We need to rewild our imaginations.
We saw a fox, again. Our house backs onto a two acre field, separated by a mature tree line from a much larger area of farmland. However, since Redrow failed in its planning application, the farmer has not returned to our relatively small field. The result is that it is now in the process of ‘rewilding.’ Incidentally, that’s the word coined by conservationist Dave Foreman in 1980. Before then we used to use phrases like ‘return to nature’ or just simply the pejorative ‘overgrown.’ The main feature of this rewilding is a wide self-seeding alder wood along with a proliferation of grasses and thorny shrubs. Only our wooden fence stands between our suburban garden and the relentless advance of nature. We have a good view of the field from our bedroom and I often stand there to admire the view, especially the tree line about 400 metres away, completely unvisited by any humans. I’ve often wondered why we don’t see any wild animals in our field, apart from the five grey squirrels which raid our bird feeders. I’ve seen a rat once while little holes sometime appear overnight in our flower bed. A vole, I guess. But no rabbits, for example. Maybe I now know why. For on Wednesday morning we saw a fox, just standing there in full view, about 20 metres away We glimpsed it last week but this time it lingered for a few minutes before heading to the wood, jumping over the long grass. It’s not often you see a fox, my country friends later explained. To quote from the RSPB website: “You may be lucky enough to see a fox, but they are shy creatures. However, you can hear them, often you see what they have done but they know how to keep out of sight. For good reason – they’re usually shot, hunted, even poisoned. For the record, a young fox ate my daughter’s hens which inhabited their rural vicarage. You may have read on this morning’s BBC news website that more than a quarter of mammals in the UK are facing extinction, according to a detailed and devastating report drawing on the expertise from more than 70 different organisations. It also said one in seven species were threatened with extinction, and 41% of species studied have experienced decline since 1970. The report said targeted wildlife-friendly farming, supported by government grants, may have helped slow the decline in nature but not enough to halt and reverse this worrying trend. The causes of the losses are the intensification of farming, pollution from fertiliser, manure and plastic, the destruction of habitats for houses, the climate crisis and invasive alien species. Daniel Hayhow from the RSPB, lead author of the report, said: "We know more about the UK's wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board." This, of course, is of real concern to us all; at least, it should be. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, delights in the abundance of wildlife. Jesus himself specifically mentions foxes in his call for us to make our home in him: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20). Clearly he was talking about the familiar.
However, we are called not just to enjoy God’s creation; we have been tasked by God to be stewards for his world, a world which we share with an abundance of living creatures.
So we read in the very first chapter of the Bible. “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground..” (Genesis 1:26). So we get are to get involved, as consumers and as citizens. As Fred Rumsey, of the National History Museum, explains: “As individuals, progress is made in little tiny steps and if every person makes a little improvement once, and that is multiplied up by millions, then that really does make the necessary change.” This is an emergency and as Rumsey explains, we must all do our bit. The problem is often knowing what this ‘bit’ is! What about nuisance animals, such foxes or grey squirrels? But as disciples of Jesus, we are tasked to find out. We need to find out what we can do, however limited.
Christians should be known as being proactive in creation care rather than just sighing for a lost countryside. It’s a key value. To quote Pope Francis: “We must protect creation for it is a gift which the Lord has given us, it is God’s present to us; we are the guardians of creation. When we exploit creation, we destroy that sign of God’s love.” He concludes: “To destroy creation is to say to God: ‘I don’t care’. And this is not good: this is sin.” We need to rewild our imaginations.