This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Here's an extract from a speech by Hilary Benn, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which he gave on 28 June 2007. After this excerpt, the speech continues in a more prosaic vein: But these are surely sentiments that our political leaders must come to air more openly and frequently. It makes for a refreshing break from the usual appeal to "sustainable natural resource exploitation being a pre-requisite for continued economic growth"!

My wife and I were discussing yesterday what I should say about my interest in the natural world. She said. “Tell them about our oak trees”.

We’ve been planting oaks from seed, and ash, and silver birch on a nature reserve - 8 acres of former farmland in Essex - for some 20 years now. The tallest oak is 15 feet or so, and the trees we have planted and those that nature has brought share the land with adders, foxes, and lots of lots of brambles that I go and do battle with whenever I can. It is my idea of relaxation. It’s a lot easier than doing this job! And every time I walk down the path, and wend my way through the narrow opening into the reserve, I feel the same sense of anticipation.

And why do we feel like this? Because nature is part of our soul.

I use the word ‘soul’ because this is a fundamental part of all of us. Of our identity. Of where we come from.

There are few things that can lift the spirit, or inspire a sense of freedom, as time spent – however fleetingly – with nature.

A glance out of the window of a train. The first crocus of spring. Even if you have spent your entire life in a city and have never before seen the mountains or the downs – looking out for the first time across the still waters of the Blackwater Estuary as dawn breaks, or gazing up at Scafell Pike from Great Moss, or catching a glimpse of the Seven Sisters from Birling Gap, or hearing the buzz of a bumblebee jumping from flower to flower, who would not feel a sense of awe and wonder at the astonishing biodiversity of landscape that this small island reveals unto us?

To be disconnected from nature is to be disconnected from the earth itself. It is not simply self-preservation that urges us to confront the threat of climate change. It is also our love for the soil from which we came and to which we will – one day - all return, in my case under one of my oak trees.