Speak­ing up for Na­ture

Na­ture con­ser­va­tion can take many forms, from breed­ing dormice to doc­u­men­taries, paint­ing to po­lit­i­cal lob­by­ing. Kate Green looks at what’s changed in the move­ment dur­ing the past 120 years and asks lead­ing fig­ures to nom­i­nate their heroes and in­spi­ra­tion

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Kate Green looks at what’s changed in the con­ser­va­tion move­ment in 120 years and lead­ing fig­ures name their heroes and in­spi­ra­tions

When Coun­try Life was first pub­lished in 1897, the words con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­ment were barely in the lex­i­con; they hadn’t be­come providers of em­ploy­ment, sub­jects of heated de­bate or po­lit­i­cal foot­balls and ba­nana skins. There were no na­tional parks, na­ture re­serves, bio­di­ver­sity quo­tas or Govern­ment quan­gos; no celebri­ties protest­ing and no daz­zling film­ing tech­niques.

The weather was a peren­nial topic, but climate change wasn’t. Land hadn’t been ploughed up to feed the na­tion through two World Wars and hard times be­yond, nor been riven by mo­tor­ways and high-speed trains. Rivers weren’t pol­luted by DDT and organophos­phates (now banned); hay mead­ows, ponds and or­chards pro­lif­er­ated.

Pine martens, beavers, coypu and lynx had long gone, chiefly ex­ter­mi­nated by keep­ers pro­tect­ing game birds a cen­tury ago. The few an­i­mal char­i­ties and laws in ex­is­tence fo­cused on do­mes­tic cru­elty rather than sav­ing wildlife; col­lect­ing birds’ eggs and pin­ning but­ter­flies to boards were ed­u­ca­tional hob­bies and ivory col­lect­ing was rife.

Bird ring­ing, which helped to fire cit­i­zen con­ser­va­tion, didn’t start un­til about 1909 —Coun­try Life was a pi­o­neer—when some peo­ple still be­lieved Vic­to­rian nat­u­ral­ist Gil­bert White’s the­ory that swal­lows spent the winter un­der ponds (the phe­nom­e­non of mi­gra­tion is still not fully un­der­stood).

Deer weren’t a nui­sance nor hedge­hogs en­dan­gered and no one en­vis­aged that a project to bring the great bus­tard back to Sal­is­bury Plain would get an eu grant of €2 mil­lion. The anti-hunt­ing move­ment hardly ex­isted, but the poet D. W. nash had fore­seen change —and not for the bet­ter—in The Fox’s Prophecy (1871): ‘For swiftly o’er the level shore/the waves of progress ride; The an­cient land­marks one by one/shall sink be­neath the tide.’

none of this is to say that the state of the land­scape was not of in­ter­est in the 19th cen­tury: Ruskin and Wordsworth pro­moted the value of beauty, landown­ers planted great trees and the Rspb—which emily Wil­liamson founded as The Plumage League in protest at birds be­ing killed for hat feath­ers—be­gan.

‘To­day, we can all be con­ser­va­tion­ists, through vol­un­teer­ing and sur­vey­ing ’

In north Amer­ica, a Scots­man, John Muir, was cam­paign­ing to pre­serve Yosemite. Demon­strat­ing that the wheel keeps turn­ing, the ‘fa­ther of na­tional parks’ de­scribed sheep as ‘hoofed lo­custs’ and was soon em­broiled in a jour­nal­is­tic row about graz­ing wild ar­eas that could have come straight out of George Mon­biot’s Guardian blog.

Un­til farm­ing sub­si­dies and set-aside ar­rived in the 1980s, con­ser­va­tion ef­forts were chiefly down to ma­jor landown­ers; their al­tru­ism and vi­sion are still key. Rewil­d­ing projects such as those of Sir Charles Bur­rell at Knepp Cas­tle in West Sus­sex (Coun­try Life, March 30, 2016), where pur­ple em­peror but­ter­flies, tur­tle doves and nightin­gales flour­ish, and Dan­ish bil­lion­aire An­ders Povl­son at Glen­feshie in Scot­land, where ca­per­cail­lie and black grouse have been re­stored, would be dif­fi­cult with­out time, space and other in­come streams.

Field sports­men have also played their part in mon­i­tor­ing species, al­though there can be a wider un­will­ing­ness to recog­nise this. In The Ot­ter’s Tale, au­thor Si­mon Cooper writes: ‘It is counter-in­tu­itive I know, but when it came to habi­tat pro­tec­tion and pre­vent­ing un­con­trolled ex­ter­mi­na­tion, the hunts were the ot­ter’s best friend.’ Sir Peter Scott, who founded the Wild­fowl & Wet­lands Trust, was an ar­dent wild­fowler who drew at­ten­tion to the threat to wa­ter­birds from the recla­ma­tion of marshes. In 1938, he wrote in Coun­try Life that the shoot­ing sea­son should be short­ened and for­malised: ‘Who, amongst true wild­fowlers, would not at once will­ingly forego a month of his shoot­ing sea­son to en­sure that the mu­sic of the wild geese may be heard over the moon­lit marshes far into the fu­ture?’

Sin­gle-species devo­tion might look ec­cen­tric to some, but it tends to be ef­fec­tive, as evinced by MP Richard Benyon’s restora­tion of lap­wings, the Duke of nor­folk’s ef­forts with grey par­tridges, the late Philip Wayre’s mis­sion to put ot­ters back into english rivers, The Prince of Wales’s sup­port for red squir­rels, An­drew hood­less’s fas­ci­na­tion with wood­cock mi­gra­tion, Derek Gow’s cham­pi­oning of beavers and wa­ter voles and RSPB tri­umphs with red kites, choughs and bit­terns.

To­day, we can all be con­ser­va­tion­ists, through vol­un­teer­ing, sur­vey­ing, grow­ing plants for bees, clear­ing wa­ter­ways, plant­ing or­chards, dig­ging ponds, putting up owl boxes, feed­ing birds and leav­ing piles of dead leaves for hedge­hogs to curl up in.

We take as ex­am­ples peo­ple from myr­iad spheres, from peer­less pre­sen­ter Sir David At­ten­bor­ough to the wildlife­friendly farmer down the road, po­lit­i­cal fig­ures who bravely change their minds, such as Mark Ly­nas (on ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) crops), the late Green­peace leader Stephen Tin­dale (on nu­clear en­ergy) and Jim Bar­ring­ton (hunt­ing), as well as those with a ready-made public plat­form such as The Prince, or­ganic pi­o­neer and re­storer of mead­ows, or Jeremy Pax­man rais­ing aware­ness of chalk­stream de­cline. We’ve been in­spired by artists —Archibald Thor­burn and his nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor Rodger Mcphail —and lyri­cal writ­ers Gavin Maxwell, Robert Mac­far­lane and Adam Ni­chol­son; by sci­en­tists Dave Goul­son on bum­ble­bees, the late Dick Potts on ce­real eco-sys­tems and bee­tle banks and Alas­tair Leake at the Aller­ton Project, which ex­per­i­ments with the ef­fects of farm­ing meth­ods on wildlife. We've also been fired by the en­ergy of Sir John Lis­ter-kaye, who ed­u­cates thou­sands of school­child­ren through his field cen­tre at Glen Af­fric in the High­lands. In In­her­i­tors of the Earth, a work pub­lished only this month (Pen­guin Ran­dom

House), au­thor Chris Thomas sug­gests we should not be down­cast at per­ceived fail­ures in con­ser­va­tion; the sub­ti­tle of his book is How Na­ture is Thriv­ing in an Age

of Ex­tinc­tion. His thought-pro­vok­ing ap­proach is that we should be less pes­simistic: ‘Rather than swim against the tide of eco­log­i­cal and evo­lu­tion­ary change, we should re­mem­ber that the old was once new.’ Evo­lu­tion is con­tin­u­ous, he says: ‘Rare species be­com­ing com­mon and com­mon species rare is not a hu­man-cre­ated phe­nom­e­non that has been in­vented in the past few cen­turies.’

Here, we ask fig­ures in the con­ser­va­tion move­ment to name their in­spi­ra­tions. Who have we missed? Many, no doubt. Let us know through coun­trylife_let­ters@timeinc.com ➢

Si­mon Lester, for­mer game­keeper

The broad­caster and botanist David Bel­lamy has in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm; he was an in­sti­ga­tor of prag­matic con­ser­va­tion and did great work re­mov­ing non-na­tive species in Aus­tralia.

The Duke of Buc­cleuch helped fund the Langholm Moor Demon­stra­tion Project, which con­cludes this year. It was a brave, hon­ourable and ex­pen­sive step, but he could see that, if the hu­man as­pects of the grouse/rap­tor con­flict were not re­solved, then sus­tain­able con­ser­va­tion of the up­lands was in jeop­ardy.

Lind­say Wad­dell was one of the most re­spected game­keep­ers and the go-to up­lands ex­pert for Govern­ment.

Mary Col­well, ra­dio pro­ducer, has drawn at­ten­tion to the plight of the curlew and the hen har­rier, two very dif­fer­ent birds, but in­volv­ing many of the same ad­vo­cates. She isn’t fright­ened to raise in­con­ve­nient truths.

Mark Hedges, Edi­tor of Coun­try Life

Steve Tap­per’s pa­per A Ques­tion of

Bal­ance, which puts the case that bio­di­ver­sity has to be man­aged to be main­tained, is a sem­i­nal work and Henry Wil­liamson’s books il­lus­trate the in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity of Na­ture so well.

Owen Wil­liams, artist, founder of the Wood­cock Net­work

I was 14 when I read Sir Peter Scott’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy The Eye of the Wind and it served as a huge in­spi­ra­tion to fol­low in his foot­steps and, like him, turn my pas­sion for Na­ture and shoot­ing into a ca­reer as an artist. My path through shoot­ing to sport­ing artist and to learn­ing more about wood­cock through ring­ing has some par­al­lels with my hero, al­though I could never claim to be any­where near his equal.

Robin Page, chair­man of the Coun­try­side Restora­tion Trust

Dame Miriam Roth­schild, with her great knowl­edge of wild­flow­ers, in­sects and hay mead­ows, was a great en­cour­age­ment to me, as was Gor­don Ben­ing­field who, with Miriam, ed­u­cated me into the world of but­ter­flies. Gor­don had dyslexia, but be­came so elo­quent through his art and his talk­ing.

Dot Ea­ton, who suc­ceeded with breed­ing dormice where sci­en­tists failed, has never had proper recog­ni­tion for this.

George Adam­son, who did so much for Africa, was calm, ded­i­cated and knew what he was do­ing, de­spite op­po­si­tion—he paid the ul­ti­mate price.

David Bel­lamy is an­other who said what he thought and suf­fered for it—it’s a great prob­lem that many in the con­ser­va­tion world have closed minds.

David Pro­fumo, au­thor and fish­ing cor­re­spon­dent

The nat­u­ral world is a poorer place for the death this month of the in­de­fati­ga­ble Ice­lander Orri Vigfús­son. Al­most 30 years ago, hor­ri­fied at the re­lent­less de­cline in At­lantic-salmon pop­u­la­tions, he founded the North At­lantic Salmon Fund, which was ded­i­cated to end­ing in­ter­cept­ing-mixed­stock fish­eries, and raised huge sums of money to buy out com­mer­cial net­ting op­er­a­tions on both sides of the At­lantic.

Orri was a prac­ti­cal ne­go­tia­tor who re­spected the his­toric rights of nets­men and com­pen­sated them by ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tive means of liveli­hood while leav­ing stocks of Salmo salar alone. Not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ated my old friend’s mav­er­ick style, but gen­er­a­tions of salmon reached their na­tal head­wa­ters as a re­sult and, by heaven, he got things done.

Martin Harper, RSPB con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor

Rachel Car­son’s work on pes­ti­cides rev­o­lu­tionised our re­la­tion­ship with chem­i­cals while lead­ing the way for the en­vi­ron­men­tal awak­en­ing of the 1960s. The au­thor of

Silent Spring (1962) was the epit­ome of brav­ery and bril­liance when con­vey­ing some in­con­ve­nient truths about the im­pacts of pes­ti­cides on wildlife. She stood up for those with­out voices and, de­spite ill health, threat of le­gal ac­tion and char­ac­ter assassination, never backed down in the face of the pow­er­ful. Rachel showed that change can hap­pen de­spite the odds.

An­drew Sells, chair­man of Nat­u­ral Eng­land

Tris­tan Voor­spuy may have had some­thing of In­di­ana Jones about him, but that shouldn’t ob­scure his pas­sion for Na­ture. Best known for his horse­back sa­faris and

White Mis­chief-style life, he was one of Africa’s finest con­ser­va­tion­ists, fol­low­ing such names such as the Craig fam­ily at Lewa Downs. In 1999, he and friends bought Sosian, a 24,000-acre ranch that had been heav­ily grazed. Ten years later, it had 6,000-plus ele­phants and many other species, demon­strat­ing how farm­ing and con­ser­va­tion can live side by side. This month, 800 peo­ple came to a Northamp­ton­shire church to pay trib­ute to this great con­tem­po­rary, who died de­fend­ing the land he loved.

Charles Nod­der, Na­tional Game­keep­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion

Sir Peter Scott was not only an in­spired or­gan­iser, found­ing the World­wide Fund for Na­ture (with The Duke of Ed­in­burgh), but also an in­tu­itive con­ser­va­tion­ist, in­formed as much by per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion as his pioneering work on net­ting geese to ring them. His jour­ney from wild­fowler to wild­fowl con­ser­va­tor is well doc­u­mented, but he al­ways had room in his mind for bird hunters as well as bird hug­gers. He was not a one-track con­ser­va­tion­ist, but en­joyed a rounded life that lent a per­spec­tive many of to­day’s sin­gle-is­sue, re­search-based con­ser­va­tion­ists seem to lack.

John Lewis-stem­pel, farmer and au­thor of The Run­ning Hare

My heroes are the great Bri­tish public— those who pay their Na­tional Trust subs, vol­un­teer for the Wildlife Trusts and help save the green belt—the peo­ple who al­ways save Bri­tain.

I ad­mire Sir Peter Scott for Slim­bridge, Robin Page for be­ing a yeo­man voice against the twin per­ils of agri-busi­ness and Rousseauian ‘re-wild­ing’—our most threat­ened habi­tat is the farm­land he adores—and Denys Watkins-pitch­ford (‘B.B.’). His chil­dren’s books, es­pe­cially the ‘gnome’ nov­els, taught two, per­haps three gen­er­a­tions to ap­pre­ci­ate the coun­try­side. Those chil­dren are now the great Bri­tish public.

Lord Deben, for­mer En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary

No one has spo­ken of the nat­u­ral world to ur­ban man more directly than Ger­ard Man­ley Hopkins. Long be­fore peo­ple spoke of ecol­ogy, he high­lighted a planet ‘bleared, smeared with toil’ that ‘wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell’. When en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism was not a word, his heart soared with the wind­hover and his eye caught the flash of the king­fisher and be­fore there were con­ser­va­tion­ists, he fought the de­struc­tion of Bin­sey Po­plars and ex­pressed the pain and in­sult of their fall. Hopkins reached into the heart of the Cre­ation and led gen­er­a­tions to un­der­stand the glory of the nat­u­ral world that we have been lent and yet see fit to de­stroy.

Stephen Moss, au­thor of Wild King­dom and TV pro­ducer Derek Moore was a giant of UK wildlife con­ser­va­tion. He helped cre­ate the Scrape at Mins­mere and, as di­rec­tor of the Suf­folk Wildlife Trust, pi­o­neered open ac­cess to re­serves, worked with farm­ers to cre­ate habi­tats and was a true evan­ge­list for Na­ture. Be­fore his un­timely death in 2014, he in­spired many, in­clud­ing Chris Pack­ham, Iolo Wil­liams and mem­bers of the youth group A Fo­cus on Na­ture. Gre­gar­i­ous and in­spir­ing, he em­bod­ied a prac­ti­cal, vi­sion­ary ap­proach to sav­ing Bri­tain’s wildlife.

Teresa Dent, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the GWCT

Aldo Leopold is the Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tion­ist who his­tor­i­cally in­spired the GWCT. He de­vel­oped the con­cept of game man­age­ment as a sci­ence; he didn’t be­lieve in sim­ply pro­tect­ing Na­ture from the hand of Man, but in Man learn­ing to man­age wildlife bet­ter. He worked with farm­ers, his writ­ing giv­ing them prac­ti­cal ad­vice, pep­pered with tales from his own Wis­con­sin farm, but also seek­ing to in­spire them with a love of both their game and wildlife. His book A Sand County Al­manac should be com­pul­sory read­ing.

Ross Mur­ray, CLA pres­i­dent

My old friend Chris Swift calls him­self a crofter, but, re­ally, he’s a highly ac­com­plished farmer and nat­u­ral­ist, whose farm near Beauly in In­ver­ness-shire is a haven of wildlife. He was an early adopter of beavers, cre­ator of var­ied habi­tats, a birder never with­out binoc­u­lars and a wood­cock ob­ses­sive. When he goes to some­one else’s farm, he in­spires and en­cour­ages them to look through greener eyes. His epi­taph will be ‘Crofter and Con­ser­va­tion­ist’.

Kathryn Bradley-hole, Coun­try Life Gar­dens Edi­tor

It’s won­drous that Ger­ald Dur­rell has been brought into the con­scious­ness of new gen­er­a­tions through tele­vi­sion dra­mas. Like Sir Ed­win Lu­tyens and Dame Miriam Roth­schild, he was in­ter­mit­tently schooled at home, but his in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity fired a pas­sion for nat­u­ral his­tory that im­pacted on the world stage. His en­ter­tain­ing au­to­bi­ogra­phies were of­ten un­der­pinned by a se­ri­ous mes­sage and, through gifted com­mu­ni­ca­tion and hard graft, he in­spired gen­er­a­tions to care about the fragility of ev­ery­thing, from go­ril­las to rain­forests; his legacy is ev­ery­where.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, au­thor of The Fight for Beauty

We owe so much to the Na­tional Trust founder Oc­tavia Hill. She cam­paigned for ‘open-air sit­ting rooms for the poor’, mak­ing the case for a green belt to con­tain ur­ban sprawl, the need to pro­vide parks as well as new hous­ing and to cre­ate small green spa­ces close to where peo­ple live. She be­lieved that ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to ex­pe­ri­ence beauty and she never rested un­til she had brought it—flow­ers, parks, art, ar­chi­tec­ture or de­sign—into peo­ple’s lives.

Philip Mer­ricks, Elm­ley Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve

It was a huge priv­i­lege to give an ad­dress at Nor­man Moore’s me­mo­rial ser­vice in Ely Cathe­dral last year. The chief sci­en­tist of the for­mer Na­ture Con­ser­vancy had the gift of mak­ing com­plex con­ser­va­tion is­sues ap­pear sim­ple to ap­ply on the ground. He per­haps un­der­stood more than any­one the con­ser­va­tion of land use—‘no group of peo­ple can do more for wildlife than farm­ers’ was a favourite quote. Nor­man’s in­spir­ing book, The Bird of Time (a quote from The Rubayyat of

Omar Khayyam), ends by urg­ing ev­ery­one not to waste the mo­ment.

The or­nithol­o­gist and artist Sir Peter Scott (1909–89) left an en­dur­ing legacy and has in­spired sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions

The in­spi­ra­tional botanist and TV fig­ure David Bel­lamy, now 84, is un­afraid of con­tro­versy

Ev­ery year, some 7,000 chil­dren visit au­thor Sir John Lis­ter-kaye’s Ai­gas Field Cen­tre

The inim­itable Dame Miriam Roth­schild (1908–2005) was a world au­thor­ity on fleas

Amer­i­can sci­en­tist Rachel Car­son (1907– 64) wasn’t afraid of the in­con­ve­nient truth

Ot­terly be­sot­ted: Scot­tish nat­u­ral­ist Gavin Maxwell (1914–69) and friend—his writ­ing was mag­i­cal, but his legacy has since been ques­tioned by oth­ers (Book re­views, page 92)

‘Crofter and Con­ser­va­tion­ist’: Chris Swift, an unsung hero of the nat­u­ral world

Amer­i­can ecol­o­gist Aldo Leopold (1887– 1948), whose mantra was that Man has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to man­age wildlife

Ger­ald Dur­rell (1925–95), who of­ten used hu­mour to make se­ri­ous points

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