Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn is back with a new blog...

Cathedral Thinking

Have you ever sent one of your mates a text or email and then got really annoyed because they didn’t reply immediately?  Or skipped a track on your playlist because you couldn’t wait the three minutes it would take to get to the one that you wanted to hear right now?  Yep, me too – we can be a pretty impatient bunch.

I got thinking about this last week when I was down in York - it was a nice summer evening so I decided that the pubs by the river could wait and strolled up to the Minster to have a wee sit outside.  No matter what your religious beliefs (or lack of) are, it’s an impressive building and a bit of an understatement to say that a lot of work went into it.  250 years of work, in fact.

York Minster (

This is worth repeating - it took 250 years to build York Minster.  So, the people who wanted a cathedral and designed it never got to see it finished.  Nobody they ever knew got to see it finished.  Neither their grandchildren nor their great-grandchildren got to see it finished.  Yet they still went ahead and started the events that led to the building we see today.  This needed vision and foresight, and it was all done with the absolute knowledge that they wouldn’t see the finished product.  It is as far from instant gratification as you can get.  Imagining and starting long-term projects that you will never see finished – there’s a name for it, Cathedral Thinking.

I think it’s brilliant that people are willing to do things that they know they won’t see come to fruition but it requires you to believe in two things.  You need to believe that there is a future.  Ducking back quickly to York Minster, one hundred years into the build the Black Death hit and by some accounts over half of the entire population of England was killed by bubonic plague.  It must have seemed like the world was ending but they carried on. 

And it also requires you to believe that the people in that future will continue what you started - that they will still be driven by the same emotions and feelings as we are, that they will share the same values and be inspired by the same things.

I blogged recently about the ‘State of Nature’ report and how we all need to start doing our bit for wildlife, to start putting something back.  And we need some quick hits – helping create a pond which newts will soon make home, planting flowers for bees and butterflies. 

Good for nature, good for you.

But as I looked out the train on the way back to Inverness at the passing countryside, I thought we need Cathedral Thinking for nature too.  Just as someone once looked at a flat, empty spot in Yorkshire and could think of it being filled with a magnificent cathedral, we can imagine a different kind of countryside.  One of old forests, of animals now extinct in Britain that we can bring back, of large areas connected together and not just poor fragments.       

None of us will live to see all of it happen but we can make a start.  And the millions of people whose lives will be enriched by these places and who we will never know will be so glad we did.