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Two overcast days in Grantham

Posted: Friday 25th November 2016 by ColinsBlog

Engaging people with the natural world (c) Stephanie FranklinEngaging people with the natural world (c) Stephanie Franklin

Colin is inspired...

The only time the Chairs and CEOs of all the wildlife trusts meet is for our Annual Meeting each November. As well as a formal Annual General Meeting of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT, of which each individual wildlife trust is a member), this is effectively our parliament, where we debate the big issues of the day and plan how we are going to address these.

Two overcast days in Grantham may not sound that exciting (sorry Grantham) but I have to say that this year’s meeting was exceptionally important and inspiring.

Enabling children to get close to wildlifeWe are in a time of huge potential change. The most obvious driver is external- responding to Brexit and its impacts for our environment and wildlife. But the second is internal – how we develop our work to make sure nature really does matter to everyone in their lives and this is where I would like to focus first.

Many of you reading this will already appreciate the value of wildlife and the environment for many reasons but we know that for the majority of the UK’s population, wildlife is simply not part of their lives. Our Partnership Strategy for the next five years, which was debated this week, will focus on how we can turn this around. This means we have to engage with more people, in more ways than ever before and in ways that are relevant to their lives. Of course, a strategy won’t deliver this – people will. And we have to start by mobilising our supporters and volunteers to share their passion for wildlife and to celebrate the natural world around us, and the benefits it can bring to, for example, our health and wellbeing.

Farmed landscape at Lower Smite FarmSo what about Brexit? At our meeting we heard from two of our key partners. The President of the CLA (Countryside Land and Business Association) reminded us that the stance of our two organisations are very closely aligned and that policy and funding for agriculture and forestry must drive the delivery of public benefits including biodiversity. The CEO of the Environment Agency assured us that the government is committed to strong legislation, regulation and action, quoting the Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom who said “as Environment Secretary, I want to be very clear - it is my ambition and it’s my department’s vision to be the first generation to leave our environment better than we found it since the industrial revolution”. Well it’s clear that despite all of this there will be huge pressure to dilute the EU-driven legislation and regulations as these are transferred into UK statute. We also know there will be huge pressure on finances. 

So we have two enormous challenges. But the two are very closely linked. Surveys say that the vast majority of people want protection of wildlife and the environment to be as strong or stronger regardless of how they voted on Brexit. We must demonstrate this extraordinary level of popular support and must enable people from all walks of life to recognise the value of wildlife to them. Then we might convince government of our case, using every argument available to us, not least that most of the electorate agree with us.

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