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The Porsche Cayennes of Larissa

One of the funnier stories to come out of the fiasco that is the Greek economy has emerged in the Athens News. Apparently a couple of years ago there were more Porsche Cayennes in the country than people declaring tax on earnings of more than 50,000 Euros. The diligent and talented citizens of the farming city of Larissa (pop. 25,000), have more Porsche Cayennes per head of population than London and New York. I can't imagine a clearer illustration of why there's as much chance of the Greeks returning to the fold of the fiscally responsible as my wife.

What's odd about this is that no Greek I have heard has made any mention of this kind of behaviour as being an issue. And how do the Germans (who are after all selling them all this kit) square the reality with the forlorn hope they won't default? It's left to people like Michael Lewis to point out that the average employee in the terminally knackered Greek railway system takes home 65,000 Euros a year. In the meantime, the feisty electorate blame bankers, markets, the Eurozone, the system, politicians, St. Paul's, global warming...

I increasingly wonder at our own sense of reality here in the UK. Society now seems so fragmented it is increasingly difficult to piece it all together - and the earnest current arguments about the City are just a small symptom of that. For example, we're currently talking to the planners about building a new house. There are issues which need to be discussed about the proposed design and landscaping. The planners seem to be very pleasant, professional people, but unfortunately, the process they are working inside now seems incomprehensible, time consuming and expensive, and guaranteed to alienate the reasonable applicant. Perhaps it should be no surprise that there are folk like our maniac ex-neighbour around, who built a house (!) in his yard without planning permission at all.

I'm not sure we haven't come to this kind of pass with conservation. I've been really disappointed by the lack of take up for the ecological services we offer; why don't landowners want ecologists on their land to recommend improvements to it? Is it price? Lack of interest? No; they don't want a conservationist on their land for the same reason homeowners wouldn't ask a planner to recommend improvements to their house. They're worried about what they might find or what they might not find. There might be rules and regulations they're not complying with or things they're doing wrong, or new guidelines to follow they weren't aware of.
Like the planners, the conservation lobby, backed as it is by the same kind of clunky heavy duty legislation, is often percieved as being an obstructive, expensive and silly extension of bureaucracy. The fact that both planners and conservationists perform a valuable economic and social function passes most people by. And conservationists are either Bill Oddie nice or they get so ANGRY they seem difficult to deal with; they are angry with Defra, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers, developers, lack of money, Jeremy Clarkson, 5th November... Because they're passionate they also get excited about - well - stuff most people find laughable or at best incomprehensible. A recent example from Facebook, without an apparent trace of irony:
Today...finally... I have seen some Tree Bees (b. hypnorum)!!!!! Life doesn't get much better than this :)
For all the work of folk like the Sainted David Attenborough (who described what we're doing as "pioneering" - what's not to like!), promoting biodiversity is to the mainstream here what paying taxes is to the mainstream in Greece. Why is it so difficult to persuade the 8.4 million watchers of the Frozen Planet, or the 41% of the population RHS research says "enjoy gardening", to grow some native flowers in their back garden? The knack for folk like us - and we'd better get it right or we'll be out of business - is to get away from the Conservation world with a capital C. It's not the RSPB membership we have to reach out to, it's the other 60 million people in the UK. There's no point promoting our or our partner charities' core values at Conservation shows; we have to be at Chelsea (and in the main bit, not the "Environment Zone") and at events like Ecobuild and the Game Fair.

On a similar theme, we're working on a project with the Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark, which is reaching out to businesses and landowners with a great product of real ecological AND commercial value. There's no point berating businesses about what they're doing wrong; there has to be a commerical incentive for doing it right, which is why this initiative is so sensible. Promoting biodiversity, like paying taxes or planning control, has a real economic and social output - but it doesn't take a marketing genius to realize you're never going to sell it that way. You'll never persuade the Greeks to give up their Cayennes and start to pay taxes on the basis that it's for the common good. It has to become the social norm.

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