A Day at Hay

Rozie Apps
Friday, 7th June 2013

Rozie Apps spent a beautiful day beneath the Hereford valleys at the prestigious Hay-on-Wye Festival.

Despite the name, The Grey Valley in Hereford was bright with beautiful sunshine the morning I woke for Hay-on-Wye Festival. I was already looking forward to spending the day at the prestigious literary festival, but waking up in the stunning countryside made it all the more enjoyable. 

I have never been to Hay Festival before nor the beautiful Hay-on-Wye but I have heard many stories describing a picturesque rural town with a vibrant culture and thriving community.

I was not let down. Driving through the town to the festival site, I fully understood people's love for this border town, with its wonderful array of bookshops tucked beneath the historical buildings, the beautiful Wye river winding through the lush green valleys and the immense backdrop of steep hills mimicking the nearby Black Mountains. 

Arriving at the festival, it was a buzz of excitement. People were already meandering through the network of walkways between events and some already soaking up the warm sun in the open grass areas that were dotted with deck chairs, locally made shepherd huts and the occassional sheep pen. 

I made a quick circuit of the festival to get my bearings, peering through the windows of the different stages, restaurants and stalls. I had tickets for two events, so I sat on the grass with a coffee and soaked up the atmosphere (and a few rays).

Tony Juniper and Jim Robbins were my first event, held on the Landmarc Stage. It felt like a relaxed talk in a library, shelves of books filled the stage behind the speakers with a fairly small but homely sized area for the audience.

I was blown away within minutes. Tony Juniper spoke first and filled the first 15 minutes with astounding facts and figures from his latest book: What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? 

For those who don't know, Tony is an environmental campaigner as well as being the former executive director of Friends of the Earth and advisor to many international companies, all of which allow him to understand two differing worlds and how they connect and can work together. This has enabled his new book which I am now determined to read. 

Tony explained how economic growth is seen by policy makers as more important than nature. That there is an 'anti-nature' stance and that our government see conservation strategies by the EU as a burden to business, and because of this through the destruction of natures systems, man creates billions of pounds of loss to economies every year. 

But Tony believes nature is the basis of economic development.

He used several examples that showed the impact of destruction to nature on economies, one being the rapid decrease in the numbers of vultures in India, which are now critically endangered. The introduction of one drug for cattle meant that 40 million vultures died, which led to a huge increase in dog numbers which in turn meant more incidents of rabies, resulting in a $35 billion dollar loss to the Indian economy.

He spoke about the need for valuating natural systems but not putting a value on them. 

Jim Robbins, a journalist from Montana who has written regularly for the New York Times, spoke next, with a smiliar stance to Tony but based on trees. He was discussing his new book, The Man Who Plants Trees. He had a brilliant phrase, 'Burning the furniture' and explained how we should be humbled by the systems of nature that sustain us because we have a lot to still learn and infact know very little.

Jim used examples of how the change in climate has killed all the trees around his home that would usually survive cold winters of -300F but now barely see temperatures of 00F. He spoke of the project by David Milarch, who founded Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, who is taking shoots from the biggest trees in the world to clone them and create living libraries across the globe.

Both then discussed the importance of nature: How trees can buffer climate change, how they soak up chemicals that kill nature, how they can be used for healing and how nature as a whole is beneficial to our daily lives. 

I came away with my brain filled with facts and figures but most importantly, I felt postive. Their passion was infectious and their positivity that we all have a part to play left me feeling excited and ready to fight.

My next event was discussing buildings for the future with Ben Law, Janet Cottriel and Julia Hayes. For those who don't know, Ben appeared on Grand Designs, building his round wood timber frame home from the woodland he manages. Janet works with Passivhaus buildings, a design that focuses first on getting the building fabric right, to achieve ultra-low energy consumption in the most cost-effective manner, co-writing the book The Passivhaus Handbook. Julia eco-renovates homes.

Another interesting talk that pushed my boundaries of thinking. Working at Permaculture magazine/Permanent Publications, has led me to completely believe in using local and sustainable resources, but Andy Fryers who chaired the event, repeatedly questioned the cost, carbon footprint and generally 'is it better?'. This shook my way of thinking. I had always assumed everyone saw this as the best option. To me it is logical.

I did however think that the wider discussion of the future of sustainable building was not dealth with, and the input from Julia, although of some interest, did not fit with the ideas of Ben and Janet.

But overall it was an event that put my mind into think mode for the journey home.

I thoroughly recommend the festival to everyone. I went for one day after listening to two environmental events. Imagine how many amazing and eye-opening events you could attend over a few days. There is such a huge range, from science, literature, poetry, music, comedy and much more. I only wish I'd had more time to immerse myself.

It was also brilliant to see two Permanent Publications' authors at the event who are both very passionate about their ways of life. Simon Fairlie, author of Meat: A Benign Extravagence spoke on a panel the week before, and although I didn't attend, I was told later that his passion lead to a huge argument with a member of the NFU due to such opposing views. I think this is brilliant, as it shows the audience how important these discussions are and how there are such varying views.

I hope we will see more of our authors at Hay in the future.

Visit www.hayfestival.com to find out more.

Rozie Apps is the assistant editor at Permaculture magazine / Permanent Publications.