A rallying cry from Norfolk Wildlife Trust evangelist Nick Acheson
An impassioned plea to fight on from Nick Acheson
Iam not good at autumn. The dizzying splendour of May - when each blossom-laden hawthorn pulses with the song of chaffinch and whitethroat – the endless days of June, these are my habitat. For I belong in the light. Autumn, moody and grey, when a moment’s daylight is shaved from each passing day, when the robin’s song tells of brief, cold, gloomy days ahead; autumn is a time of sadness to me.
The geese come, bringing the shrill gossip of the tundra, and the scoters gather on the frigid surf, and I love them – really I do – but my heart longs for the hopeful days of spring.
Even were it not autumn, my year’s nadir, there would be scant cause for hope. The Amazon is aflame, its millennial riches, its climate-regulating beneficence, torched. Last summer saw record ice melt in Greenland, the world’s second largest ice-sheet haemorrhaging into the rising sea. But hope we must. For without hope there is no fight in us. And fighting is needed now more than at any time since humanity first stumbled across the dust of this green, blue, bounteous planet.
Last summer it was my privilege to host an event at NWT Cley and Salthouse Marshes with Norfolk’s wonderful author Simon Barnes. Asked how he responded to the ecological and environmental catastrophe we have unleashed, I was struck by the words with which he replied: “I prefer to think like Beowulf. Beowulf was the Anglo-Saxon hero who slew Grendel and saved the world. He then did it all again when he took on Grendel’s still more fearsome mother.
“But after that came the dragon. Beowulf went into his fight against the dragon, knowing he was going to lose. But that didn’t stop him, not for one minute, because he knew that winning and losing are not what matters. What does matter is fighting on the right side.”
The time has come for sides. And I will fight on the side of biodiversity. I will fight on the side of our children and our children’s children, and their right to walk barefoot among butterflies and flowers, to chase
falling autumn leaves and swim in bright streams among sticklebacks and minnows.
I am not, by any means, an aficionado of Tolkein. I see so much wonder, so much wild magic in the flesh-made world – in the shy flit of purple hairstreaks about the leathery leaves of oak, in the ocean-spanning glide of gannets – that I do not need to dwell in other worlds.
But in my rite-of-passage reading of The Lord of the Rings, many years ago, I was taken by the words of Elrond, who saw that it fell to a small, scared hobbit to undertake the most perilous journey of all: ‘Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.’
The journey ahead of us is perilous. Humanity has never placed so great a strain on the chemical and biological resources of the planet that is our only home. Nor have we ever pushed so many of our co-denizens so close to eradication.
Yet in spite of the peril, we must fight, fight as never before, for what is right. And, if we cannot depend on the great to fight for us (and heaven knows they have failed us in this regard), we small hobbits must each take up the fight ourselves.
This is the time for personal responsibility. This is the time for self-questioning. Are my actions sustainable? My food? My clothing? My house? Is my money invested where it will do harm or do good?
Do I give as much as I can afford, in time, in money, in moral support, to the fight? Am I taking from the future, from my children, my children’s children, and the offspring of the furtive dunnock in the garden? Have I worn the fight on my sleeve and done everything I can to alert my colleagues and friends to the darkness drawing in on all sides?
For we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and it is up to us – every oxygen-breathing one of us – to turn back to the light, to demand that our species’ future is wild, healthy and free, and blessed with the sorrowful burble of curlews, and the breathy tumble of lapwings over the spring marsh.
For one, I demand with all my being that it be so.
ABOVE: Fallen leaves covered in frost at Woodwalton Fen
RIGHT: Oak woodland at dawn
ABOVE: Dunnock juvenile in garden
Pink-footed Geese in north Norfolk winter