ECOS 38 (1)

As BANC and ECOS move more fully to a web format, discussion continues on the distinct role of an organization which promotes debate and challenge rather than a particular party line.

What does BANC stand for, and how should it promote its role? Do we peddle primarily a ‘fluffy and in-love-with-nature approach’? Are we the home of carbon-sceptical writing? Are we the rewilding advocates?

We’re actually none of those things: we’re a catalyst for airing ideas, challenging assumptions, and making people think. We reflect and analyse. That means being pluralistic in the material and views to which we give airtime. During BANC’s 30-odd year history it has served a big role in raising the profile of many issues, including rewilding, children’s connection to nature, the actual rather than perceived affects of alien species, and much more. People may assume that it follows that we are advocates of a particular stance on those issues, but no, it doesn’t follow. We can nudge topics to the fore, and amplify some emerging issues, but we don’t take sides. Giving profile to something does not equate to supporting it.

Selling a subtle role

This has been a taxing question for BANC’s Council of late, given BANC’s need to raise its profile and attract more subscribers. There’s a view that if we are seen as ‘just neutral’ on key issues, we risk being invisible. This argument says that the way to avoid risking invisibility is to nail BANC’s colours to particular masts. Indeed, there was a time when BANC Council did choose to ally itself to particular causes célèbre.

Some of us, myself included, strongly believe this is no longer appropriate. I realise that most media organisations, be they broad news-type organisations or narrow sectoral ones, tend to have a ‘position’, being ‘of the left’, or ‘progressive’, or ‘technofix’ or ‘deep green’ or whatever, but I see no value for BANC in taking any particular stance. I think we are here to ask questions, to avoid clichéd lazy thinking, to jolt comfort zones, and to put cats amongst pigeons. That ought to be a marketable proposition, without having to adopt a stance on any one issue.

Amidst the current feverish climate about fake news and people being sealed in their social media-biased bubbles, it’s even more important for small, independent organisations like BANC to provide a reflective, neutral, broad-church role.

Un-corporate venues tend to be the norm for BANC events. Photo: Gavin Saunders

Beyond ‘Group Think’

There’s an interesting psychology here, in that if one feels strongly about a certain issue, it’s all too easy to assume that ‘everyone else sensible must feel like that’. To take one (caricatured) example, it’s an article of faith for some that conservation requires strong legislation, a strong involvement of the state, through an Natural England/Scottish Natural Heritage/Natural Resources Wales-type agency, and that part of what’s wrong with conservation today is that the 1949 legislation and its accompanying quangos have been emasculated.  Many conservationists would see that view as a ‘given’ for any self-respecting conservationist. But it’s not. There are no articles of faith.

The same goes for climate change and the ‘carbon debate’. However controversial, Peter Taylor as well as Clive Hambler were brave enough to question, with their own take on the data, the emerging status quo amongst many conservationists, in the pages of ECOS. However dangerous that might have seemed to be, it’s always healthy to challenge assumption.

The more shocked you might be by a questioning of received wisdom, the more valuable it is to be hearing that scrutiny. As soon as BANC/ECOS begins to advocate a particular line, it abdicates the position of being able to challenge assumptions on that, or any issue. That may seem to some to be the spineless warbling of a Post Modern relativist. Which is fine – make your case against! To paraphrase the greatly admired late journalist Steve Hewlett, “wherever we see consensus, we should question it”.


Gavin Saunders

Current chair of BANC and co-lead of Neroche Woodlanders, the social enterprise in the public forest in Somerset.

2 thoughts on “ECOS 38 (1): The role of BANC and ECOS: A space for views, or espousing a view?

  1. I could not agree more. The challenging, discursive nature of the debate within BANC and the open way in which those debates are managed are the things that keep me interested in both BANC and ECOS. The venues occupy a small part of Gavin’s article, but they are very important. I helped organise the recent inaugural meeting of the Wessex Ancient Tree Forum (unashamed plug – we have a page on the Ancient Tree Forum web site) and while we needed to do some power point presentation to kick things off, I knew that the sooner we got out around some trees and in the woods, then the better off we would be. In my work in an AONB, we spend too much time talking about natural beauty while sitting in a basement in Noble House (Defra), or in the centre of Birmingham. We feel forced to do this for reasons of efficiency, travelling expenses and just plain penury; but is it really worth while? Would the outcomes of meetings be better if we spent time in inspiring places?
    So I look forward to more debate and challenge in interesting and inspiring places – whatever the logo might be.

  2. I agree as well. This is your niche so please continue to occupy it and challenge the comfort zones of your readers. I have found it has helped my development as an ecologist immensely over the years.

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