I had a great time at the New Networks for Nature meeting at Stamford on Thursday and Friday. This was partly because it blended art and science in a novel and stimulating way.
Where else, in the space of less than 24 hours would you be able to hear about their work from the lips of one of the country’s most distinguished writers about the countryside and from one of the nation’s most distinguished evolutionary biologists?
On Thursday evening, Ronald Blythe, the author of Akenfield (and much else besides), in conversation with Mark Cocker, told us how he wrote and of his memories of rural Suffolk. This will be broadcast on Radio 3 in December. It will be well worth a listen.
Blythe has reached 90 years and is still productive and creative. He talked in a very engaging and modest way about his achievements and in a tender way of his memories of people and and of the countryside past.
Professor Nick Davies FRS talked about his work on cuckoo nest parasitism. Only someone with a great mind and a razor-sharp understanding of the workings of evolution by natural selection could make this fascinating but complicated story seem so simple and be so clear.
Nick, who is a birdwatcher, and who was the external examiner for my PhD (so I’ve known him for a long time), talked engagingly about the cuckoo, its hosts and the evolution of egg mimicry, egg rejection etc. He, like Ronald Blythe, wore his erudition lightly.
Blythe and Davies were perhaps the stars of the twin peaks of the two cultures merging in the landscape of New Networks for Nature. I won’t mention all the others – partly for fear of missing someone out. But it was a unique collection of people – and for me, a mixture of old friends, new acquaintances (how many will become friends?) and a great deal of intellectual stimulation.
There was also a ‘Question time‘- style discussion, nominally about whether the British love nature, but ranging quite widely. The panellists were Fiona Reynolds (now ex-Director General of the National Trust), Peter Melchett, Peter Marren and myself – chaired by the Independent’s Michael McCarthy.
Is controlling non-native species a waste of money? Are all the political parties a bit rubbish on nature? Why is it OK to tip 35 million non-native pheasants into the countryside every year but not a few white-tailed eagles? Is it too late to save nature?
So, you see, this was where, in this meeting of the two cultures, the real world of politics showed its face – a third culture? Fiona told us that the political parties don’t do nature very well and that’s why she has never been a member of any political party. Peter Melchett, a past Labour minister in the Callaghan government, was sad that more politicians didn’t get this subject. Peter Marren was in a delightfully curmudgeonly mood throughout.
I told the audience that, as a conservationist, I felt I had to join the Labour Party after it lost the last General Election – I care about endangered species. I’ve ‘always’ been a Labour supporter but it certainly isn’t because of the Party’s brilliance on wildlife issues! The people’s party is, overall, a disappointment when it comes to issues about the countryside. I may use this blog a little more over the next few weeks to express my frustration over Labour’s low level of wildlife engagement.
Before setting off for Stamford the day before I had done my stint as a teller outside my local Polling Office in a dark, dank, misty and cold morning. Later on Friday afternoon I was delighted to hear that Labour’s Andy Sawford had won back Corby and east Northants with a stonking majority.
When I asked the 200+ audience how may of them were members of any political party then around half a dozen hands went up. My message is to join your favoured political party and agitate for it to take wildlife issues seriously. Don’t sit on your bum and moan about politicians. Vote for the ones you want and influence their thoughts and actions.
The same applies to the NGOs you admire too. If, as I do, and said so, you feel that the National Trust has lost the plot on nature conservation then let them know! It’s OK to moan, but do something about it! Don’t act like a victim – be a player. You live in a country with a clear and open democratic process and where social media provide us all with unprecedented opportunities to learn and to express our views. Use them!
At the end of the discussion we were asked whether it is too late to save nature. My answer was as follows: It’s too late for us to do as well as we should have done, but it’s not too late to do as well as we can do from now on. But that means we all must leave this meeting and do something!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those who care about the natural world and all those who understand the natural world, got together and made an impact on those whose decisions do most damage to the natural world?