I wrote this short story after reading a report about the increasing number of deer in the UK. The particular wording of the report made me wonder if the planet was fighting back against global warming…
There are now more deer in the UK than at any time since the last Ice Age. (BBC News, Thursday 7th March 2013)
It started with the deer.
Here in Britain their numbers had been increasing for years, but this was a sudden explosion. They were a nuisance. They nibbled their way through crops and ate young saplings. They over-spilled from the countryside and found their way into parks and gardens where they trampled floral displays and infiltrated playgrounds. In the end, scientists suggested a cull. But the strange thing was, as fast as they killed them, the deer kept coming.
The next thing was the trees.
With all the deer stripping bark and trashing tender saplings, you would have thought that there’d be fewer trees. Instead, there were more. Willow and hazel trees grew thick along the banks of streams and rivers. Ancient strains of oak tree sprang up in the middle of shopping centres. Birches, spruce and pine cracked roads and paving slabs; they grew with tremendous speed.
What was really strange was the way they attacked the new buildings first. Glass-fronted office blocks, modern estates – even those with mock-Tudor timbers or Georgian-style pediments – the trees went for them. Their strong roots riddled the foundations with cracks, let in water, encouraged subsidence. Branches thrust through windows, cracked roof tiles, blocked ventilation points. Soon buildings all over the country were being declared unsafe. People were moved into temporary housing.
Then the temperature fell. It was ironic, because global warming had finally been accepted as fact, but day after day the temperature kept dropping. The scientists checked their books and their graphs, and insisted that the next ice age wasn’t due for another 1,500 years. The climate begged to differ. People died in droves – of hypothermia, of failed crops, of frostbite and exposure.
I was so cold, I remember looking longingly at a photo of an Inuit hunter wearing polar-bear-skin trousers. They looked so cosy. You might think it cruel, but polar bears are no longer endangered, what with the expansion of the polar ice and a ready new source of food (i.e. humans).
The real shock, for those of us still at a distance from the growing ice caps, was the return of the wolves. For some people in mainland Europe, wolves and even brown bears were something they already lived with and knew how to handle. But in this country, we were clueless. We did all the wrong things. The inevitable has happened – herds of farm animals (and more than the occasional farmer) have been lost to packs of hungry wolves. In a country this small (and getting smaller) it is hard to avoid them.
The UK population is looking thin. Scotland is deep in permafrost and in England our major cities have been choked by vast, tangled forests. The power grid has been brought to its knees – though there is a lot of firewood. Large numbers of people have moved south, to France, Italy and into Africa. A reverse migration.
My family? We decided to stay. I never thought it would actually be useful to have an archaeologist as a father, but it turns out that his knowledge of flint technology and Mesolithic survival techniques are useful after all. We now live in a sort of wooden tent, with woven, wicker walls and a clay floor. There is a fire going all the time, and plenty of venison on the menu.
I do miss television and computers and iPods and going to the cinema. I don’t miss cars or homework or extra maths on a Friday afternoon.
My friends (the ones who stayed) are keen to learn about hunting and tool-making. My parents have set up a sort of forest school, and my mum’s obsession with all things Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall has finally paid off. She is collecting edible mushrooms, making nettle soup, smoking fish, stockpiling berries and generally keeping everyone well fed.
As global disasters go, it could have been worse. It’s better than one of those futures in which the whole planet is covered in water, or everyone is enslaved by mindless, gun-toting, humanoid robots. To my mind, we got off lightly.
My best friend, Marc, is worried that the ice will keep moving south – that we will have to migrate or else start building igloos. He’s not keen on snow. But I’m prepared. I am already gathering a team of huskies and learning to handle a harpoon. And I’ve still got my eye on a pair of those polar bear trousers.