A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife

Back in the heat of the summer I got a call from Chris Packham. In itself, exciting enough, but his message made it even more so … ‘I have two things to say,’ he began, ‘The first is that you cannot speak to anyone about the second.’

And so began my role in the creation of what is now a magnificent ‘Manifesto for Wildlife’. There are 18 ‘Ministers’ who have each taken on a ‘Department’. Clearly he thought that a Minister for Hedgehogs was too niche … and if there had been more time I might have argued my point … but I have to admit to being thrilled to being ‘Minister for Lines’ – actually, I am in charge of the Ministry for Hedgerows and Verges.

Minister for Lines amuses me – when I was at Hay Festival in 2017, launching Linescapes into the wild, there was a question/statement from the audience calling for me to be given this job – which was greeted with a cheer … long before it was even a spark in Packham’s eye!

Running in conjunction with the Walk for Wildlife – taking place on Saturday 22nd – the Manifesto is a brave and rigorous call for an end to the War on Wildlife. As Chris has written, “We say that ‘we’ve lost 97% of our flower rich meadows since the 1930s’ or that ‘we’ve lost 86% of the Corn Bunting population’. We speak of ‘a loss of 97% of our Hedgehogs’. Loss , lost . . . as if this habitat and these species have mysteriously disappeared into the ether, as if they’ve accidentally vanished. But they haven’t – they’ve been destroyed.”

This is a war – launched by an economic system that refuses to accept responsibility for the costs it hands onto the planet. Economists call these ‘externalities’ – a company makes a profit from a product or process only because it does not pay the cost of the damage exacted on us all. At the heart of the Manifesto is the need to have these costs accounted for.

The details are developed by an amazing band of independent writers and thinkers – and I am so thrilled, and rather awestruck, to be in such company.

In this ‘male, pale and stale’ world of wildlife it is also vital that Chris has ensured balance – 50% women – a wide mix of age and background – and there are ministries to look into inclusion of race and class. The natural world is fundamental to us all – whatever colour, class or creed.

So – the Manifesto – it is beautiful, exciting, challenging – and it is also just the start – ‘Draft One’. We do not represent everyone – we have not pulled on all the wisdom out there – this is the beginning. So join and help us make it better – make connections, overcome the fragmentation that hits both us and wildlife so hard – Download it, read it, share it – please.


The real measure of where we are …

The news – at last – is reporting on something far more important than celebrity tittle-tattle, or even the ravings of tiny-hand-Trump. Following on from the ‘ecological Armageddon‘ piece in the Guardian the Today Programme has also deigned to cover this rather vital story. I wrote about the same research back in May – again in the Guardian … but this is a new paper looking at the data … and how terrifying it is …

My summary included the figure of an 80% reduction in insect biomass found in Germany over a 30 year period. The most recent data put the figure at a 76% reduction in 27 years.

Do you see what that means?

We, quite rightly, become agitated at the thought of the loss of biodiversity, the loss of a species locally, regionally, nationally or globally is a disaster. But we seem to worry less about the build up to that final moment – yet we need to, and that means a focussing of our thoughts on the loss of bioabundance. The ‘great thinning’, as the wonderful writer Michael McCarthy described it in his superb book ‘Moth Snowstorm’, is a previously unreported disaster. But it is the calling card of the Anthropocene, the human generated geological epoch.

We could worry that these are the insects that are important for pollination of food plants, that are necessary for keeping other pest species in control – but this anthropocentric thinking is why we are in this parlous state. We need to grow up and shift our perspective. The loss of biomass – and it should be noted that there has not been an increase in loss of biodiversity in the study area … displaying the weakness of relying on that as a measure – is far more important than what impact it might have on us.

It is bigger, too, than the cascade of disaster that will follow – as the intricate network of life that feeds on each other is interrupted.

The real scale of this is in its evidence of how deeply we have damaged the system of life on which we (a global/multi-species ‘we’) completely depend. Every process of life on earth is a subset of the ecosystem. Yet the very processes that are destroying this system – ‘progress’, ‘industrial capitalism’ or what ever name you give it – assumes, with staggering arrogance, a position of superiority.

I do not know the answer – how we get out of this. But I do think we might be getting to a time where the true scale of our annihilation of life on earth is a subject that is considered worthy of news. And that has to be a good start.

A day (or two) at Hay

It was only afterwards that I realised quite how tense I had become … the tiredness hit me and I still feel I could sleep all day. My third trip to Hay was all I could have hoped for – and a perfect antidote to the awful legacy of my last trip, when I went to talk about The Beauty in the Beast and, thanks to events beyond my control, had to cope with a 0900 slot just after a huge thunderstorm … and had just 16 people turn up …

This time, photos thanks to my lovely wife Zoe Broughton, was wonderful. First there was evidence of my favourite sort of line … a queue!

Oliver Balch was a well informed and generous interviewer – I was not comfortable with the idea as I am used to being in control and just talking … but we ended up properly ‘in conversation’ and I hope the audience had as much fun as we did!

Book signing – lots of interesting additional questions and a surprise visit by friends of my mother (who promise to report back!) – but NO REST – as I had been booked in to do a Four Thought recording straight afterwards.

Again, I was not looking forward to this as I had to read a script that was still being edited just before my previous talk … again, it went so well. Though in both talks, there was a very swift shift to – ‘lets kill badgers, that will help’ style of questioning … I tried hard to be moderate in my response … though the suggestion that I must be in favour of fox hunting as it encouraged lots of hedges got rather short shrift!

So, thank you Hay, it was a blast. And thank you to the amazing people we met around it as well. For example the brilliant, funny and kind Carrie Quinlan – though she did FAIL to mention hedgehogs …

The fascinating cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken with whom I shared the Four Thought stage – and then a lovely evening of food and wine … and who took dear Mati under her wing.

And then there was Anthony Horowitz – despite massive queue that would have kept him signing for at least two hours, he gave time to the children – here with Pip …

Loads more fun and games was had – but that is plenty for now. If you have not been before, I recommend a trip to Hay … even if you are not an author (access to the Green Room was a rather special treat!).