Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mercia Rising: Bioregionalism in England


"A bioregion refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness – to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place." -Peter Berg & Raymond Dasmann, Reinhabiting a Separate Country, Planet Drum Foundation, 1978

Recently friends of AE in Birmingham have taken decentralisation to heart and formed a new affinity group promoting the cultural heritage of their region with the aim of building a positive, left-leaning future. Their mission statement asserts the need to remove power "away from the political centre and return it to local people." Mercia Rising will work alongside other existing Mercian groups with the aim of mainstreaming the cause whilst tying it into issues that are most pressing to ordinary people, such as loss of local services and government cuts, on a similar model to other regionalist groups in England, i.e. building more direct and local democracy.

Although Mercian identity has its origins in early medieval history, the modern political Mercia is a fairly new concept. The original Mercia movement was founded in the early 1990s by activists inspired by both their local heritage as well as green-anarchist and radical decentralist economic ideas. This group which still exists as The Acting Witan of Mercia has made great efforts to establish a radical platform for Mercia and a constitutional basis for independence. The Witan sums up its core beliefs as threefold: Co-operative Community, Organic Democracy and Ecological Sustainability, stating their objective as the "re-creation of Mercia as an autonomous and sustainable bioregion within an English confederation."

Bioregionalism is a political and cultural system based on areas defined through natural physical and environmental boundaries and thereby seeking to harmonise the relationship between human culture and the surrounding ecology in order to build a sustainable future. Surrounded by sea on all sides, Britain could be said to constitute a particular large bioregion with Mercia and others making up a system of smaller related ecoregions. England and Scotland to the north also form quite distinct entities both in terms of flora and fauna as well as their individual cultural and political differences.

The human social aspect cannot be ignored, as Bioregionalism depends on finding local solutions to local issues and for decisions and actions to be made by the people who are most affected by them. Political action must therefore be built on a human scale. Its scope cannot be wholly determined by geological and climatic boundaries, which may be huge and difficult to co-ordinate effectively across. It makes sense then to build ecological solutions around the local democratic and cultural aspirations of regions and peoples in opposition to the established, political dominance of Westminister and its ties to global corporate interests. To make this opposition effective and beneficial to all each region should co-operate equally on a confederal basis.

Bioregionalism is then a completely different and much more radical concept than the regionalism that is currently being discussed by politicians and the media. To make a positive difference to the environment and the people who live there the initiative must be taken at the grassroots level, rather than top-down solution being suggested. This is the only way we can avoid the prospect of regional assemblies which are nothing more than another layer of politicos doing the bidding of central government.

An example where a bioregional movement has been most successful in establishing itself is in the Pacific Northwest of America in the region known as Cascadia. Here a large movement has developed in recent years built around a core of eco-activism combined with a vibrant cultural expression through music, sport and food. Their immediate aims may be modest but we hope that in time Mercia Rising can contribute to such an awakening here.

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