In December, living in London came in handy. I was able to attend the ‘Rally for Nature’- a political rally of people who believe that the current political status of nature is unsatisfactory, and unsustainable. The rally was based around three key themes, which I will bring up later, but you can have a look now at http://www.league.org.uk/our-campaigns/rally-for-nature
(The District line being its usual tardy self)
The event was organised and led by Dr. Mark Avery, the RSPB, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Wildlife Trusts, and other organisations and political individuals who shared our mindset. The public was welcome (we had to sign up beforehand- the organisers had made us all name badges- I’ve never had a personal name badge before!) and after being delayed for half an hour on the district line, I ran in and joined the gathering at the Church House conference centre to listen to the key event speakers.
Disappointingly there weren’t that many young people at the morning session, but the event was during school hours, so obviously that will have restricted attendance.
Dr Mark Avery gave a rousing talk, de-blazering at one point to reveal his trademark Hen Harrier emblem on a white t-shirt. He ended his speech with a final push of positivity: ‘We will win.’ To me, positivity is underused and under appreciated in the battle against wildlife crime.
During one of the talks someone sitting near me’s phone started ringing. Pharrell William’s ‘Happy’ blasted out through the conference room. We all popped up like meerkats and looked around for the culprit, and to my total delight the culprit was none other than Bill Oddie.
Other memorable talks include that given by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. ‘Nature must be at the heart of children’s learning… the public need a meaningful say.’
This really stood out to me. One of my strong beliefs is that every single human being on this earth is relevant, and absolutely central, to conserving the environment. Everybody should feel empowered in their environment.
We have the gift of speech (or sign language, or brail, or written word, or morse code, or that weird thing where you jump around with flags, or any form of communication) and this is the fundament of education. And i’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that education is the fundament of change.
My total faith in education is why I am so desperate for change in the current schooling system. We as a nation are incredibly privileged to have compulsory, free education up until the age of 16, and we should therefore be using this to raise our next generation into forward thinking, question-asking, litter-pickeruping adults. I will be talking more about this in the followup blogpost.
Right, back to the Rally!
After the talks, we rammed tea and biscuits down our throats and gathered in our constituencies to begin the march to Parliament. This is when I got to meet Terence, Lynne and Sue- three putney folk with green hearts of gold. Each is passionate, proactive and an asset to south west London! I was briefly able to grab Dr Avery and ask him how he believed the education system could be adapted. He seemed to like the idea of practical experience from a young age- bring back the days of show and tell with discarded nests and jam-jars of frogspawn.
(gathering!)(Bob: A political correspondent for the RSPB, oh and also a red squirrel https://www.voteforbob.co.uk)
Caffeine pumped, onwards we marched; accompanied by the Vote for Bob squad and his fellow 6ft mammals. Passers by seemed confused, but I hope that the punchy and memorable picket signs may have inspired a bit of curious googling-on-the-go for some of the baffled commuters.
(there was actual writing on the placards, the useless photographer inside of me just chose the absolute wrong angle)
I was lucky enough to march next to Bill Oddie, and he was incredibly friendly, genuine and happy to talk to me and other rallyers. He certified the need for a far more multi-layered approach to nature education at schools.
(no caption needed…)
After security checks (I can’t believe I passed) we were ushered into the huge meeting hall of the Houses of Parliament and we filled out green cards to meet with our retrospective MPs. Unfortunately our Putney MP Justine Greening was out of office, but we met with her secretary. It is incredibly challenging speaking to someone about nature, when they clearly just see it as a ‘hobby’. But we explained why we were there, and that we would appreciate a direct meeting with Justine to follow up from the Rally.
(my wonderful constituents, with Ms Greening’s secretary (the lady without a visitor badge!) in the houses of Parliament!)
Because of the passion and sincerity of my fellow putney nature team, we were able to have a meeting with Justine this February, and despite an initially disappointing outcome (again, nature was more or less given the ‘miscellaneous’ treatment) Justine has been great so far at following up our discussion with relevant parties. Nicky Morgan MP, the secretary of State for education has responded (the follow up blog will go into detail about this) and we have been promised response from DEFRA.
Here is an outline, compiled by Terence, of how our 20 minute speed-date-style meeting with Justine played out:
Q: Defending the laws that protect nature: Are you supportive of existing EU and UK legislation and if so would you be willing to encourage UK ministers to oppose any weakening of the EU Nature Directives?
A: Ms Greening’s response was “the short answer is yes” but then she followed this with “There will be opportunities and threats- and perhaps there will be opportunities to “improve” the directives”. She promised to get further detail for us from DEFRA.
Q: Tackling Wildlife, especially to restore Hen Harriers: Do you personally support action to save species threatened by wildlife crime and habitat loss and to sustain and enact existing law to ensure suppression of criminal activity in this respect?
A: Ms Greening acknowledged that control of wildlife crime is essential, though we sensed that she would bow to DEFRA with respect to the balance of commercial and wildlife issues such as intensive grouse raising. She did say at one point that she used to “go walking on those moors” but again generally appeared ignorant of the issues as you might expect.
Q: Creating an act for nature: Would you be willing to encourage your party leader and manifesto team to commit to a Nature and Wellbeing Act in your election manifesto?
A: The nature and wellbeing discussion centred around education and the need for a place in the curriculum for nature. Ms Greening was accepting of the notion that ‘wellbeing’ is associated with access to nature and she talked of the importance of access to green spaces (she campaigned successfully for more public gates at Richmond Park) and highlighted the ‘Natural Capital Committee’ and the need for sustainable development.
The event was hugely successful and I hope that other constituencies who attended have followed through in the same way.
Change is coming.
Ps. Please do keep an eye out for my followup post in the next couple of days!