News: Walk for Wildlife

Ten thou­sand peo­ple marched through Lon­don on 22 Septem­ber, high­light­ing ac­tion for wildlife. What did they achieve?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - Re­port by James Fair

What is the legacy of Chris Pack­ham’s march, and will it have a last­ing im­pact on how we ap­proach UK na­ture?

F rom the or­gan­is­ers’ point of view, there are things that could have gone bet­ter. The main BBC or ITV news pro­grammes and web­sites could have cov­ered the event, and more than two MPs could have showed their sup­port – step for­ward the Green Party’s Caro­line Lu­cas and Labour’s Kerry Mc­Carthy.

There were also com­ments on Twit­ter from, among oth­ers, Tim Bon­ner of the Coun­try­side Al­liance: “Once you get be­yond the amuse­ment at the pa­thetic turnout for @ChrisGPack­ham’s march, there is a se­ri­ous is­sue. The nasty, di­vi­sive pol­i­tics he and his camp fol­low­ers pro­mote is only neg­a­tive for wildlife and the coun­try­side.”

“Per­fect doesn’t hap­pen,” Pack­ham says, a cou­ple of days af­ter the event, “but 10,000 peo­ple with po­lite ban­ners turn­ing out on a rainy Septem­ber morn­ing, and kids dressed up in funny cos­tumes and walk­ing through the streets of Lon­don to the sound of bird­song – the 44 mil­lion birds we have lost over the past five decades – has to be a good first step.” Es­pe­cially, per­haps, given the whole thing was or­gan­ised by this one man and an as­sis­tant, in just two months, and was paid for out of his own pocket – a high, five-fig­ure sum. Po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance But the big ques­tion is: what has Chris Pack­ham’s ‘Walk for Wildlife’ and pub­li­ca­tion of the ‘Peo­ple’s Man­i­festo for Wildlife’ – con­tain­ing “200 ideas to make a dif­fer­ence in UK con­ser­va­tion” – ac­tu­ally achieved? In the long run, how will it be re­mem­bered and what, if any­thing, will be its legacy?

Well, Mark Av­ery, the cam­paigner and for­mer RSPB di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion, re­ports on his web­site the re­ac­tion of an un­named MP who re­sponded to the man­i­festo thus: “I read it, and I think I got to page 67 be­fore I found some­thing I could agree with. No won­der wildlife is at risk with this sort of level of po­lit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing.”

Is the man­i­festo po­lit­i­cally naive? Martin Spray is chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Wild­fowl & Wet­lands Trust (WWT) and a for­mer civil ser­vant who worked in the Trea­sury, so he is some­one who has an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of re­alpoli­tik. He laughs at the no­tion that the man­i­festo lacks po­lit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing. “It’s a lit­tle rough and ready,” he con­cedes, “but it was writ­ten and edited by 20 peo­ple [21, if you in­clude Pack­ham] who brought to­gether a whole lot of is­sues that re­late to wildlife loss. It has come to a point where we need to be more out­spo­ken. Of course, we recog­nise the im­por­tance of pol­i­tics, but pol­i­tics is not de­liv­er­ing.” Di­vid­ing opin­ion It’s not just the Coun­try­side Al­liance and the broader field-sports com­mu­nity that felt an­tag­o­nised by the walk. A week be­fore the march took place, Emily El­lis, a blog­ger from the York­shire Dales, posted on her web­site how her love of the moors was be­ing de­stroyed. “It takes pas­sion to trans­fer pas­sion, but as soon as you talk about the moors some­one will in­sist on drown­ing the flames in pol­i­tics,” she wrote. “En­joy­ing the moors, ap­par­ently, equates to con­don­ing bru­tal mur­der… of pro­tected species.” El­lis is some­one who does not shoot (though she has worked as a beater), but she lives among peo­ple who do.

So how does El­lis feel about the Walk for Wildlife and its man­i­festo? She re­sponds with praise for the good ideas within the man­i­festo: “En­cour­ag­ing more out­door ac­cess, di­ver­sity and in­volve­ment of young peo­ple are all so im­por­tant right now,” she says. But she is highly crit­i­cal of other as­pects. “The most shock­ing part was, for want of a bet­ter phrase, the ‘High­land clear­ances’

sec­tion,” she says. Here, she’s re­fer­ring to pro­pos­als for the up­lands that sug­gest putting vast tracts of our dales and fells into pub­lic own­er­ship. “You can’t say, 'It’s al­right, we’ll buy you out', and ex­pect that to be okay, when you’re propos­ing to strip farm­ers of their home and iden­tity.”

Over­all, El­lis says, there was a feel­ing that peo­ple from her back­ground and with her views would not have been wel­come at the march. “Be­cause I grew up in a shoot­ing com­mu­nity, my love for wildlife is 'not valid', and that is soul-de­stroy­ing.”

An­drew Gil­ruth, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Game & Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust (GWCT), was also crit­i­cal. “Out of frus­tra­tion of things not hap­pen­ing to the de­gree they would like them to, they are try­ing to make them hap­pen by co­er­cion,” he ob­serves. “If chil­dren are not in­ter­ested in wildlife, then we are go­ing to force them to be. And if you go down the co­er­cion route, peo­ple start to find a way round it.”

Main­stream con­ser­va­tion groups, on the whole, have been sup­port­ive of what Pack­ham is try­ing to achieve – de­spite Pack­ham crit­i­cis­ing them in the in­tro­duc­tion to the man­i­festo. “The UK’s con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity can­not be selfish,” he says. “We must let by­gones be by­gones, all put our egos back in the box and for­get about cor­po­rate strate­gies or ‘our com­peti­tors’.”

"Is it a fair point?" is the ques­tion put to RSPB di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion Martin Harper. He says: “I have worked for en­vi­ron­men­tal NGOs for 22 years, and I’ve al­ways worked with other or­gan­i­sa­tions. The cam­paign for wildlife law re­form and the Marine Act were multi-part­ner ad­vo­cacy cam­paigns, and most of the big species­re­cov­ery and land­scape-scale pro­jects are done in part­ner­ship. Yes, we have to do more to­gether but I’ve never used the phrase ‘com­peti­tor’. These are al­lies, and al­ways have been.”

Harper nev­er­the­less ap­plauds Pack­ham’s “great lead­er­ship of the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity” and the way he pulled peo­ple to­gether with no or­gan­i­sa­tional sup­port. In the man­i­festo, 18 ‘min­is­ters’ pre­sented ideas for 17 dif­fer­ent ‘ministries’ (one min­is­te­rial po­si­tion was a job share be­tween two young con­ser­va­tion­ists). The ideas Harper sin­gles out were Robert Mac­far­lane’s ‘Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Cul­ture and Ed­u­ca­tion’, which ad­vo­cated putting na­ture at the heart of the cur­ricu­lum, from nurs­ery to se­condary school; and Carol Day’s ‘Min­istry of Wildlife Law’ about build­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal rights into new leg­is­la­tion. “These ideas ad­dress the prob­lem of how do you get the un­der­pin­ning of na­ture in de­ci­sion­mak­ing,” Harper says.

There were also spe­cific ideas on how to in­crease rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women and peo­ple from eth­nic mi­nori­ties within the con­ser­va­tion sec­tor. As the ‘Min­is­ter of So­cial In­clu­sion’, writer and ecol­o­gist Amy-Jane Beer says, “You don’t have to be a white, able-bod­ied, mid­dle-aged,

“You don't have to be a white, able­bod­ied, mid­dle-aged, mid­dle-class cis­gen­der male to write about na­ture.”

mid­dle-class, cis­gen­der male to write about na­ture, to present it on TV, or to dis­cuss it in­tel­li­gently in a pub­lic fo­rum. But you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily know that from the me­dia out­put.”

Martin Harper also picks out the con­tri­bu­tion of young nat­u­ral­ist Mya-Rose Craig (‘Min­istry of Di­ver­sity in Na­ture and Con­ser­va­tion’), not­ing: “If you have more di­verse staff and peo­ple around, you make bet­ter de­ci­sions.” But, of the ma­jor groups con­tacted (RSPB, WWT, The Wildlife Trusts and GWCT) not one put for­ward a woman to dis­cuss the march and man­i­festo.

Land man­age­ment

One of the sin­gle big­gest im­pacts on how our wildlife fares is farm­ing. It is the rea­son for the con­tri­bu­tion of Miles King, the ‘Min­is­ter for Food and Farm­ing’ (and, in his day job, CEO of Peo­ple Need Na­ture). How­ever, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the NFU de­scribed the man­i­festo as hid­ing “ex­treme and sin­is­ter agen­das, which would be cat­a­strophic for na­ture and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

King’s con­tri­bu­tion does high­light some, per­haps un­palat­able truths. Half of the wheat grown in the UK goes to feed an­i­mals, lead­ing to a sit­u­a­tion where 85 per cent of our farm­land is used to pro­duce meat that pro­vides only 18 per cent of the calo­ries we con­sume.

King’s man­i­festo idea is to “launch a pub­lic-ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign to change what we eat – less meat and more fruit, veg­eta­bles and pulses”, and while that is laud­able, how much dif­fer­ence it would make to over­all meat and dairy con­sump­tion is ques­tion­able. The point is that the cri­sis in our wildlife is sys­temic and not go­ing to be solved by one or two – or even 200 – sim­ple fixes.

Per­haps the last word should go to Pack­ham him­self. “An hour and a half af­ter the march had ended, when I was sit­ting on the train to go home, I started work on draft two of the man­i­festo,” he says. “I’m set­ting up a not-for-profit com­pany, so peo­ple can or­gan­ise their own walks for wildlife, and I’ll run an­other one next year. I’m not go­ing to let the mo­men­tum drop.”

JAMES FAIR writes about wildlife, con­ser­va­tion and travel. james­fair­wildlife.co.uk

FIND OUT MORE

Wildlife pol­i­tics: law­com.gov.uk/project/wildlife-law; learn more about the UK Govern­ment pol­icy and laws that af­fect our wildlife.

Left: it may have rained on their pa­rade but a damp day didn't hold back the crowds dur­ing The Peo­ple's Walk for Wildlife.

Right: adults and chil­dren alike took to the streets of Lon­don dur­ing the walk – some with im­pres­sive cos­tumes and ban­ners.

Chris Pack­ham is al­ready plan­ning to stage an­other event next year.

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