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Ten thou­sand wildlife-lovers walked through Lon­don on a rainy Septem­ber day. Why?

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - RE­PORT JAMES LOWEN

Why 10,000 wildlife-lovers joined forces for a rainy-day march in Lon­don

The ques­tion re­ceived the big­gest cheer on this sog­gi­est of Satur­day morn­ings. “How many of you are bird­ers?”, TV nat­u­ral­ist Chris Pack­ham en­quired of the rain-drenched masses throng­ing Lon­don’s Hyde Park on 22 Septem­ber. But we also com­prised na­turelov­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tally con­cerned par­ents and grand­par­ents, chil­dren and con­ser­va­tion­ists. We had trav­elled from far and wide to form the Peo­ple’s Walk for Wildlife, seek­ing to demon­strate how deeply the Bri­tish pub­lic cares for na­ture.

Cam­paign­ers

The morn­ing ma­jored on the ex­po­si­tion of A Peo­ple’s Man­i­festo for Wildlife, which can be found on­line at chrispack­ham.co.uk/ a-peo­ples-man­i­festo-for­wildlife. This presents es­says from 18 in­de­pen­dent voices on crit­i­cal is­sues af­fect­ing UK wildlife. Two hun­dred rec­om­men­da­tions for change were ar­tic­u­lated by Pack­ham’s ‘Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters’, who in­cluded well-known fig­ures, such as cam­paigner Mark Av­ery and ‘Bird­girl’ Mya-rose Craig, plus less fa­mil­iar (but no less po­tent) folk, such as teenager Bella Lack and na­ture writer Amy-jane Beer. Each ‘Min­is­ter’ had a brief: So­cial In­clu­sion and Ac­cess to Na­ture in Beer’s case. Be­tween num­bers from singer-song­writer Billy Bragg, they pre­sented pro­pos­als rang­ing from the well-es­tab­lished (tougher penal­ties for wildlife crime) through the canny (tax­ing pes­ti­cides) to the au­da­cious (em­pow­er­ing young peo­ple to lead large-scale rewil­d­ing). The walk cul­mi­nated in Pack­ham and youth­ful cam­paign­ers pre­sent­ing the Man­i­festo to Sir John Ran­dall, the PM’S en­vi­ron­ment ad­viser, at 10 Down­ing Street. All this came as a re­lief. Un­til noon, the event risked be­ing a metaphor­i­cal as well as ‘lit­eral’ damp squib. The few bird­ing friends I en­coun­tered be­moaned the un­der­whelm­ing at­ten­dance. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple were present – but not thou­sands. Where were all our fel­low bird­watch­ers? Why were they not demon­strat­ing their com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the UK’S at­ti­tude to na­ture?

A grow­ing move­ment

It was only when we started the walk proper – when Lon­don’s streets rivered with Homo sapi­ens – that we re­alised quite how many plac­ard-tot­ing peo­ple were ac­tu­ally walk­ing for wildlife. We tran­spired to num­ber 10,000 – an im­pres­sive sound as well as sight, for walk­ers pro­jected bird­song from their smart­phones in homage to the 44 mil­lion birds that have dis­ap­peared from the UK since 1996. This prompted me to re­flect upon an ear­lier con­ver­sa­tion. A friend told me all move­ments start small: “We were only a few hun­dred at the first Pride march”. The point was that there was a move­ment. At­ten­dees agreed. “I joined the walk be­cause I be­lieve wildlife is for ev­ery­one. We all need a say in its fu­ture”, ex­plained nat­u­ral­ist Alick Sim­mons. The #Peo­pleswalk­for­wildlife was uplift­ing and em­pas­sioned – a day re­sound­ing with bird­song, ded­i­ca­tion and love. The rain may have sat­u­rated our clothes, but it could not sluice our pos­i­tiv­ity. And it is just the start. There was talk of mak­ing the walk an an­nual event. Given that we num­bered 10,000 with­out all the many wildlife-watch­ing mates whose ab­sence I lamented, and with­out all the read­ers of Bird Watch­ing and other na­ture mag­a­zines, how many will we be when they (you!) all turn up next time round? And af­ter that? For Amy-jane Beer, “soggy Satur­day was truly ex­tra­or­di­nary, but it was only the start”.

Celebrity Chris Pack­ham led the walk where bird­ers and na­ture-lovers joined as one

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