Our Head of Conservation, Dr Nikki Tagg, joined the recent Restore Nature Now rally in London, and encourages each of us to speak out for the wild.
On Thursday September 28th, I joined Born Free colleagues at a protest outside the Defra* offices in London, near Westminster, to stand alongside staff and members of over 40 UK-based environmental and nature organisations and communicate a simple demand to the government: Restore Nature Now.
The State of Nature report 2023 was published on Wednesday and – if you have a strong enough stomach to dip into its 108 pages – you will find details of our country’s blunders and the resulting disastrous effects on our native wildlife over the last 50 years. The sobering headlines are that 19% of all 753 monitored terrestrial and freshwater UK species have declined since 1970, that pollinators like bees have declined by 18% in abundance, and that 16% of over 10,000 assessed species are now at risk of extinction in the UK.
In a tornado of emotions, I am devastated by this report that confirms what I have been witnessing in front of my eyes for years – that nature has been pummelled, ravaged, razed, damaged and reduced to such a sorry state that the UK is now the most nature-depleted country in the G7, and among the most nature-depleted countries in the world. In 2020, a report by the Natural History Museum stated that the UK has ‘led the world’ in destroying the natural environment. How right they were!
Nikki, with our Executive President, Will Travers – whose passionate speech electrified the crowd – and our Head of Education, Laura Gosset.
I have spent my life loving nature – for its beauty and tranquillity and remarkableness – while witnessing its continual decline in the name of development; being led to believe that it was inevitable that nature should be destroyed, cleared out the way, concreted over and exploited for its resources, in order for us to expand our towns, cities and industries, without sense and without a thought. Being disparaged for caring.
But it’s clearer than ever now to anyone who cares to take notice that nature is key to our well-being, to our future. Natural habitats are the most reliable, cheapest (and quite frankly the only truly effective) climate breakdown mitigation tool that we have: woodlands, peatlands, marshes, kelp forests, meadows, hedgerows, and so on – they are all invaluable.
And the wildlife within is key to the ‘function’ of these habitats – the oxygen they produce, the CO2 they mop up, the weather patterns they regulate – it is not by accident that wild animals and plants live where they do. They have each evolved to play a critical ecological role that ensures healthy habitats, in turn maintaining the stable climatic conditions of our planet within which all extant life has evolved.
For our own sakes, we must urgently Restore Nature Now.
However, amongst the turmoil of emotions, I am also moved and inspired by this event – brushing shoulders and bumping banners with people from pretty much every UK organisation focused on nature and the wider environment that you could call to mind. As a conservation scientist, representing Born Free, and as a nature lover, I was overjoyed to be part of that union.
A coming together. A moment of unity.
Through a series of heartfelt and moving testimonies and speeches, we learnt about people’s love for bees, butterflies, badgers, bats, beavers, foxes, hedgehogs, harriers, otters, woodland birds, garden birds, swallows, poppy fields, bluebells, wildflower meadows, primroses, and ancient oaks.
We were reminded several times that nature doesn’t have a voice; but that we do. And we rose in a unified response. There were tears and cheers, condemnation, and aspiration. There was fierce agreement: enough is enough.
We agreed that the government is failing nature, and therefore failing us all. That the science is ignored, repeatedly, and that decisions are too-often based on short-term economic outcomes alone – decisions that are clearly short sighted, dangerous and wrong.
We also agreed that although nature can’t act; we can, and we must.
Addressing the crowd, the event organiser, broadcaster Chris Packham reminded us that the shocking State of Nature report also provides solutions. We are in the wonderful position of knowing exactly what needs to be done and having the tools to do it.
Also on this day and in response to the publication of the report, an RSPB-led campaign called ‘Nature Can’t Wait’ was launched, with the aim of mobilising people to act for nature, and demanding stronger nature commitments from their elected representatives. As this aligns to and works as part of the ongoing ‘Nature 2030’ mission led by Wildlife and Countryside Link, of which we are member, Born Free will be taking a pro-active part in this campaign.
Working together and for a shared mission, these campaigns demand the prioritisation, implementation and enforcement of strong environmental measures by our government in its policies around farming, forestry and fisheries. None of this is impossible, none requires radical change, and nothing need take years to implement. We have the knowledge, the will of wildlife and environmental groups and millions of committed individuals up and down the UK, and the urgent need to Restore Nature Now.
We hope that you, our supporters, will join us in this mission. Keep an eye out on our social media channels for how you can also give your voice and your support for nature.
The event outside Defra offices on Thursday felt modest in size, peaceful, almost fleeting, and yet it also somehow felt like a critical moment. It may have been the first time over 40 NGOs have come together in protest, with a clear, unified and urgent demand; but I suspect it will not be the last.
*Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
STATE OF NATURE REPORT 2023