My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
On the day that A Focus on Nature - the UK’s youth nature network. - launch their Vision for Nature, I am delighted to host a guest blog from Matt Williams, their Associate Director. You can follow Matt on twitter @mattadamw and find out more about him on mattadamwilliams.co.uk.
In 2013 the RSPB was part of a partnership of organisations that launched the State of Nature report. This unprecedented piece of partnership work showed that 60% of species we know about have declined in recent decades in the UK.
At the time, I had been involved with A Focus on Nature, the UK’s youth nature network, for about a year. I wrote then that as well as a State of Nature, we needed a Vision for Nature, to set out the path we wanted to be on and the future we wanted to see for the natural world. This vision, I argued, was especially needed for young people and future generations, and could even be put together by them. Indeed, I said that they of all people had the most legitimacy to write such a plan.
Since then, A Focus on Nature has spent the last two years working to put together young people’s visions for the future of nature and wildlife in the UK. And today we launch our Vision for Nature report. You can follow the launch today and the conversations that follow this week using #VisionforNature. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who contributed in any way whatsoever to it, and also to use this blog as a chance to pay tribute to Lucy McRobert, the visionary, emerging young leader who founded A Focus on Nature four years ago.
The report uses not only policy analysis and recommendations, but also creative writing, photography and art to set out our vision, thereby trying to appeal to people’s hearts as well as their heads. It covers a number of topic areas and was put together by gathering the views of over 200 young people through focus groups, surveys, interviews and social media.
But we also know that we're not alone. Polling that we’ve had commissioned and are also publishing today reveals that nine out of ten 16-34 year olds think it’s important (quite important or very important) for politicians to take care of the environment.
The vision we have for the future is ambitious, some may even think it is unrealistic. We don’t know where all the money would come from for our ideas. We’d like to work with NGOs like RSPB, businesses and politicians to figure this out. But it is the start of a conversation about the future we need and want for wildlife.
For example, the UK Government has just indefinitely postponed publication of its 25-year plan for nature. We think delay is not an option: nature urgently needs our help now. However, our top recommendation is for the development not of a 25-year plan for nature, but of a 250-year plan for nature. While we can destroy a creature or special place in the blink of an eye it takes decades for nature to recover and it needs to be safeguarded for many generations to come, not just one generation.
We hope the new Secretary of State for the Environment will take a look at our ideas and be open to meeting with us. Where has the consultation with young people, whose futures will be most affected by it, been during the development of Government’s 25-year plan? The publication of our report today provides an opportunity for those conversations to begin where they have been lacking to date.
We also call for at least ten city national parks to be created across the UK; for all subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels to be redirected towards renewable energy; and for lots of land to be allowed to ‘rewild’ with lost species and large herbivores and omnivores reintroduced to help natural processes take hold again. We think these recommendations need to be adopted by all four governments of the UK. We’d love the opportunity to meet and speak with politicians, businesses leaders and NGO staff from across the UK to discuss our ideas.
This report does more than set out some recommendations though. It puts a stake in the ground for the UK’s burgeoning youth nature movement. Thanks to the work of RSPB and others, we know that people, and the young in particular, are less and less connected to nature than ever before. This is bad for them, their health and their communities. It’s also bad for nature, because if fewer people experience wildlife, then fewer people will protect and care about it.
But there is also a rapidly growing movement of young people who love wildlife who are using social media to create communities of support and enjoyment; and who are embodying the startup spirit to create events and projects of their own to reconnect with nature and wildlife. Groups like A Focus on Nature are being joined by others, such as Bristol and Sheffield Nature Networks and Action for Conservation, as well as initiatives in other countries like CoalitionWild and Bioneers whom we are now building relationships with too. Slowly but surely, I think we are building an international youth nature movement not unlike the international youth climate movement that I was also lucky enough to be part of for a number of years. It is a very exciting time to be a young person who’s passionate about nature.
So this is our vision for the future, and we’d love to hear what you think of it and for you to be part of it. If you’d like to help us address the challenge of making it reality, please get in touch with us.
Image courtesy of Matt Williams