A Peoples’ Walk for Wildlife: Event Report and Reflection

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22nd September 2018

Just to my right rose a massive puppet bat lifted high on rods, its wings rising and falling. Behind me two beautifully crafted cloth owls were suspended on rucksack frames up above the crowd. Up on the stage in front stood children, teenagers, scientists, conservationists, musicians, TV presenters and more. All of whom had come together for one purpose, to fight for the UK’s wildlife.

The lynch pin and instigator of it all was Chris Packham and it was he who trod the stage between speakers hosting and introducing the different people. The Springwatch presenter was joined by the likes of Billy Brag, George Monbiot and Dara McAnulty, a 14-year-old naturalist and conservationist from Northern Ireland who read his poem for the event to the crowds in front, along with 18 ‘ministers’, all of whom where there to put forward ‘A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife’: A collection of essays, along with 200 ideas and solutions for the conservations and protection of wildlife in the UK. Each of the 18 ‘ministers’, all of whom are expert scientists and conservationists in their fields, had contributed, helping create a broad, researched and considered set of ideas designed to work for both UK wildlife and the majority of humanity that co-share the land with them.

This manifesto was to be taken in, at the end of the walk, to 10 Downing Street itself and submitted for consultation and implementation, offering the government some progressive policies for free.

In the words of the manifesto itself:

This manifesto has no party-political bias. It is critical of governance and its affiliation is to the wildlife and people of the UK.
This manifesto is controversial. It is informed by sound science and fact.
This manifesto is entirely financially independent. It has no economic dependence or influence.
This manifesto is immune from lobbying. It has not been influenced or funded by any vested interest groups.
This manifesto is political. It calls for change in the way we treat nature in the UK - this will require strong and swift government action.

It is presented as a first draft, in hope and expectation of response

It has ideas on everything from introducing nature and outdoor learning into the national education curriculum, to stopping wildlife crime, to protected coastal areas to help conserve and boost fish populations and the fishing industry, to pesticides and their effect on bees and the broader biodiversity, to fox hunting, to the reintroduction of extinct keystone species, to the rewilding of desolate areas and the creation of more national parks.

My family and I had driven up from Devon that morning and even though the weekend had become classically drizzly, we now stood in amongst the mass of waterproofed and painted people and I was amazed by the shear variety standing around me. Parents, grandparents, children. Families and their dogs. Farmers and fishermen. People from all four corners of the country. All waving banners and brandishing placards.

Marching down Piccadilly

Marching down Piccadilly

The talks and music, the ‘infotainment’ ended and the walk began. There was a good 10,000 of us according to police estimates and for a long time, as we walked down Piccadilly, I could not see either the front nor the back of the march. It had a strange kind of energy and a more civilised march I have not seen. Everyone had downloaded a recording of bird song and were playing it on their phones, emulating the sounds of nature in the London streets. Though the air of calm remained remained throughout there was a distinct sense of determination and as the event concluded outside Downing Street cheers and chants swelled as the closing speeches were made and the manifesto was walked into the Prime Minister’s house by Chris Packham and some youthful representatives.

With that the March was over. However, the Manifesto had just started its journey and who knows where that will lead. What’s definite is that to create any positive change, continuous pressure and recognition is needed. Particularly when debate, attention and, to a large extent, news coverage is so consumed by topics such as Brexit and Trump. There are other things in the world that require our attention. It’s interesting to note that on the Manifesto’s Webpage the final points end with this:

This Manifesto is yours. It is freely open to future contributions – we urgently need more ideas, discussion and debate to move conservation in the UK forward and cease the war on wildlife. Please distribute and please contribute.

And the statistics:

Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of UK species declined… of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction… this suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
> The State of Nature Report 2016

Author’s note

Wildlife has always been very important to me.

Having been embroiled in building work our back garden had become quite overgrown over the summer. When we had bought the property, it had been a neatly trimmed basic lawn mix of mainly ryegrasses, Kentucky blue grass and fescue grasses, common to most homes in Britain. However, over the weeks of work a small variety of other plants had sprung up in amongst the piles of bricks and soil and it amazed me how quickly we started seeing a greater amount of wildlife visiting us. Everything from butterflies to woodpeckers, voles to bats and bees to rats. We even had a leveret (a juvenile hare) hopping around for a while.

Wanting to make our garden a bit neater, but still a space for wildlife we recently spread a mix of wild meadow grass and flower seed about. All these were plants that were missing in the monoculture that had been there before, but which would have been present in the past up until the point that the land had been ‘improved’. Of course, our garden will now acquire a different quality as we will leave sections of the grass long most of the year round, but these areas will always be much more colourful, with their larger variety of flowers, than what was there before. It also means it will take us considerably less work looking after it as we will only need to mow areas and paths around our garden.