Sorry, but we need to change our ways

IT’S such a peaceful morning in bucolic north Suffolk – everything stretching and yawning after a harsh winter of snow and ice – that it’s easy to believe all’s right with the world. But it’s not, apparently.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, we need to deal with an elephant in the room. People might click on her website and read that Lucy is also interested in Earth energies and leads local Gatekeeper Trust pilgrimages on equinoxes and solstices. (The organisation is devoted to personal and planetary healing through pilgrimage.) Some folk might, wrongly, start thinking of David Icke, or Noel Edmonds’s cosmic ordering . . . Does anyone ever suggest she’s a tad cranky?

“Oh, completely. I’m very aware of that,” she laughs. “But my whole philosophy is not to live as a hermit but to live in a way that you’re accessible to people, so that you are ‘in community’ and not outside the community, while still doing your own thing. That’s the beauty of it. So I do inhabit these rather strange Venn diagrams, that’s true! But live life and enjoy it –and don’t worry about what people think.” In any case, she realises one has to step into the spotlight if one feels passionately about a cause and hopes to influence others.

Lucy and her family are putting theory into practice, too. Their farmhouse near Halesworth – which had stood empty and derelict for 40 years before they moved in, and which was restored using mostly eco-materials – has numerous green features. Rainwater is collected for the animals to drink, a system of ponds deals with human waste and “grey” water, and oil seed rape is turned into high-grade bio-fuel that powers farm machinery, a boiler and a large electricity generator.

By employing a sort of “go with nature and nature goes with you” approach, and by using homeopathy where necessary, the family’s been largely successful in steering clear of antibiotics. Homeopathy also successfully treated a wound in one of the dogs, while Lucy strives not to give their cat commercial petfoods containing chicken and beef because of the use of antibiotics in animal feed. “And if I do forget, he ends up with a cold.”

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Back to the book.

Approaching Chaos takes a wide view. It argues that at the start of the Iron Age we lost touch with an ancient way of thinking that had helped cities exist in harmony with nature. This Bronze Age civilisation, Lucy argues, was not primitive but achieved huge feats with “zero-carbon technology”. Just look at the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza built in about 2,550 BC, she suggests – a feat we still can’t satisfactorily explain.

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In essence, all was going swimmingly until we started thinking we were the be-all and end-all, rather than just one cog in an interdependent system.

In the end, Lucy says, Romano-Christian power combined to disconnect us from nature. Much of that ancient thinking was wrapped up in the religion of shamanism, which featured a belief in powerful spirits. Ancient civilisations, she says, understood about living in harmony. Nature’s gifts could be manipulated – such as using gravity to your advantage – but it was done with great respect. Recognising what the world bestowed on them, people would give aspects of nature a name and personality: hence the god of sun, for example. People tried not to pollute, or otherwise sully their world, because they feared the gods might be displeased.

By the time the Roman empire supplanted the rule of the pharaohs in 31 BC, the game was essentially up. Rome changed the ethos, says Lucy, from an understanding and holistic approach to one of power and glory – “whereas the ancients knew that if you took, you also had to give back”.

We’re still suffering from the legacy of that Roman philosophy – that the end justifies the means – she feels.

“There’s too much ‘Oh, we need to drive this motorway through here, because the end justifies the means,’ or ‘We need an extra airport runway, because we all have to have cheap holidays.’ Where does it stop? That’s really the problem with our thinking: because we’re so disrespectful of our natural resources, we’re not thinking ‘How does nature see this and how does nature respond to it?’”

So what do we do? Well, there are obvious steps we can start taking. Do we really need to make a car journey, for instance? Could we car-share? “We should think about how we can start providing some of our own food, even if it’s just growing something in a tub on a balcony.”

Then there’s cheap meat: probably not as wholesome for us as it could be, and certainly not great for any animal force-raised in cramped conditions. Consider buying good meat, occasionally. “Be like the French: buy a little, and less often, but make it high quality when you do. That’s a much healthier way of living.”

The hard “ask” in all of this, feels Lucy, is having the courage to say ‘I will not just be a victim of consumer marketing.’ Try to resist exhortations to take out a large mortgage, for instance, if you know in your heart it will stretch you to the limit.

“Be yourself. Think about what really matters to you.” And put yourself in the place of a river, say. Would you really appreciate having poisons poured into you? No. “If I were a piece of wood, would I really like vinyl paint splashed all over me? No, I wouldn’t. I’d like linseed-based stuff that helped me breathe, rather than to be all sealed up.”

Animals on the Wyatt farm are allowed to follow their own instincts as much as possible. Yes, the Red Poll cattle will eventually go off to the abattoir, but they should have lived a reasonably fulfilled and unstressed life. Pigs, meanwhile, are currently adding their natural fertiliser to land Lucy intends to turn into an orchard. At the appropriate time, they’ll be moved on to another patch. The chicken runs are rotated, too.

“I think that’s the way we’ll have to be going: back to some kind of mixed farming, because you get the manure. You don’t need the artificial fertiliser.”

One of Lucy’s major concerns is that we’re losing vital skills, such as animal husbandry, because we haven’t valued them and instead relish cheap, factory-farmed food. Recruiting people with knowledge of livestock is sometimes a problem, which doesn’t make it easy to have locally-reared meat. In the past, children would grow up learning to be comfortable around animals, knowing how to look after them and learning the right body language to employ.

The loss of essential and basic skills is a big worry all round. Lucy smiles as she tells of a “doom scenario” that people are chattering about on the web: a massive “solar flare burp” sometime in the future that could (if the worst happens) knock out the electricity grid. There’s talk that complete repairs could take four to 10 years . . .

Even if we don’t suffer anything as calamitous as that, “people really need to realise how vulnerable civilisation is. It wouldn’t take much to create a lot of problems for people”. We’ve seen what happens when it snows, or when protests block tankers of fuel. Take away the power supply for a while, for example, and where would we be? “We don’t know how to sew with thread; we don’t know how to mend a shoe. We’re even losing the art of writing, and cooking!”

Meanwhile, look around and you can see how in some places people are displaying feral tendencies, existing in tribes and becoming quasi-hunter/gatherers, as the way we live weakens society’s bonds.

Cities, she says, should be integrated places where people enjoy balanced lives alongside both greenery and industry. Industry wouldn’t be the kind that pollutes the environment, however, but low-carbon and “clean” – featuring workers practising those traditional skills we’ve lost, for instance.

Here’s a question I’m duty-bound to pose: does husband Richard share her green views? The reason I have to ask is that he’s quite a high-powered City person: a non-executive director of Archant (publisher of the East Anglian Daily Times) and chairman of a Westminster-based investment group.

“Well, some of the investments are in the low-carbon sector, and that sort of thing, so there’s an element of ethical investing,” she smiles. “I try not to interfere too much!

“I would describe myself as being a green capitalist, and he totally subscribes to that. I do believe in the profit motive. I don’t believe in this sackcloth and ashes view that if you’re green you’ve got to be poor. It’s not having money that’s the problem; it’s what you do with it that’s the issue. You can have good capitalists and bad capitalists.

“I come from a very long line of Quaker ancestors who were hard-bargain-driving businessmen and they built a big ship-building empire on the Tyne. But they had a business model that was very ethical in many respects. They built houses for their workers that were much bigger than normal. They didn’t try to squeeze every last penny out of everybody. And because they were reliable and truthful and ethical, they were the founders of lots of the banks, because people trusted them with their money. That’s what we need to get back to in business life.”

She doesn’t accept that lack of money is an obstacle for most people. Lucy’s often amazed how folk on quite restricted incomes can nevertheless find the means for an extravagant wedding, for instance.

“A bag of carrots is not that expensive. If you want to live very cheaply, you can.”

Something like a plasma TV isn’t on the Wyatt wish-list – “that, to me, would be a complete waste of money” – but if that’s someone else’s goal they shouldn’t later complain about having no spare cash!

She’s never encouraged her children – two teenage girls – to have electronic gadgets such as Game Boys, and she doesn’t smoke. “Don’t complain you can’t afford organic carrots if you buy cigarettes! To me, it’s about how you prioritise.”

It’s not meant to sound harsh and preachy – and being environmentally-aware doesn’t require conversion to Puritanism. Holidays are wonderful, though you don’t have to fly. Lucy’s a fan of camping, though concedes France invariably provides warmer weather than Britain. In her defence, she points out the family deliberately sought campsites with limited facilities – which, happily, were usually in the more stunning locations.

“At the end of the day it’s about being alive on the planet; and if you don’t want to be alive on the planet, then . . . well, just give up!” she laughs.

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Seeker after the truth

THERE were clear signs in her teenage years that Lucy Wyatt knew her own mind and wasn’t going to meekly accept the status quo. She admits to a slightly rebellious adolescent nature, “which I think comes through in the book, in that I’m willing to question things. I’m prepared to dig away to find out what the truth is, as far as I can, rather than take things on face value”.

Lucy was born in Cambridge, where her father was a partner in an architectural practice near Magdalene Bridge. Primary school in her hometown was followed by a spell at the high school, before she was sent to study “behind a very high wall” in High Wycombe for four years “because I was not concentrating”.

The boarding school was strict by design. “Not many exeunts. But, actually, it was probably my saving. Because it was so boring, there was nothing else to do but study!”

She admits she was lucky not to be expelled during the final year, having asked for permission to go to a cousin’s wedding. In reality she took several buses back to Cambridge, jumped in the back of somebody’s van and spent the weekend at Knebworth, watching Pink Floyd! Fortunately, the school never found out.

It did decline to make her an official “old girl”, though. Lucy passed the Oxbridge exam at 17 but didn’t shine in interview and ended up going to Sussex. School staff disapproved of a modern university with whiffs of sex, drugs and rock and roll! Not at all the place for nice young girls.

If she could have coped with the maths, Lucy would probably have had a stab at following in her father’s footsteps. Instead, she studied international relations and Italian.

Working in Europe appealed. Her family had an ongoing relationship with France, with a great-grandfather a diplomat at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War. Lucy’s grandparents had got married at the embassy in Paris and at the age of 10 her mother had become marooned in Brittany in 1939 – billeted in a house with Nazi officers. Luckily, somehow, she managed to get out and return to England via Spain and Portugal.

Student Lucy dreamed of working in Brussels – until she spent some time in the institutions of European political and decided it wasn’t for her. Instead, she landed a job in London at the National Economic Development Office, one of those 1980s quangos, and worked for a committee nursing the retail sector by seeking to get industry leaders together with unions and civil servants to create a prosperous future.

After a couple of happy years she consummated a long-running love affair with Habitat and the Conran Group by getting a research job in the marketing department.

Next came a post in the City, editing a magazine on the retail sector for a stockbroking firm. Twice she interviewed Philip Green, now Sir Philip Green, whose empire would embrace businesses such as Bhs, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop.

It was at the stockbroking firm that Lucy met husband-to-be Richard, through a mutual friend. About a year later she left the City, got married and started a family. Today, daughters Sophia and Margot – both born at home, in birthing pools! – are 18 and 15.

She always had strong feelings about the countryside – her grandfather had a farm and horses on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border – and the family left London after Sophia was born.

Lucy had spent about 12 years in the capital and wasn’t distraught at departing. The area around Camden was grotty and she wanted her children to grow up with trees, skies and “old Englishness”.

Suffolk offered rail links to Liverpool Street, so Richard could travel to work in London.

Home was initially an old vicarage just outside Ipswich, followed by a move closer to Woodbridge. Then the north Suffolk farmhouse was bought in 2000. It needed two years of restoration work after lying empty for 40 years. With 600-year-old oak trees, woods, hedgerows and old buildings, the estate offered a chance to explore living in harmony with nature.

The thorny question of hunting . . .

HERE’S another of those “elephant in the room” questions – only this time the mammal is a fox. Lucy is a keen huntswoman – though these days, of course, the law means riders have to follow a laid scent or something similar. How does hunting square with her love of nature?

Lucy’s argument is that we eliminated wolves several hundred years ago, leaving foxes with no natural predator. The change to the natural balance meant foxes needed to be culled.

For a fox, the principle of predation is a natural fact of life – something understood – whereas extermination methods such as snaring or gassing are unnatural and liable to result in lingering deaths. Being killed by a hound is much more clinical, she says, and usually claims (or claimed) ill or old foxes. Instances

of one being pulled apart by the dogs were generally when it was long dead.

So, in a nutshell, people have upset the natural balance by eradicating wolves and thus need to compensate slightly.

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