The People’s Walk for Wildlife took place today, Saturday 22nd September. A few thousand people gathered near the Reformer’s Tree in Hyde Park London, no doubt for a wide range of reasons, but with one very broad concern – the future of our wildlife and environment. Many species are declining at an alarming rate, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, habitats are being trashed, the environment polluted, animals unnecessarily killed, our seas neglected. Most of our politicians appear unconcerned – I think I’m right in saying only Caroline Lucas and Kerry McCarthy MPs joined The People’s Walk for Wildlife. I also noticed Sian Berry, the co-leader of the Green Party. This political apathy highlights the uphill battle we face if we want a brighter future for our wildlife. A battle that can no longer be left to our conservation NGOs, we all have our part to play.
A few years ago when I first started writing blogs, I wrote several on the need for a broad coalition of organisations to tackle the problems our wildlife and habitats face (here and here). A coalition where millions of conservation NGO members should be encouraged to engage more actively in helping turn the tide of species declines and habitat destruction. I’m not convinced such a coalition ever really materialised. Yes, that’s a mild criticism of the NGOs (I’m a member of many of them), but let’s face it they are having to invest significant resources in the battle to protect special places, battles they shouldn’t really be having, such as saving the UKs most important site for the threatened Nightingale, proposals for a golf course on one of the last remaining intact dune systems in Scotland, a motorway across some of the best wetlands in Wales. It seems our NGOs are fighting hard just to standstill. We all have to stand up and do more.
So naturalist and conservationist Chris Packham conceived the People’s Walk for Wildlife, and used this as a platform to launch a draft People’s Manifesto for Wildlife. Eighteen independent conservationists presenting short essays highlighting some of the most critical concerns affecting the UKs wildlife and landscapes. Words accompanied by solutions, some simple, some more complex, all achievable with the right political will, all based on evidence and science. You can download the full manifesto here, please read it, and be inspired.
Back to the walk. Several thousand people turned out in the rain (I don’t know if there is an official estimate – I’ve heard a figure of 10k) for a good natured, family-friendly, fun event. I caught up with some friends I haven’t seen for many years, I met many new folk, and missed a few people I’d hoped to speak to. A common theme was that people expected better from our political leaders. They are fed up with the continued declines, neglect and destruction. They somehow wanted to send a message that enough is enough. Prior to heading off on our walk through Hyde Park to Downing Street, there were a series of talks from the various ‘Ministers’ who’d written sections of the People’s Manifesto. Billy Bragg, Grace Petrie and Saskia Eng entertained the crowd with renditions of a Turtle Doves Lament, Shall Not Pass and one of my favourite all-time songs, It’s a Wonderful World. For me, one the highlights were the stage contributions from the next generation – Mya-Rose Craig, Dara McAnulty, Bella Lack and Georgia Locock – there is hope. ‘Back stage’ I got to chat with an inspiring group of youngsters and their parents campaigning to ban kelp dredging (amongst other things) – including an 11 year old called Findlay who’d been sacked (I didn’t catch by who) for challenging the exploitation of sharks promoted by Bear Grylls. They invited me up to Ullapool next spring to look out for orcas – thanks, I’m going to do my best to get there next May. I was pleased to hear Martin Lines say a few words about farming and the need to reconnect it with nature, and also to ask people to support Nature Friendly Farming.
Then we walked, with birdsong leading the way, easily drowning out the raucous groups of ring-necked parakeets overhead. I talked to a few people about the issuing of licences to kill Ravens, about illegal raptor persecution, badger culls, toxic lead ammunition, the slaughter of seals, Brexit and Burnley Football Club! The People’s walk for Wildlife drew the attention of onlookers wondering why people were dressed as badgers, foxes, butterflies, bees and turtle doves. A rather large bat with accompanying midges/mosquitoes was regularly photographed! The route ended opposite the gates to Downing Street, a few more Ministers spoke and Chris Packham wrapped up what was an inspirational day. The finale was six young conservationists and Chris with the support of John Randall, delivering a copy of the People’s Manifesto to 10 Downing Street.
What next? In his speech opposite Downing Street, Mark Avery urged us to write to our MPs. My letter to Mike Gapes MP has been hastily drafted on a train journey en route to Manchester – to be finalised on the return leg. I’ll be asking him to read the manifesto and suggest his Top 10 out of the 200 solutions that he could support on behalf of his constituents. I live in the constituency of Ilford South, a very urban area with a high proportion of visible ethnic minority people, so maybe my MP will be interested in the ideas put forward by Mya-Rose Craig (Ministry of Diversity in Nature and Conservation) and Kate Bradbury (Ministry of Urban Spaces).
So although today’s People’s Walk for Wildlife ended at approximately 3pm on the 22nd September 2018, this actually only feels like the start of the journey. We all need to start (or continue) our own journeys that support wildlife and the environment, and a huge thanks to the tireless Chris Packham (and his team) for helping us take the first step.
Photo credits: the crowd image by Luke Dray/Woodland Trust via Twitter. Outside Downing Street by Chris Packham also via Twitter.