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