Army Green

A few weeks ago I went to the local Army Show in Aldershot, The Home of the British Army. I posted a quick tweet on twitter to say I was there and one friend made an interesting comment;

kind of feel being green and supporting an army event is a little wrong? ;)

I'd not really thought of that, as considerate and conscientious as I normally am about all matters. It was a fair point. What is not green about the British Army? Well, there's the use of depleted-uranium warheads, armoured vehicles are not renowned for their fuel-economy, natural and human resources are used to research & develop ever more effective ways of killing people defending the nation. We could stray well into the world of ethics here in many ways, but Dave had a point.

However, apart from those simple issues that come to mind, and there could well be many more, there's no reason not to support the British Army from a green point of view. Let me explain;

I live within 50 yards of a forest with a lake in the middle of it. When you look at the aerial view of the forest and my neighbourhood you can see that my road comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of the forest. That forest, Hawley Woods, appears like a great green lung, a carbon sink, on the outskirts of my town.

The swathe of forest at the end of my road is a perfect place into which to extend the small estate where I live and build more houses. It's a very real threat as I used to live in nearby Fleet & Church Crookham in Hampshire. In this small town & village conurbation the erosion of green land has been constant - Ancells Farm, Zebon Copse, Elvetham Heath and now the Hitches Lane development. The march of "progress" has been relentless as fields have disappeared to make way for more tightly-packed modern housing estates.

Back in the Fox Lane region of Farnborough, the last remaining suburban farm down the road has made way for around 50 new houses. Yet because there are army barracks across the other side of Hawley Woods the land all belongs to the Ministry of Defence (M.O.D.) and nobody else can build on that land. The main reason for living in my current property, apart from the convenience of being between London and the south coast, easy access to rail and road links, good job prospects, relatively affluent part of the country etc is the proximity of the woodland. If the M.O.D. ever moved or closed Gibraltar Barracks, e.g. for efficiency, streamlining and cost-cutting reasons, then there is a huge likelihood that the forest would make way for housing.

So is being green and supporting the British Army at a local event wrong? Consider that Aldershot has declined socially and economically as troops have been moved away from the area to other Barracks (the Paras to Colchester, for instance) and the once-excellent Louise Margaret/Cambridge Military Hospital has been all but killed off (apart from some minor outpatient services to Frimley Park Hospital). Nearby Church Crookham lost Queen Elizabeth Barracks, home of the Ghurka Rifles, and that is now to be a housing estate where it was once the country's last wooden billet barracks and green fields.

The modernisation of the British Army has had a huge negative social & economic impact as the military has slowly left its traditional and spiritual home town of Aldershot. If the Army can treat their main home this way then what level of conservationism is there for retaining an interest in land that is "less" important?

So, is it a little wrong to support the British Army when you're a green? Very probably yes. But there is also an overwhelmingly positive aspect to the fact to the side that the Army occupy a lot of land that is often unfarmed, untouched by the public or by private interests.

If you look at the Green Party's own Peace & Defence Policy there is very little there from a green & environmental angle as most of the subjects regarding the peace & defence policy are primarily from social and ethical viewpoints. Yes, there are secondary environmental considerations there and, whilst the policy talks of simply cutting military spending you have to question all the practicalities of simply & ruthlessly executing the terms of the manifesto.

I replied to my friend with

The M.O.D. own a LOT of land 'round here. Turn my back on the forces & the land here gets built on. So no problem :-)

The very same day the BBC's Countryfile TV Show had a small piece on the Castlemartin range in Pembrokeshire where the British Army test live ammunition from their tanks. Whilst the forces might be shooting explosive rounds from 50-ton machines and doing 4 MPG, the land has never been farmed and remains one of the country's largest wild grasslands. Castlemartin is home to many rare breeds of flora & fauna and the restricted public access has maintained the green status of the place.

So were we still a little wrong? Maybe, but also a lot of right too. :)