Seizing the moment

Blog post by David North on 13 Sep, 2018

Campaign for a Wilder Britain

Fact: Britain is a nation of wildlife lovers and we have the best supported voluntary conservation movement in Europe and possibly the world.

Fact: our country has been rated as one of the worst (28th) in a list of the world’s most impoverished nations for wildlife. The losses of wildlife over the past 50 years have been on a scale difficult to grasp.
As someone who has spent my working life in the conservation movement I find the first of these facts gives me hope but the second makes me both sad and angry. How can it be that despite the efforts of so many passionate inspired individuals, and despite the work over many decades of some world-class conservation bodies, including The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust, that we have lost so much and nature continues to decline?
House sparrow, by Elizabeth Dack

House sparrow, by Elizabeth Dack

I can remember 50 years ago as a teenage birder watching great winter murmurations of starlings that numbered not thousands but hundreds of thousands, of watching flocks of several hundred bullfinches (difficult I know for today’s birders to imagine) and walks back from my school enriched by noisy gatherings of many hundreds of house sparrows in not one, but many, of the hedgerows I passed. I can also remember my deep sense of loss as my childhood countryside was denuded of hedgerows, the local ponds where I had gathered tadpoles were filled in, and the clouds of butterflies, that as a child I had chased around the buddleia in my parents’ garden, became fewer in both number and variety with every passing year. How have we – a nation where so many people truly care about our countryside and wildlife – allowed this great thinning of our wildlife to take place? How have we stood by while over the last 50 years more than 44 million birds vanished from our gardens, hedgerows, woods and farmland, while species once called common, common toads, common frogs and common lizards among them, ceased to be common across great swathes of our countryside? How have we as a nation remained silent as 95% of our wildflower meadows were destroyed in the name of ‘improvement’ and our bats, bees, butterflies, moths, hedgehogs and flying insects declined almost everywhere?
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has a strapline, perhaps you will recognise – Saving Norfolk’s Wildlife for the Future – and of course we have been successful in protecting some truly amazing wild places, Cley and Salthouse Marshes, Roydon Common and Hickling Broad among them. But if I tell you that now the most important patch of land for protecting Norfolk’s wildlife is a few hectares in central London you might think I was mad. How can that be?

Wildlife can’t speak for itself, so it’s up to those of us who care to speak out

Over the next few months decisions taken on this patch of land will determine the future of our wildlife and environment for decades to come. The patch of land I am talking about is Westminster, where this autumn our MPs will debate the content of an Agriculture Bill and Environment Act which between them will determine both the look of the countryside and the fate of much of its wildlife for generations to come.

Wildlife can’t speak for itself. It is up to those of us who care to speak out, to be a voice for nature and to shout so loudly from Norfolk, and across the country, that we can be heard loud and clear in Westminster. It’s time for the silent majority who love our countryside to speak with one voice on behalf of nature. It’s time to make our politicians hear clearly our anger over the manner in which past laws have failed to protect our wildlife. Time to demonstrate our determination now to achieve much more effective and wider reaching laws to protect the natural world we all depend on.

In fact what we now demand from our politicians is an Environment Bill that not only protects what wildlife is left, but enables, and underpins in law, the restoration of our countryside and the wildlife we have lost. Yes, we already have lots of laws protecting nature, but they are fragmented and have proved too weak to halt the slow and relentless thinning of our wildlife, both here in Norfolk and across our nation.
House sparrow, by Elizabeth Dack

The Wildlife Trusts' report

I truly believe that over the next few months we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to ‘Save Norfolk’s wildlife for the future’, to create a wilder future that’s good for both wildlife and people. But to do this everyone who cares about nature will need to speak out: the silent majority who care about nature to be silent no longer. It really is possible that a new Environment Act could establish a legally-binding ambition for a greener future with clear targets for species recovery, cleaner air and purer, pollution-free water. Will you speak out?  
The Wildlife Trusts nationally, working as part of a wider coalition of conservation bodies known as Greener UK, will be campaigning hard over the next few months to secure an Environment Bill that is strong enough to achieve the Government’s stated ambition ‘to make ours the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it.’ Would you like to help to achieve this? If so, over the next few months we will be providing lots of opportunities for you to be part of this campaign. Keep an eye on our website where details of this campaign will soon be published and read The Wildlife Trusts’ Towards a Wilder Britain report to learn more about our vision for restoring nature.
David North is Head of People and Wildlife at NWT.
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