You and I both know that the natural world is of immense value. Anyone who has watched the sun rise over a Caledonian pine forest, or who has been enthralled by the acrobatics of a tern will know that nature is amazing in its variety and inspiring in a multitude of ways – from the high peaks to the deepest oceans and from the most remote wilderness to our city streets.
This is fundamental to what The Wildlife Trusts do. We are motivated by that personal emotional connection to the natural world. The 650 trustees, 40,000 volunteers, 800,000 members and 2,000+ staff of Wildlife Trusts across the UK value the natural world – and particularly its wildlife – because it is self-evidently great. We love it just because it is there. And we believe there should be more of it.
The Wildlife Trusts want to help nature to recover from the decline that for decades has been the staple diet of scientific studies and news stories. We believe passionately that wildlife and natural processes need to have space to thrive, beyond designated nature reserves and other protected sites. To achieve this it is vital that the richest wildlife sites are protected and sustained as a starting point from which nature can spread back into our wider landscapes. And at sea we must also protect areas as focal points for a future when our marine wildlife can thrive.
Society needs this as much as our wildlife does. A healthy natural environment is the foundation for everything that is of value to people – food, water, shelter, flood prevention, health, happiness and creative inspiration. It’s the source of our prosperity and our wellbeing.
Of course, others share our commitment and care about our cause, so what is it about The Wildlife Trusts that is of such fundamental importance to nature’s recovery?
I cannot, hand on heart, say that The Wildlife Trusts are perfect. Trusts vary from place to place and time to time. But this diversity lies at the heart of why and how Wildlife Trusts bring so much good to the world. Our work comes out of, and is accountable to, the local communities we are part of.
We stand up for, and look after, natural places close to where people live. We manage more than 95,000ha of land, across about 2,300 individual locations, each shaped by its location and its relationship with the local people who value it. In a very real sense, these are your places, and your Wildlife Trust helps you to look after them.
Every year, more than 7 million people visit our nature reserves, but we’re not just about land management. We run over 11,000 events a year, helping more than 380,000 people connect with nature in their local patch. We work with about 5,200 schools and welcome people to more than 120 centres. Through our work, we advise more than 5,300 landowners on how to manage over 200,000ha of land for wildlife.
I could go on at length about the numbers of people who benefit from the work of The Wildlife Trusts each year: nature therapy projects to improve mental health; urban regeneration programmes to bring more nature into disadvantaged housing estates; arts projects; natural gyms; after-school clubs; Forest Schools and marine wildlife surveys. In short, we stand for all wildlife, everywhere. And we work with local communities to help them to achieve natural environments rich in wildlife where they live and work – wherever that may be.
And why is this of such value to the world? It comes down to this: Yes: we share common cause with many others; we recognise the scale of the challenge needed to reverse the declines in wildlife. We have for many years put out the message of hope that nature can recover on a grand scale if we do things right – we must achieve Living Landscapes and Living Seas for our treasured wildlife to have a lasting and rich future. We recognise the fundamental reliance of human life on a healthy natural environment.
But for all this, there really is no point creating Living Landscapes or achieving Living Seas unless wider society values them. Not only for their intrinsic value but also because they provide us with good health, personal fulfilment, employment and all the other things that nature does for us. Only then will it become the accepted norm that we don’t diminish nature for short-term gain and that we regularly invest money, effort and emotional commitment into sustaining our environment.
This sort of change can only be achieved from the bottom up: by real people working together within real communities, in real places, to take practical action, to demonstrate what can be done. With 47 boards of trustees – each drawn from within their local communities – Wildlife Trusts have the presence in local places and communities to help local visions and values for nature to be shaped and to support local people in bringing them to life.
The Wildlife Trusts may not be the loudest organisation in the pack. We don’t try to be. We are not afraid to state our views. But we always look for purpose. In the same way that we work with people on the ground to achieve change, this is how we work in Westminster and Whitehall. We led the campaign for the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 and to save Lyme Bay; we inspired the Lawton Review and the recent Natural Environment White Paper. In the devolved nations we have been similarly influential. We may not always be recognised for everything that we continue to achieve quietly up and down the land, day in and day out but we are ideally placed to provide a real foundation to nature’s recovery, to enable people to understand why nature matters to them and inspire and support them to take action for it.
See wildlifetrusts.org for much more.