide down deeper into the heather to avoid being noticed. Though in a good year the Grayling normally flies in the triangle I saw none in 2005 so, to pass the time, I had glanced through a newspaper article entitled 'Pester power: Trouble in Store' about kids as consumers by Madeleine Bunting. Still smarting, that evening I wrote the following entry in my 'nature' diary: 'these born to buy kids (not born to live kids) by the age of 10 would frequently know 300 brand names and more. Would that they knew 300 species! M. Bunting is one of those journalists who sees something but never able to grasp a subject with all the radicalism it demands. Sitting here alone I could only think what kind of a future is there for humanity when today's children are like they are and that it is increasingly being left to much older people to fight for the right of nature to exist'.

Two hours later I couldn't have been more infantilised by authority for if I had been an ultimate consumer, say a teenage biker rigged out in all the latest gear caught crashing through the Yards on a Harley Davidson (which does happen), the flunkeys who apprehended me would have been far more inclined to render homage to consumer brands and have treated that biker with far more understanding and esteem than was to be my lot. On the scale that calibrates infantilism there was none lower than I. Moreover it seemed to reflect the growing infantilization of nature. In this increasingly actual, comic book, pop up world of nature, trees in public spaces, are pruned to become lollipop trees resembling the first naive attempts of tiny tots to represent trees. Rabbits likewise have taken to living in cottages because their burrows have been filled in as they are a bio-hazard and a danger to passers-by who would sue a fly for buzzing too loudly if they could get it to appear in court. Recalling the sheer obtuseness we encountered over the past year my lip quivers with fury. The high profile given to all things green belies the hostility one meets with on the ground. Much of this has to do with how we are inducted into nature by the media and especially TV and thereby persuaded of its fullness, for paradoxically nature as representation is closer and nature as reality further away than it ever was two hundred years ago, The immensely popular 'Spring Watch' is unmistakably live and in comparison to which my spring watch is as denuded as the bare trees. Though trumpeted as a reply to Reality TV, like the latter it blurs our perception of what exists. Recently a well off young couple tried to get a rookery destroyed that had been mentioned in the Doomsday Book on the grounds that the rook parliament was disturbing their peace and privacy! In fact this says it all, for it is all about the loss and stamping out of whatever communication is left, even amongst birds! I rather think this couple could have paid lip service to green issues but come the crunch, the reality of nature was just too much and couldn't be switched off like TV. By the same token if we wish to conserve nature all we have to do is click on the box that says 'do you want to save nature' and it will be.

It is not even a matter that nature is alright in its place, for today nature itself is not right unless its sting is drawn and designed by a health and safety executive mindful of litigation. The result is to take the risk out of nature, to render it innocuous and teach it manners at the very moment it is about to give humanity a lesson it may never recover from, never mind ever forget. This is why I made a plea earlier on to keep the Yards as they are though knowing full well this is not possible in the society we live in. Should the Grayling and other butterflies like the Brown Argus and Dingy Skipper, also present in the Yards, be rescued they would be made to drag out their lives in a sanitised habitat protected from the only disasters that really matter, like laddering a pair of tights or getting chewing gum stuck to the soles of one's shoes. No one will then even begin to guess at the pleasure, at times bordering on ecstasy, I felt that day I discovered the Grayling in the Yards - how it was like walking on air when I saw them flying amid the toxic industrial detritus and stationary locomotives, flushing them up wherever I went until quite late in the evening.

The Yards are a perfect example of what have come to be called a brownfield site. There has been along standing prejudice that nature cannot possibly thrive on such sites. Amongst the New Naturalist series outstanding for their combination of text that does not talk down and a preference for brilliant informative photography - Markham, Beaufoy, Hoskins and even Julian Huxley - over illustration (as though one of the aims of the Russian Constructivists that the reactionary role of the artist had to be replaced by the revolutionary one of the technician had been taken on board in a typically British absence of mind that only reinforced the overall cultural conservatism) there is a volume which includes a chapter on the magnesian limestone strip that extends from north of Nottingham and peters out on the cliffs of Cullercoats Bay just north of Newcastle. I underlined the following comment on account of its ready acknowledgement of prejudice.

 Wanting to know more, I found out we had been raised on the magnesian limestone strip just north of Darlington and running directly beneath Heighington Station where Stephenson's Locomotion No 1 had been placed on the level crossing of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. For a mile and a half to either side the countryside was astonishingly rich in wild life particularly in the railway sidings and on the railway embankments leading up to, and just beyond, Codlings Bridge. Trains and butterflies went together and many is the time we would be tearing up and down these embankments chasing a Dark Green Fritillary when a steam train thundered by pulling thirty or more wagons filled with coal from the Durham coalfield. Never once were we told to stop by the railway authorities or ever warned to be careful by the platelayers who plied the line, swinging their long hammers with unerring skill to bang in the wooden chocs that had fallen out the joints holding the rail in place.

The passion that we feel for Healey Mills Marshalling Yards is an attempt to relive, as the French surrealists exhorted some of the best moments of our childhood and youth in a present that has become much more property conscious and paranoid. We also see it as a right to the reclaiming of childhood where there was not the same division between nature, industry and human habitation.

 So it is already more than mere sentiment and about recognition of the facts. No one has done more to put the issue of brownfield sites on the map than Oliver Gilbert. Though a specialist in lichens from his chair in Sheffield University he became aware of the fig trees by the banks of the Don writing two influential books 'Habitat Creation and Repair' and 'The Ecology of Urban Habitats'. These fig trees are still there (as is the unrecorded one by the muck beck by Shipley Station, Bradford) but the steel furnaces against which they were photographed for Mabey's 'Flora Britannica' have gone forever. Recently we have travelled the road that leads from the M1 to Sheffield city centre many times It is a landscape of industrial devastation a still overpowering reminder of Sheffield's former industrial might now grown silent and like a bomb site in places overgrown with buddleia and sparse grasses - just perfect for the 'urban' Grayling! It has to be our favourite street in the entire world.

 But where the devastation ends landscaping begins and, with a sinking feeling, one soon notices the carefully tended, very boring, flowerbeds on Sheffield's roundabouts bearing the Vertase logo, a firm specialising in the reclamation of toxic land. Gilbert Oliver had ended up teaching landscape architects and no doubt he tried to drill into them a need to respect and encourage the overlooked biodiversity of these sites. There is very little evidence that he succeeded and we had to ask ourselves has there ever been an instance latterly where a landscape architect has improved the visual appearance of reclaimed land never mind showed proper care for whatever wild life was there in the first place? To the last man and woman they are nature sculpting deadbeats we can well do without, put to work whenever a local council has a mind to improve the appearance of a  wasteland that left to itself is showing lots of promise or when industrial new build or a housing estate needs to be set off by a sham of greenery.

Oliver Gilbert may not have objected to brownfield sites being renamed urban commons because the changed definition implies they were here to stay. No such luck, as the on going destruction with even worse to come, of former pit spoil heaps of South and West Yorks, shows. Nowhere is safe for long and everyone who seeks to give a nature a hand by planting some tender shoots of say trefoil must know the bitter disappointment when the following year they have been dug up and destroyed in the name of development. It happens with a frequency that rules out chance mishap.

 And yet we are likely in the long run (40/50) years to have the last laugh. But it will be a bitter laugh and a pyrrhic victory one not worth the having because of the cost involved. For anyone with half a mind who takes time out to reflect will realise the present day civilization is doomed, doomed by its all consuming need for energy and raw material driven by the power of money and capital.

 We are almost on the brink of a historic turning point at least the equal of the Neolithic revolution of 8 to 10,000 years ago. Its immanence has yet to sink in and though the numbers that would unhesitatingly agree are still a trickle in this overheated world trickles can become torrents within minutes.

 It is not just consumer capitalism that is a stake but a whole way of life based on industrial capitalism, which in the not too distant future will be judged the most gigantic act of hubris in the entire 3 million years of Homo erectus. We are suffering, far more than enjoying, the last days of consumer capitalism where no thought is given for the morrow, where last week's must have is not this weeks, where the day - and only for the day - of instant fashion in clothing and electronic gadgetry in particular draws ever closer.

 For like minded people the question that is forever on their lips is when will the realization sink in there is no turning back and that humanity has sleep walked into the most gigantic catastrophe from which recovery becomes more impossible with each day that passes. Its immanence is such that one cannot help but wonder how people will react when they wake up from a deep sleep to a nightmare world. Struck dumb with horror are words that come to mind. And dumb animals, frightened for their lives and at their wits end, are easily stampeded and easily herded once exhausted.

Right now the only hope I have left is that there will be, come the hour, an explosion of practical intelligence and that in the last moments people will come together and prove able to launch a final, desperate act of resistance without which the cause not only of human freedom but of life itself is lost. There are years of conditioning to be sloughed off, years and years of systematic cretinisation with each generation more dumb than the last. And there is so much relearning to be done, so many footsteps to be retraced in so little time, if there is to be any hope at all. The accumulated contradictions today are so immense and of such incommensurable proportions the mind reels before such enormity and critique lies dying unable to raise an arm in protest and offer hope. To live without hope is an impossibility and just about the worst thought that can occur to anyone is that the hope of utopia has gone for good.

 And yet coming through apocalyptic end-of-oil scenarios in particular (though not those of global warming) is the unmistakeable influence of utopian schemes that bring to mind Sir Thomas More, Charles Fourier, William Morris and others. The authors of these latter-day scenarios whether former economists or retired geologists have no left wing axe to grind. The logic of events has forced these conclusions upon them rather than they forcing themselves on events. And so roads will become orchards, back alleys, gardens, parking lots, fields and motorways the new strip cultivation of the agri-nature future. Craft production will return, as will draught animals and a mode of transport far more dependant on animals. The country will take over the towns and cities and whatever is left of manufacturing industry will be of a local nature and globalisation in 50 years time a dim memory.

There is a neat inevitability to these schemas, the heir actually of the crudest economic determinism arising from a simplistic reading of Marx ('Capitalism like an iron law of nature begets its own negation') as though the brightest of daybreaks is possible on the last second to midnight.

There will be a return to an agri-nature in place of industrialised agriculture. Again there is no margin of choice. But it will be a parody of a genuinely transformed relationship between man and nature, of that higher relationship that has long been dreamt of. It will be the cruel awakening from past utopias their ultimate disabuse, as it will be for the utopian hopes of conservationists that this sustainable agriculture will be nature friendly. Frightening though it is to admit it how long will it be before mass starvation becomes a fact of life not just in Africa but everywhere? 'Give me the bread motherfucker' will mean just that. Quite simply with the energy crises agricultural yields will fall with an accelerating rate despite the fact there are limits to agricultural yields from the application of industrial fertilizers. And rather than food for free, food prices will rocket. Whatever is left of nature will be left to look after itself, such will be the pressure to feed the world's population. Against all the odds it may thrive surprisingly well. However don't for one moment be seduced by the idea that the 'greening' of the cities will be a urban commons writ large. It will be a place of nightmares and not dreams a caricature of Clare's common land where nature was not there, as it is today, but here, there and everywhere.

 I see in the crumbling Healey Mills Marshalling Yards a vision of industry's future. Whatever manufacturing capacity is retained it is bound to be dramatically different from what it is today. A great deal of dismantling will need to be done and America, Europe, Japan and China will resemble a vast junk yard of spare parts awaiting to be put to new uses, a real scrap heap challenge for history's terminally dispossessed and not for the delectation of TV audiences. Again only the deaf could fail to hear in this an echo of the appropriation of capitalist industry by the workers and its reorientation toward social ends, which required the closing down of most of it. Whatever role consciousness would have played in all this, - and this reorientation of production would have entailed the widest ranging public debate in all history, truly the stuff of dreams and not to be missed - what lies in store for most industry is its auto-destruction with the workers performing little or no part in it, at least initially. Taken out of their hands the workers historic destiny would have been, once again, done for them, expropriated this time more by the tools of their trades than by the vanguard parties they naively put their trust in. When consciousness arrives too late upon the scene the most dangerous events are given free reign to do their worst behind the backs of people.

 On the day after I was detained in the Yards I was out filming the Purple Hairstreak in Odsal Woods when a man approached me in his 70s who asked me what I was doing. My head still whirling at the thought that precious habitat might shortly be destroyed by a brutal act of vandalism with not a voice raised in protest, I was immediately on the defensive fully expecting to be ordered off this right of way because it belonged to South Bradford golf club. Instead he showed an interest and glad to have a sympathetic ear for once, poured out my tale of woe. Having lived in Bradford all his life he knew of the Yards and was intrigued to learn they harboured such an amazing array of species. However the fact that butterflies were doing so well in this working industrial environment did not surprise him because his memory stretched back to war time Bradford when every piece of available land, including railway embankments, were covered in allotments. More than anything else it was the butterflies he remembered, more than he had ever seen before or since in Bradford. I asked him if they were 'Cabbage Whites' attracted by the rows of brassicae  but he assured me there were many other 'colourful' ones, presumably Small Tortoiseshells and maybe Red Admirals. He delighted in the memory of such profusion for we never remotely see the likes of it today.

 These allotments were part of the 'dig for victory' campaign, in fact a greening of urban spaces on a scale almost impossible to imagine in post war - or even pre-war - Britain. The onset of the first oil crises in the 1970s had revived memories of this event or, more precisely, images of this event, with rock posters cashing in on the act and photographs of a horse and cart been drawn through a square in Brussels, headquarters of the EEC, and therefore invested with additional symbolic weight. Cars even more that after 'the night of the barricades' in May 1968 began to look finite creations though for very different reasons. The car survived the trashing of May 1968 as it did the oil crises' of the seventies and early eighties. In fact as an object of consumption it grew and grew in number and importance becoming bigger, flashier, more stretched, more energy-intensive, more necessary, more of a machine for spending yet more time in, a life in itself and here for good - only then to start choking on what it was guzzling. It never ceases to amaze me how the cars eventual demise, despite having yet to fully sink in, resumes through an altogether different route all but forgotten radical projects as though there is no escaping, in one form or another, the historical denouement sketched out over 40 years ago. I had thought the chief danger to the Yards came from housing overspill from Horbury Green, an expensive looking, legoland fold with an interior courtyard (for cars not people) but this proved not to be the case. It would have meant building a road bridge over a main railway line and that would be enormously expensive. Ironically it is the energy crises that may spur the Yards transformation from a near derelict siding into a modern facility once the cost of road transport begins to dramatically outweigh that of rail transport.

 In a front page article, which attracted considerable attention in The Independent, James Lovelock, warned that it may well be too late now to do anything to halt global warming. The 'siege economy' (though these are not his words) he now regards as inevitable resembles that of wartime dig-for-victory though another name is equally applicable; that of 'war communism'. Lovelock is under no illusions either about green alternatives to fossil fuels like bio fuels: there simply will not be sufficient agricultural land to grow such fancy items on. Though he does not expressly say so (though that is what's implied), climate change and the looming energy crises will effectively bury the car industry. I had half expected the article to endorse nuclear power but by now Lovelock probably realises nuclear new build in Britain will not make one jot of difference overall and that the nuclearization of the world is just a scientific phantasm and can never become fact, at least in its fissionable form.

There is a new tone of desperation in the article, the expression of a mind on the brink matching that of the earth. Lovelock has finally lost his faith in the capacity of science to effectively respond to a challenge on this scale: there is no wonder of science in the offing powerful enough to defeat this monster. The normally optimistic boffin, secure in the knowledge science will eventually come up with an answer, has become unrecognisable both to us and to  himself. Adrift in uncharted waters like so many others from the science monkey house, there is a chance, though a very remote one, he will finally begin to make anti-capitalist sense. Gone are the barmy schemes for umbrellas in space the size of the moon to deflect the suns rays or flippant gestures we are not sure if we are meant to take seriously or in fun - like his readiness to welcome a lead case of spent uranium fuel into his kitchen because the heat generated by radioactive decay would save on his electricity bills!

Lovelock had also warmed to the deserted concrete sarcophagus that is now Chernobyl. In the first flush of enthusiasm for nuclear power he had outrageously suggested that the original inhabitants of Chernobyl return, not because it was safe to do so, but because it was becoming an eco-tourist destination: if plants and animals were thriving there why shouldn't human beings and what matters if genes mutate, cancer abounds and lives are cut short, we are all going to die anyway, the only difference is we are the only species to know that. Behind the mask of stoic indifference he had a point to prove: if the price for maintaining the equilibrium of gaia was nuclear contamination, even world-wide nuclear contamination, then it was a price worth paying. For certain he did not see in Chernobyl, as it now is, a vision of the future (though a post- human one that oddly almost doubles as post-revolutionary one) for he had spent his life ignoring the fact there was an alternative to present day society. The gaia hypothesis had appeared in the early 70s at a time of revolutionary ebb that would eventually turn into the most sustained period of reaction in all history. By an irony of history eventually a horrible mockery of this revolutionary alternative will almost certainly impose itself brutally.

 The nearby town of Pripyat was constructed in the  1970s to house  48,000 people a typical, soviet style, concrete jungle (now actual jungle) of communal living, blocks sports stadia, community centres and so on. It could be Livingstone, it could be Roehampton, it could be Dunkirk, it could be Rotterdam, in fact anywhere in Britain and Europe. In the silent town square poplar trees sprout through the concrete and the football pitch has become a small forest. Herds of rare wild horses roam the streets, as do foxes, wolves and wild boar. For the first time the place looks fit for human habitation - and, with a few essential alterations, it is, if it weren't for the radiation. Nature left to itself has renovated these loveless blocks of concrete making them  more appealing then any design makeover to date and in a far shorter space of time than it took the Healey Mills Marshalling Yards to undergo a similar transformation.  And there is much that is enticing about Pripyat and not only to the herds of rare species of wild horses, the foxes, wolves and wild boar but something that is now humanly desirable about it, and fit for habitation for the first time. But Lovelock's attraction is essentially different to ours: rather than see gaia upset he would prefer to see the place inhabited once more and if the price for that is to live in a radioactive world well it's a price worth paying. That nature left to itself has carried out  a task of reconstruction on these loveless blocks of concrete far  more appealing then any makeover to date is not what he means. Lovelock's vision of a self-regulating planet is a natural process in which homo sapiens is part of that process but not a dominant part. Rather than use such finally nonsensical terms as positive feedback it would make more sense to substitute consumer capitalism. That would begin to make for a proper debate one that could appeal to the mass of the people because it would put the destiny of the planet firmly in their hands.  It is now obvious the equilibrium has been upset and the full import of Lovelock's theoretical anti-humanism becomes apparent shifting toward a perverse rationalisation of what could well have been an initial killer instinct.

There is a letter of Shelley's written to Maria Gisborne. It is a most unusual letter because it is expressed in metrical form and could be called a poem. However it is a letter and as always with Shelley at his best, in his eagerness to find what lies on the other side, pushes hard at the formal limits of poetry. There was not his like anywhere else in the world at that time or anyone able to fully appreciate his radicalism, including Shelley, for he often leapt outside himself and far into the future.

The letter is not just formally innovative, an anticipation of the decline in literary form that was to mark the rest of the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th century, it is also a statement about the formal possibilities of industry as though the first major uprising in history by the industrial working class at Peterloo needed to be rounded-off by a fundamental refashioning of science and industry. For Shelley the potential is limitless, the task protean. It begins with the hammering of swords into ploughshares but beyond that who can say. Shelley is a trifle bewildered by the objects of industry he finds at hand in an engineer's study. They are mysterious objects but their very indefiniteness is a powerful stimulant to the imagination, an imagination that henceforth would be in the round and not confined to a piece of paper. In their protean presence the traditional Shelley i.e. the poet Shelley is outclassed - and knows it: poetry, that archaic lumber-room and museum of the imagination,  has had its day.

 Unable to suppress a childish impulse he makes a paper boat and floats it across a bowl of mercury for the industrial revolution is not just a sign of the maturing of a universal humanity but also has the potential to realise childhood dreams. The bowl is of walnut, the liquid in it mercury. The naturalist Shelley is effortlessly able to name the wood and he must have been familiar with mercury's notoriously toxic properties and its mind-altering reputation.

The toxicity of industry was in Shelley's day a fraction of what it is today. Yet never the less we are at a comparable protean turn but an end rather than a beginning which would continue well after Shelley's death and found its most advanced expression for a few brief years in Russian Constructivism both socially and technically. The late 1960s and early 70s were the last occasion a creative renewal of industry was on the cards stretching from the sabotage of assembly lines, industrial detiournement and even industrial reconstruction naively expressed in the alternative Lucas aerospace plan was on the cards.

There is scarcely even a glimmer of such constructive insurgency today. And yet at the same time industrial capitalism is being undermined in a way its customary gravediggers had never anticipated but which the archly conservative Ruskin had foreseen. In the meantime we can only wait and wonder when will the truth of these dire warnings sink in, for with each day that passes the planet  drifts out of our orbit and beyond our saving.

 We are approaching a cross roads from which there is no turning back a reminder that Marx had written in the 18th Brumaire 'at long last to create a situation from which no turning back is possible'. However the emphasis - an emphasis that makes all the difference, is on create: what we  are facing is a situation that will have been largely decided for us, one we did not make and is not of our choosing.

                                                Stuart Wise. January 2006
                          (with critical ommissions and additions by David Wise)