The Dead Shrew on Dartmoor

I was walking through rolling vistas of rusty bracken and purple heather, on Dartmoor, with an unlikely straggle of lawyers and others. We’d just left Grimspound, the 4,000 year old Neolithic settlement, and were heading towards the medieval village of Widecomb-in-the-Moor. Our topic was Earth Jurisprudence – Does Earth have rights? Can human laws protect Earth rights?

By the edge of the track, I found a dead shrew, perhaps a victim of the early autumn chill. (Shrews eat nearly 30% of their body weight in food each day, just to keep alive.) Stroking its plush fur, I was reminded of the very earliest mammals, our distant ancestors, who probably resembled shrews. Shrews were on Dartmoor when the first humans arrived here, as they had been for millions of years before that. It got me thinking about what Cormac Cullinan (author of Wild Law, and with us on Dartmoor) calls the Great Jurisprudence – the patterns revealed in the Universe itself.

Shrews and humans share these patterns, which include life and death. Our legal systems may serve these patterns too – or  they may not. That Earth has a right to exist, its ecosystems, species and soils, strikes me as self-obvious. That our laws have such a right to exist is not so obvious. Earth Jurisprudence is where the Great Jurisprudence meets human jurisprudence. The death of a shrew makes sense, in terms of the Universe. Can the same be said of all our laws?

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