A New Dawn-Chorus?

When you think of a protest march starting in Hyde Park and ending at Downing Street, you don’t immediately think of ‘bird song’ but that will be one of my abiding memories of the People’s Walk for Wildlife which took part on Saturday 22nd September 2018 (remember that date) - a rally and a walk to highlight the plight of nature and to call for radical measures to guarantee its future thriving.

For one of the ingenious parts of this massive event attended by 10,000 people of all ages and backgrounds, was a downloadable app, so that most of those 10,000 could simultaneously bring birdsong to the streets of London. It was inspired and inspiring! an amazing feeling of polite but assertive protest and gentle outrage at the state of nature and a plea for Government, and everyone concerned with the environment, to pay heed and help restore biodiversity and ecosystems. Not just to care but to act for nature from now on.

It perfectly articulated the loss of wild species we have seen in the last 50 years as 60% of, everything has been lost from flower rich meadows to once common or garden birds, to hedgehogs, with even the dawn chorus getting quieter and many species just absent and many more on the edge of survival. This is a loss so well documented by citizen science for decades and we have all been working to reverse this or hold the line, but we have not crucially succeeded. Nature conservation has been for too long a niche activity and not central enough to land management and land and fisheries management.

This march was about what we all need to do different and about being properly joined up. Organised by the TV presenter, campaigner and NWT Patron, Chris Packham; he also produced a Manifesto for Wildlife and it is a radical and demanding, even provocative, document. Put together with another 17 ‘ministers’ of wildlife of no specific organisational alliance, including writers and scientists, influencers and other experts, including some very inspiring young people.

There are 200 ideas for improvement. These are challenging in part but many are just also sensible, and what we are already calling for, but overall it is perhaps the start, along with this special walk and the new Wilder Britain campaign of the Wildlife Trusts’ and linked initiatives just now, to develop a wider, popular mobilisation of people to save our future nature.

Critically, it is a call to action before it’s too late, which it almost is in many species cases, a platform too for a new generation of conservation activists that are being inspired to come forward and ensure the future is as rich or richer than the past.

It was moving to hear 15-year-old Bella Lack say what it felt like to perhaps never be able to see turtle doves and hedgehogs in the countryside by the time she and her generation had grown up, underlining the urgency of action as never before as the state of nature is sliding away from us as we carry on as we have always done and hope for the best at the large scale.

Similarly, the edginess and outrage of 14-year-old Dara McAnulty, like a young beat poet cum rapper for wildlife’s cause was mesmerising, alongside Chris, Billy Bragg and other campaigners of my own generation. 

There are times we all look back on and say, “That was when it all started.” I think this moment, The Peoples Walk for Wildlife, with all it symbolised and brought together in a sensitive and clever way, at the same time as all of us conservation organisations rallying to campaign loudly for a new Environment Act and to make everywhere wilder.

I reckon September 22nd 2018 will go down in history as the start of a new societal attitude to nature, where we perhaps started to realise fully how bad things had got and decided to bring things back from the brink of us living in a far less stimulating and naturally functional world, even in the great UK with its iconic countryside.

Perhaps it was the start of a new ‘dawn chorus’ for UK wildlife, if not, it needs to happen soon, or it really will be too late, the losses are starting to mount up!

Mike Pratt
Chief Executive
Northumberland Wildlife Trust