Look at that above image – isn’t it exciting? If you’re a conservation NGO in the UK, you’re more than likely to be under the State of Nature partnership. The popular kids like the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts rub shoulders with the niche but equally wonderful smaller groups such as the Conchological Society and Froglife. The international students, big hitters like WWF, ZSL and (the legacy of my own particular role model) Durrell contributing to the fight on our doorstep. Not to mention an organisation I sit on the leading committee for, the UK’S youth network A Focus on Nature, is sitting up there. As someone who’s only just started a Master’s and isn’t even working in conservation, that makes me feel rather giddy to know the work we’re doing is represented on such a stage.
It should be the dream team. Like a wildlife Avengers Assemble, the State of Nature network should be spearheading real, direct action to set up new policy and put in more effective practice. Under this umbrella unit, we should be seeing some clarity to Mark Avery’s ‘Tangled Bank’ of NGOs, where the huge array of organisations becomes as confusing to negotiate as the craft ale selection in a pretentious hipster bar.
Sadly, the State of Nature partnership has returned in a sequel that bares about as much optimism as ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (nb: if for some reason you aren’t familiar with Star Wars, that means not good.) The State of Nature 2 report was launched today, and only 3 years after the first one. It all seems a bit soon, and might make one think we’ve had an apocalyptic decline of wildlife in that time (surely Brexit didn’t result in all our songbirds dying off as well?). Maybe not quite, but certainly in the last few decades. But then isn’t that what the one in 2013 said? And I definitely remember going to the launch of the ‘Response for Nature’ report last year too.
Unfortunately, the need seems to be to hammer out the same facts again and again, because we haven’t found a government who seems to care, and not even the attendance of David Attenborough at both SON launch events seems to have helped. This great alliance of wildlife conservation groups, rather than being the phoenix bringing nature forth from the ashes, has become an albatross around the neck of whoever’s environment secretary or in charge of DEFRA. And while unity may be found between most of the conservation organisations, bitter divisions between what might be termed ‘countryside interest’ groups who don’t seem so interested in science still seem to remain that way in the aftermath, as seen in this article by the Countryside Alliance’s Liam Stokes. As topics such as rewilding and raptor persecution have driven deeper suspicion from such sides, gaining collaboration with those in the countryside who are more often closer to politicians is going to be harder.
But if that’s the way so be it – because State of Nature is about saying the truth hurts. The reason we are now officially one of the most nature-deprived countries in the world is because of this continual treatment of the environment as a limitless factory and playground. Stokes and the NFU may claim farming hasn’t been as industrialising itself dramatically since the 90s, but nature doesn’t magically recover from the decades that preceded it overnight. And how many farms really put in their all to allow wildlife to survive alongside industry? As a rural dweller myself I greatly respect the lives and livelihoods of those that work and seek recreation from nature, but we can’t keep pretending its all rosy and everything that’s fine for us will also be fine for wildlife.
For it seems that has become the purpose of State of Nature. While I do wish there was more united activity of doing, rather than shaking hands and saying “till the next depressing report” at the end of each launch, it has found a morbid yet necessary purpose of a miner’s canary. The worrying part is that the miner is the government, and more often than not it’s far more temping to head deeper down.