Buxton at the heart of debate on nature

John Phillips talks to writer and naturalist Mark Cocker about a selection of nature-themed events that are taking place during the 2021 Festival.

High Peak will be the focus for the most urgent environmental issues facing the country in July when acclaimed writer Mark Cocker leads a series of debates on nature for Buxton International Festival.

Buxton-born Mark will bring leading experts face to face in order to tackle controversies ranging from badger culling to the revelation that ON AVERAGE, we British own less of our own country than anywhere else in Europe.

“Buxton is a place where nature is at the heart of the life of the town and the region. Therefore this is a place where these subjects should be debated,” said Mark, whose 12 books, essays and regular columns for The Guardian newspaper have been praised for making readers look anew at things we normally take for granted.

The Peak District as the crucible of the Mass Trespass campaign is the ideal setting for a debate on Tuesday July 13, 10am when Mark talks to two of the leading writers and activists on public access to the countryside.

Nick Hayes believes that opening up more of the countryside can help to beat the UK’s health crisis in obesity, heart disease and chronic anxiety which have been highlighted so tragically by the huge number of deaths from Covid to which these conditions contributed.

Also speaking will be Guy Shrubsole, whose research has revealed that two-thirds of land in the UK as a whole – 40 million acres – is owned by 0.36% of the population; 24m families, meanwhile, share the “urban plot” of three million acres. The notion bandied about by anti-immigration campaigners that the country is “full” is a political fantasy, he believes.

“At the top of the list for conservationists is our relationship with predators,” said Mark, whose fascination with nature began as boy exploring the fields and woods behind his home on Lightwood Road.

On July 15, he will explore this thorny topic which pits farmers, grouse moor owners and fishery managers against nature campaigners with author Mary Colwell in a conversation titled Beak, Tooth and Claw: Why Predators are Needed for a Healthy British Countryside.

“Mary Colwell’s reconciliatory approach will be a source of fascinating debate,” said Mark. “I hope we will be fired up with the energies and the stories that she is coming to tell us.”

And Richard Fortey, one of Mark’s favourite writers who can present science with an artist’s flair, will be talking to him on July 21 on how a boyhood curiosity led to a post as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum. Fortey is also an award-winning author and television presenter and noted as one of the country’s finest interpreters of nature. His nine books explore life’s development from the Big Bang to the age of Zoom.

“He is a fantastic speaker, and if you could only read one book on the development of all life, I would suggest Life: The Unauthorised Biography,” said Mark.