Peter Bunyard on The Ecologist, Teddy Goldsmith, James Lovelock and Gaia
Peter Bunyard was a founding editor of the
era-defining 'Ecologist' magazine, which for nearly twenty years was
based near Wadebridge in Cornwall. Phone interview by Rupert White.
What were you doing before you
became involved with The Ecologist?
I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, then went to Harvard and did
post-graduate research on insect physiology. I came back to the UK in
the mid 60's and drifted into feeling concerned about the environment.
Did anything in particular prompt these
Nothing particularly concrete, but I’d read Silent Spring by Rachel
Carson and that had stuck in my mind.
there equivalent writers in the UK at that time?
There was Kenneth Mellanby at some point in the late sixties. But the
big trigger that brought the people who were the first editors of the
Ecologist together, was an article in the Sunday Times written by Norman
Lewis on the genocide of Amazon Indians in Brazil: something which was
fomented by the Brazilian government. It was a horrendous story, which
included dropping measles-contaminated blackets on villages and
settlements of uncontacted Indians. It was part of a process of land
reform, whereby people were induced to go into the Amazon and start
clearing the rainforest. I just had this vision when I read the article,
that our own Western civilisation would collapse once we’d cleared the
Indians from the Amazon. At that time it was a really apocalyptic
Then I met Teddy Goldsmith in London, and he invited me and one or two
others to join him in getting The Ecologist off the ground.
And the offices were originally near Charing Cross?
Yes, in Craven Street which runs next to the station. Because of that
article in the Sunday Times a lot of people were brought together.
Hanbury-Tenison (above) became the director of what was initially known
as the Primitive People's Fund – dreadful name – now called Survival
That was the catalyst for The Ecologist. But the magazine got off to an
appalling start. Teddy had hired a chap as editor-in-chief who was a
journalist rather than being fundamentally concerned with environmental
issues, and he fell foul of Teddy and was fired.
Is that when 'Blueprint for Survival' came out? It proved very
influential and I understand it formed the basis of the first Green
I think by that point production had shifted to Teddy’s house in Kew.
Limits of Growth produced by MIT in Boston wasn't exactly an
inspiration, but it gave strength to the arguments in Blueprint for
'Blueprint' there is a big emphasis on living in small sustainable
communities. And there was the important concept of the 'stable
Teddy, on rational and ideological grounds, believed in a hierarchy of
integrated processes, with the wellbeing of the planet being maintained
by small, stable societies. And because they were stable and were living
sustainably, like an indigenous culture, this would lead to planetary
Some years later when Lovelock came up with his Gaia hypothesis, it
fitted very neatly into the notion that life itself would in fact
develop a stable climate, and that evolution was fundamentally leading
towards the stability of the planet. Gaia-in -being. That all fitted in
with The Ecologist's belief system.
Michael Cardew, the potter who lived
near you in North Cornwall, was dedicated to the principle of hand-made
rather than factory-produced objects, and the kinds of communities that
emerge as a result. There are some interesting areas of overlap.
Yes. Definitely. I'm sure youre right about that. I knew Cardew, though
he was in his eighties then. And craftsmanship where the individual is
concerned with his own well- being fits nicely into the framework.
Why did The Ecologist move to Cornwall?
It came about because the explorer Hanbury-Tenison was living in
Cornwall, and still is - near Bodmin (Cardinam). He and Teddy were close
at that time and I know that he and Ben Messer-Bennetts came up for the
party in Kew after 'Blueprint for Survival' had been published. I think
there was a strong feeling of the need to get 'back to the land' to try
and make a community of sorts down here.
It wasn’t exactly a cooperative community, but it was a community of all
the people involved with The Ecologist. And so we all came to Withiel.
the move was also an attempt to put some of the ideas in Blueprint into
Absolutely. It was 1972 when we came down. We all lived near each other,
but in separate houses. People were selling up at the time and it was
quite easy to find properties.
Mike Allaby, Robert Allen, myself and Teddy, who had invited his Oxford
friend Jeremy Faull down. Teddy had bought a farm with two houses on it,
and sold half the farm to Jeremy. They were called Bosneves and Whitehay
(Whitehay pictured left).
called Lawellen Farm. The farms were all quite different really.
Lawellen was the most radical I suppose. Teddy wanted to be organic and
at one point they had South Devon cows. Teddy and Jeremy were running
their farm together.
I used to sell milk, and in fact some of the milk I produced went across
the little river here to Jeremy Faull's barn to make the cheese that
came to be called Yarg. So Yarg started here, and it was milk from my
Jerseys and Guernseys which kicked off its production. I also had goats,
and pigs. I had two working horses, using them in place of a tractor.
But it floundered because it was all-encompassing in terms of time, and
with no money coming in, I had a mortgage. But there were some
successes. In the dry summer of 1976 my fields were the only ones that
were still green! I had sown a deep-rooting crop. Meera Behn, the lady
who was with Gandhi in India sent me a lot of books about living on the
land, and organic farming. Meera Behn was the name that Gandhi gave her.
It wasn't completely communal living: you shared resources, but it
sounds like you still lived in conventional nuclear families, for
And during this time you kept The Ecologist going, printed in
Callington, with an office in Wadebridge itself...
Once we were ensconced in Cornwall, we would have semi-formal editorial
meetings in Wadebridge (73, Molesworth Street), where we discussed
issues and content. Later, when the production moved to Worthyvale
Manor, Slaughterbridge, Camelford, the discussion about content and
editing in general took place more informally at Whitehay, in Teddy's
booklined library (picture above). It was always a little haphazard in
terms of what to include.
Much later, once Teddy had moved to Richmond, where he had an Ecologist
Office, Simon Retallack took over the editing; that is after fracas with
Nicholas Hildyard. We then produced some special issues such as the one
on climate change and its consequences. That was one of the best issues
ever, and quite prescient.
during the 70s and 80s you personally had a number of books published...
There was a book I wrote with Michael Allaby. We didn't see eye-to-eye,
so the book took the form of a debate and it was called The Politics of
Self-sufficiency (Oxford University Press - right). And I wrote books
against nuclear power during those years.
James Lovelock was a near neighbour at
In the late 80's we saw quite a lot of Jim. And on three successive
years (starting in 1988) Teddy and I arranged symposia on Gaia, and we
published the proceedings. They took place in Camelford at Worthyvale
A couple of years after that I published a book Gaia in Action in which
I picked some of the most interesting contributions to those meetings.
And I think its a good account of scientists’ thinking about the earth
from a Gaian point of view; in terms of its evolution. Mae Wan Ho was
one of the contributors, and Brian Goodwin and James Lovelock and Lynn
Jim Lovelock was living on the Devon-Cornwall border, but his postcode
Another near neighbour
would have been Satish Kumar who moved to Devon in 1978 and, and well as
being heavily involved with Dartington Hall, edited
Magazine from his base in Hartland.
Did you have much contact
with Resurgence? Were the magazines
mutually supportive or were they essentially in competition?
indeed there were strong connections between Teddy Goldsmith and Satish
and therefore between the two magazines. I don't think they were ever
rivals in the sense that they appealed to distinctly different aspects
of environmentalism; The
Ecologist being more concerned with the physical, mechanistic aspects,
such as we employed in the arguments against big dams, nuclear power,
deforestation, climate change among other issues (Monsanto!) whereas
Resurgence - as you are well
aware - delved more deeply
into the poetic, sensual aspects of environmentalism. Lots of
cross-over, inevitably, but Satish avoided delving into the details of
I am not sure of Satish's motives in moving
Resurgence to Devon, but I would imagine they wouldn't have been so
dissimilar to those which moved us to Cornwall.
Perhaps it's worth mentioning that for
several years the Ecology students of the International Honors Program
(Boston, Mass) spent a little time at Schumacher and were exposed to
Satish (a great favourite), Stephan Harding and Brian Goodwin. The
Ecology programme had been elaborated by Teddy Goldsmith, together with
Maiwan, Peter Saunders, Brian Goodwin and myself.
The fact that The Ecologist has now merged
into Resurgence while still keeping some of its character (admittedly
much reduced) shows a certain compatibility between the two magazines.
Can you think of other events that
were significant during the
period that The Ecologist was in Cornwall?
There was the whole business of the intention to build a nuclear power
station down here. That was 1981, in Luxuylan (picture below). The
elecricity board, CEGB, came down and carried out some drilling on the
site where they were considering building a power station. And for six
months we managed to hold the CEGB at bay.
CND were not involved at the time. They’d got it wrong about civil
nuclear power which they thought was fine. But they changed their tune
later on when it was discovered that plutonium was being shipped to the
States in return for tritium so we could make our hydrogen bombs. It all
came out in the Sizewell B public enquiry.
you Involved with wind-farm in Delabole?
No, but I knew Peter Edwards, and it was a fantastic move on his part.
His was the first wind-farm in the UK. Then there was the wind-farm on
St Breock Downs, where there was a lot of protesting. And I made it
clear that I was so much in favour.
I am in favour of wind, though not so much the way individual farmers
have set up machines in various places. People in the locality of
wind-farms should have some share in them, so that they would be seen to
be helping the local communities where they are sited. I think that's
being considered, and I’ve always thought that was the right way to
Why did The Ecologist move away from Cornwall, where it had been
based for nearly 20 years?
Nicholas Hildyard became involved. He and I had an arrangement in the
late 80's, whereby for two years one would edit The Ecologist, and then
the other would.
I edited it for two years, then when Nick took it over he did a deal
with Teddy that he would take The Ecologist with him to Dorset. At that
time he was establishing The Cornerhouse, and he took it away from
Cornwall and when he did, it changed. The people who were with him at
The Cornerhouse were radical and strongly feminist on one front. And
Teddy at that time felt quite alienated from the Ecologist. Then there
was a row between Nick and Teddy about an article that Nick had
published that suggested that Teddy's views could be interpreted as a
kind of neo-fascism. And this dismayed Teddy.
At that time Zac Goldsmith was in his early 20's. He'd been looked after
by Helena Norberg-Hodge and he'd gone to Ladakh as a result of that.
Helena was based in Totnes, Dartington at the time. Zac then became
editor of the Ecologist, and that's when it went back to London.
What have you been doing more recently?
I've been going to Colombia a lot. In the last three years, after 50
years break, I've gone back into doing research. And my research is
looking at an interesting theory called the 'biotic pump theory' which
has got up the nostrils of climate scientists who originally said the
theory is rubbish.
Having read the scientific articles by two Russian scientists, I was
really hit by how very Gaian those articles are, but with absolute
fundamental physics underlying them. So I've built an experiment here
that is about 5 metres high in a field, and I have convinced myself and
a few others that they are right. Which means that all the other climate
models are wrong in terms of how they understand the processes of
convection whereby the air masses move in different parts of the planet.
And what it means is that the forest is far, far more important than is
given credit, even by those who are really wanting to conserve and