If you’re interested in the political side of conservation, you will have heard of the EU Nature Directives - legislation that, over the past 30 years, has provided the highest level of protection for vulnerable habitats and species. This December (2015) Environment Ministers from every EU country will meet to discuss how we ensure our birds and wildlife are recovering by 2020. The RSPB is working with its Birdlife partners across Europe to prevent the weakening of the directives - which have great public support, after over 520,000 people from across Europe signed a consultation supporting the directives.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak as a representative of the RSPB’s Phoenix Forum at a event held by the RSPB and their German counterpart, NABU. Germany is one of the main defenders of the Nature Directives within the EU, so this event was aimed at sharing ideas and inspiration. Thanks to the involvement of another Forum member, Leanne Tough, at Brussels Green week earlier this year, the RSPB decided that a youth presence at such events was vital. Leanne did an incredible job speaking on behalf of young people (you can see her in action at 3:10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDBWH2jyH7c), demonstrating our power to influence policy makers and effect a positive change in the world.
The event in Berlin, ‘Nature and Land Use. A British - German dialogue on halting biodiversity loss and the need for policy reforms.’ was aimed at exploring the importance of effective legislation for nature, and how conservation organisations (such as the RSPB) can encourage governments to take vital action. I was asked to pose a challenge to the panel alongside a youth representative from NABU.
After convincing my sixth form that this opportunity would link in perfectly in with my German A level, I travelled to Berlin with the RSPB’s team (including CEO Mike Clarke; the Head of European Policy Campaign; and The Head of Agriculture Policy). They were all really friendly, explaining their roles within the RSPB, offering me advice on my ‘speech’ and asking for suggestions on how the RSPB can engage and inspire its youth membership. Upon arrival in Berlin, we made our way to the British embassy, after a brief tour encompassing the Brandenburg gate, the German Parliament, and the powerful Holocaust Memorial. The Embassy was incredible! I felt proud to be British, despite our government’s less than satisfactory attitude towards the environment... I then met Anais - my German equivalent, a young member of NABU - she told me how she had very recently spoken at a student rally against TTIP; it seems that, despite our common aims, German young people are more politically active. We both posed challenges to the panel, facilitated by Mike Clarke and made up of the Head of the German Ministry of Environment, DEFRA’s Head of EU strategy, the Secretary General of the German Advisory Council on the Environment, and Dr Simon Lyster, Board member of Natural England. My challenge was targeted at the decline of farmland birds in Europe and the need for effective EU legislation to preserve nature, and Anais’ at how our generation can inherit an EU that puts nature ahead of short-term economic growth. The discussion that followed was very interesting, encompassing a wide range of topics relating to the power of the EU, and how the UK and Germany can best work together towards shared environmental aims. The panellists were surprisingly frank, and it was later commented that this was likely to be due to the presence of young people - it’s a lot harder for adults to be vague about issues that will directly affect our future! Despite my anxiety at presenting to an audience of around 40 environmental experts, I really enjoyed the experience of presenting, although my public speaking skills still need development! It’s clear that young people possess a powerful voice in defending our natural world.
On my second day I was given a tour of Berlin by a young NABU intern, finishing up with a tour of the NABU youth headquarters, where we discussed how they engage young people - through events, internships and politically. Our conversation gave me lots of ideas, which we’ll hopefully be discussing at our next Forum meeting!
This opportunity highlighted two main things for me; firstly the need for us to work together as a European community - nature does not follow our borders; and the phenomenal power of the EU to effect positive change (through the nature directives and similar legislation). We must therefore not only lobby our own local politicians, but also european politicians. We can make our voices heard through traditional means, such as writing to MEPs, newer methods such as social media, or mass action, such as the recent worldwide climate marches. The impact that young people particularly can have is incredible - I hope the RSPB will continue to develop this, utilising the passion and enthusiasm of its young members.
You can find out more about the Nature Directives, what the RSPB is doing to protect them, and what you can do to help, here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/campaignwithus/defendnature/
Lizzie Frost (blue dress) and Anais Sloman at the British Embassy, Berlin. Credit: NABU/H Krieg
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