Wilder Future Campaign Launch

Yesterday, The Wildlife Trusts launched Wilder Future, our most ambitious campaign ever. Our reasoning? Because wildlife is declining fast and because the UK is now officially one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Our focus? To get as many people as possible to stand up for wildlife and take action to protect it. Our goal? To bring nature back to areas from where it’s been lost, to put wildlife into recovery, and to make this a legal requirement.

We’ve all heard the news.  We’ve lost more than half our wildlife since 1970, and we’d lost an awful lot already by then.  Only this week we heard that 30% of our bees and hoverflies are in decline, and at least 1200 of our native species are extinct or at risk of going that way.  Devon is a beautiful county, but sadly it is very typical.  Less than 20% of our rivers are in a healthy state, only 38% of our hedges are in good condition and birds like the nightingale have completely disappeared.    

This isn’t a time to get depressed. But the first step to recovery is understanding the nature of your ailment.  And at the risk of over-simplifying things, I would say we face three fundamental problems.  First, we’re not protecting our best sites well enough.  Two thirds of our SSSI are in suboptimal condition, and locally important sites get damaged and destroyed each year.  Secondly, we’re not giving nature enough space for it to recover.  Nature has a place in our farmland, in the uplands, in our cities and around our coasts, but too often it’s simply squeezed out.  And thirdly, despite this being a time of almost unprecedented concern about the natural environment, not enough of us are making a fuss and taking action.

Why are we doing this now in the middle of all the political chaos around Brexit? Behind all the bluster, it’s crunch time for our environmental policies and laws. Pretty much all of those that affect the natural world – including farming and fishing - are being overhauled. This is concerning in lots of ways but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to turn things around.
Wind in the Willows picnic

These are the problems are campaign is trying to tackle.  And central to it is the idea of creating a Nature Recovery Network.  This would be a plan, with legal clout, that shows where we plan to bring nature back.  Imagine taking a long walk out of central Exeter towards Dartmoor. But instead of busy roads, you walk along wood lined paths, over-looking houses with green roofs.  As you approach the city’s edge you wander along rivers whose banks are adorned with a wide strip of reeds and willow, and then through farms with bushy hedges, broad and wildflower rich field margins, and dotted with small woodlands.  And as you approach the hilly fringe of England’s largest granite outcrop, you encounter larger tracts of woodland and more extensively grazed pasture. And then the open moor, rich in heather, blanket bogs and patches of upland oak forest.  This isn’t an empty landscape or an unproductive one.  But it is nature rich. 

We know how to create this.  Yet we regularly hear some people say it’s too difficult, it gets in the way of economic growth or we can’t afford it.  They’re wrong.  And more often than not it saves money.  We know it makes sense to reward farmers to look after their soils rather than paying for the costs of cleaning up water polluted with run off from fields.  The NHS is increasingly interested in green prescriptions for people with a wide range of ailments because it knows prevention is better and cheaper than cure.  And all over the world insurance companies are starting to invest in protecting wetlands, forests and marine reefs, because they’ve worked out that this is much cheaper than paying for the costs of the damage caused by their destruction. 

Wind in the Willows characters

Why are we doing this now in the middle of all the political chaos around Brexit?  Behind all the bluster, it’s crunch time for our environmental policies and laws. Pretty much all of those that affect the natural world – including farming and fishing - are being overhauled.  This is concerning in lots of ways but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to turn things around.  We’re expecting a consultation on the new Environment Bill in June.  But we don’t want any old Act. We want one that’s world leading. One with ambition, clear targets, teeth to make sure it’s implemented and funding to make it happen.

This all sounds great.  But if we’re going to make it happen we need to get as many people as possible to tell our politicians, big companies and decision makers that they think this matters.  We have a problem though.  Organisations like ours rarely reach more than 5% of the population.  So we hit on the idea of making a film.  Full length feature films cost around £30 million to make, so we’ve opted for a film trailer.  We’ve used Wind in the Willows as the theme. It’s just over a hundred years since the book was first published and, nostalgic and idealistic though it may be, it’s a striking reference point against which we can gauge what’s happened since.  And mole, toad, ratty and badger are characters that have lived in and around humans for centuries, so it’s easier to make an emotional connection with them.

One of the things that I have found most heart-warming about this whole process is the amazing generosity of people who have given their time freely to us, or at hugely reduced rates.  And they’ve done this because they care so passionately about wildlife.

Brexit is clearly a subject that divides us. But the natural environment is something that unites us, and here in the South West it often defines us. Yesterday parliament said no to eight separate proposals, leaving itself well and truly snookered. Well, how about we say yes to eight proposals.

You might feel the trailer paints a rather gloomy picture or that it’s too simplistic.  But this is aimed at the non-expert.  Environmentalists need to listen to the concerns of the wider community, and not get too caught up in the issues that we – the so-called experts – want others to care about.  

I’m afraid we won’t be making a full length feature any time soon.  But the Film Trailer can be shared on social media and will be shown in about 500 cinemas nationally over the coming fortnight. 

And the point of the film? To encourage viewers to get involved in a social media campaign that we hope will stimulate thousands of people in Devon to take action and hundreds of thousands nationally. 

And there are plenty of actions you can take.  Lobby your MP for stronger environmental laws.  Do something practical like dig a pond or create a wild area in your garden.  Or help map your local area – we’re asking people to put themselves in the shoes (or pawprints) of animals and see how far they can walk before encountering a barrier.  Roads, fences and steep sided ditches are insurmountable or even lethal to toads, for example. And we’re going to use that information to help create our nature recovery map for Devon. 

Brexit is clearly a subject that divides us.  But the natural environment is something that unites us, and here in the South West it often defines us.  Yesterday parliament said no to eight separate proposals, leaving itself well and truly snookered.  Well, how about we say yes to eight proposals.

YES to stronger laws to protect our best sites and vulnerable species

YES to creating a nature recovery network across every part of the UK and making this a legal requirement

YES to an ambitious Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act so nature has a strong place in our farmed landscape and our seas

YES to each of us taking personal action to make this happen

YES to every part of government recognising the benefits that nature brings to our economy and society

YES to taking proper account of the financial benefits of nature and the full costs of failing protect it

YES to a bringing nature back on a grand scale

YES to making Devon, and the South West region the best place to see wildlife in the UK, if not in Europe.

Now that’s something really worth fighting for.  Let’s make it happen!

Take action here