For those checking in for tips on outdoor marijuana cultivation, I’m sorry to disappoint. The weed in question here is Himalayan balsam: introduced into parks and gardens by Victorians with a penchant for the exotic, only to rapidly spread along the country’s arteries; the railways, canals, rivers and roads choking the embankments the length and breadth of the country. Around here each summer the river banks are garlanded in their pink flowers. They are non-native, invasive and extremely resilient, with all attempts to eradicate them having had little or no effect and like the rhododendrons are here to stay.
Which got me thinking about what constitutes a native and how long does it take to belong?
It’s a valid question with Brexit upon us and people who have lived and worked here for many years being made to feel as if they don’t really belong. Likewise, the Windrush scandal had the Home Office deporting people back to Britain’s former colony of Jamaica despite having lived here for fifty years. Their residence deemed temporary, while the South Asian community in British Uganda held British passports and were allowed to settle permanently. It seems arbitrary to say the least.
When it comes to flora and fauna the definition is quite specific, with the cut off point for native species being the erosion of the land bridge, separating us from continental Europe at the end of the last Ice Age. Alder and badgers are in, sycamore and brown hares, out – along with ourselves. We, the English/British are not the descendants of those ice age hunter-gatherers, left behind when the seas rose. We are the descendants of migrants from northern and southern Europe who came here and settled in the intervening years. The term Anglo-Saxon was loosely coined to describe the indigenous population after the Norman Conquest. Celts, Saxons, Jutes, Angles, Vikings, descendants of Roman auxiliary troops from Spain, Croatia, Romania. Groups that had over time formed a nation and a common language.
In the last millennium, communities of Flemish, Jewish, German, Irish, French, Italian, African, Caribbean, Polish and near and far eastern people have settled here. It’s part of a continuity that’s been going on for thousands of years. It doesn’t dilute our culture, it is our culture. Which brings me back to what constitutes a native and who is native?
The answer in the scientific sense is none of us. The brown hare, introduced by the Romans 1800 years ago is classed as non-native, which rules out most of us. Referring to ourselves as native or non-native is pointless, where’s the cutoff point? National identity is more about a sense of belonging, of kinship and shared cultural and social values. This applies whether your family roots here go back a generation or a millennium.
To give a few examples: Nigel Farage (French), Boris Johnson (French/Turkish) The Queen (German) Mark Ward (Anglo-Saxon). And while some of us may have been here longer than others, none of us are native in the true sense; we simply belong here.
Next month: Trespassing on the Duke of Westminster’s Land