Verity delves into the environmental economics undergrowth. 

Our peaceful piece of suburbia is feeling particularly tame at the moment.  A far cry from the perilous encounters to be had in the new, wilded English countryside.

Our adventure began with Arabella Bush’s letter which arrived out of the blue two months ago. We were schoolgirls together at Camberwell Ladies College where she was well known for spending hours with her nose in Debretts. Her early research had clearly paid dividends and she had married into an estate.

A planned visit from Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Cambridge economist, had prompted her letter. She needed someone economically literate to entertain him and had remembered our old friendship.  Dasgupta wanted to experience real Natural Capital for himself having just published 600 pages on its economics for Her Majesty’s Treasury.

I was not sure how to respond to her letter. For a start Dasgupta might be a top Cambridge economist but his previous research in environmental economics was minimal. This was an area that I had worked on extensively in the 90s with the lovely David Pierce. I was clearly much better qualified for this work and apparently, I was on HMT’s list of candidates to do this work.  So this invitation was somewhat bitter-sweet.

However Thomas, my husband, was very excited by it.  He had read Arabella’s bestselling book about the rewilding of her Kept Castle Estate – who knew she could write? And he was very keen to visit. Apart from anything it would save us the quite hefty cost of the paid “safari”.

So on a rather lovely day we arrived at the castle to be welcomed by Arabella with her many unruly dogs. Arabella seemed to keep her dogs as wild as her estate.  She eventually managed to call them off and we joined Dasgupta for a welcome drink. 

Surprisingly he was charming and even seemed to know about my work. What a joy to spend time again with someone who spoke the same language.  Meanwhile Thomas fawned over Arabella like she was some pop star.  She was showing him all the family portraits covering the 800 years of the family’s pedigree.  Apparently the family had a longer pedigree than the dogs.

Eventually Arabella dressed head to toe in tweed, loaded us into her old Land Rover with a substantial picnic.

The “safari” was impressive.  The landscape was more African bush than English countryside.  Herds of cattle roamed free and the range of birdlife was astonishing.  Arabella gave a remarkably well-informed commentary.  Thomas was in continuous raptures and Dasgupta even seemed excited, unusual for a Cambridge academic.

We eventually stopped at a glorious location with a view towards the sea, which Arabella announced was our picnic spot.  She then set out a spectacular spread of country fare which she laid out on a blanket of ancient tweed.

It was then that we were joined unexpectedly by the European Bison. This huge imposing beast trotted over to us flaring his nostrils. Clearly he thought he owned this spot.

Chaos ensued.  Arabella screamed and ran for it. Clearly this was a level of wilderness too much for her.  Dasgupta had been sitting down and now tried his best to crawl away as fast as possible through the undergrowth leaving his dignity behind.  Thomas and I were just frozen to the spot staring at this huge beast as it began to eat our picnic.

It was then that we heard the strange sound of clicks, coughs and splutters. Turning I saw the source. A man with a long beard who looked as wild as the bison.  He appeared to be communicating with the beast. The bison stopped eating, bent one knee as if acknowledging the man and began to back away.  It was a masterful display of calm and communication.

The man took our arms and guided us gently but firmly towards the land rover.  As he did so, he spoke reassuringly into our ears with a warm burr to his accent: “My name is Ted and I learnt this technique from aboriginals during my time spent in the Australian outback.  I know this place well as I was the gamekeeper here as was my father and his father.  Please do not tell Arabella, as I am living wild on the estate. She evicted me from my estate cottage when she wanted it for a B&B”.  Then he left us as mysteriously as he had arrived.

The rest of the day is somewhat of a blur.  We were in shock.  Dasgupta crawled over to join us still clearly in fear for his life. Arabella eventually re-appeared with soiled tweed. She had tripped over in her flight and landed face down in dung.  Somehow we made it back to the castle, made our apologies and headed home.  Maybe Natural Capital has more value theoretically than when it is up close and personal.  Our apartment does seem mercifully safe.

Verity Bastion

Verity is an emeritus professor of economics now living in a retirement apartment with her husband, Thomas, after a distinguished career. She writes a regular column for The Mint on …

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