Last Tuesday a bunch of NGOs launched their ‘Response for Nature’ report (or reports actually – one for each UK nation) at an event in London. I’ll comment on the reports later today but the event was a room full of wildlife conservation organisation staff talking to themselves.
There were speeches: from Steve Backshall, Josie Hewitt, Rory Stewart and Martin Warren. The most important was that of the minister and the best was that of Josie Hewitt.
Steve Backshall set the scene very well and was engaging. He said, on behalf of the 26 organisations involved in producing the report (for England) that ‘There is no doubt that the public is behind us’ and it is true that these organisations have a combined membership of over 6 million folk (the National Trust is in the gang this time around), but it might be that a large part of the public is in front of these organisations in wanting much more action than this report suggests – and quicker too.
Steve Backshall quoted John Muir very deftly ‘A grand harvest was wreaked while nobody sowed’ as a summary of where we are and then claimed that we are ‘…at a crossroads. A critical point’. It doesn’t feel like it really because there is no sign that we are changing direction. It doesn’t even feel as though there is much pressure on the brake pedal. No, if that was the crossroads we just sped through it without looking either way, slowing down for the junction or even looking at the map.
Martin Warren finished the speeches with wise and sound words about what needs to be done but in between we heard from the minister and the ‘young person’.
Rory Stewart’s speeches are beginning to resemble those of Rupert de Mauley – ‘You’re all very challenging and we’re doing our best but it isn’t easy you know’ – maybe they have the same speech writer? But they are content-light although they all finish with some words about how we are aiming for the best environment in the world. What nonsense! You do actually have to do something to be a world record holder whether it be in sport, or in the race to have the best environment. This country (let’s say England, but the UK is no better) is not even in training for this event and it’s unlikely to start overtaking other nations which are.
The minister’s speech also contained an odd observation of nature where he claimed to have seen a stoat, last weekend, continually returning to a nest to remove the chicks. Stoats do that, but the point of it was a bit obscure and the likelihood of there being an active birds’ nest in mid-October in Cumbria is quite low really. Oh well – it was one of the more remarkable parts of the speech. And, unlikely though it was to be accurate, it was much more likely than that Defra’s inactivity would deliver the best environment in the world.
The room was mostly filled with the staff of the wildlife organisations who had put the report together. I didn’t spot any journalists, there were very few politicians (though it was good to see Kerry McCarthy and Angela Smith there, and Richard Benyon gave me a curt review of Inglorious (!)), and a few folk from the statutory agencies, NFU, CLA and Hawk and Owl Trust, but it wasn’t really an ‘event’ in the sense that anyone treated it as important. There weren’t many chief execs to be seen (which always sends the signal that it isn’t a very big deal (although I know that Mike Clarke was in Germany at the time)). Media coverage of the report was very low. Organisations representing over six million people have spoken and nobody appeared to be listening.
The wildlife conservation organisations need to take a hard look at their strategy – assuming that they have one. They are marginalised and have little clout with government as a whole – not even with Defra. Their profile in the media is low – and where they do occur the message is far too fluffy. Why would anyone take any notice of them? They have to have great ideas and/or be active in the media to get government attention and to make a difference. They aren’t doing very well on either measure. They, we, are too easily ignored. Nature’s voice is very quiet – and government isn’t listening.
But the light inside the tunnel was Josie Hewitt’s speech (and remember that Findlay Wilde was the star turn at an earlier event). Passionate, straight-talking and with a touch of anger, it was the best speech of all. ‘We need to get a move on’ said Josie. Too right – and we can’t really wait for Josie and Findlay to be running the show – we need NGOs to step up today (although yesterday would be better). Everyone said how well Josie spoke – but they will carry on regardless.