How campaigning can save nature – featuring an interview with Dakota Reid, Queen’s University student and environmental activist.

Young campaigners protesting against climate change

Youth Strike for Climate March 2019

Northern Ireland has lost more nature than any other part of the UK. We’re also the only country in the UK whose government hasn’t committed vital Green Recovery funding to turn this around. This might feel like an impossible obstacle to overcome, but for Dakota Reid, a passionate activist and politics student, she knows you should never underestimate the power of passionate people working together to make change happen.

Dakota Reid

Dakota Reid

Since she was little, Dakota has loved learning about birds, butterflies and moths. But after growing more aware of the threats facing these species and all our natural world, she felt compelled to do something about it. In 2019, Dakota started volunteering with RSPB NI and recently joined Our Bright Future NI – an ambitious campaign group that’s engaging young people to make a difference to the environment and communities.

Dakota is also a leading voice in RSPB NI’s campaign calling on the NI Finance Minister to fund a Green Recovery. This would not only revive our economy after the pandemic but create much-needed green jobs to restore nature, increase our greenspaces and help reduce carbon emissions.

We caught up with Dakota to find out what it means to be a young activist and why she believes a Green Recovery will be a pivotal moment for people and nature.

Young volunteers by Chris Thompson

Young volunteers by Chris Thompson

RSPB NI: Do you want life to go back to normal after the pandemic?
DR: We’ve all said that we wish that life would go back to normal. Normal was unsustainable. Our pre-pandemic normal life was characterised by high carbon emissions, declining wildlife populations and little space for nature in our everyday lives. We need a new normal. Over the last year, we have realised just how much our society and economy can adapt when needed. When we look ahead to our post-coronavirus recovery, we now know that lasting change is possible if there is political will behind it. Now is the time to demand this change so we can safeguard the future of the climate and wildlife that we depend upon.

RSPB NI: Why do you believe Northern Ireland needs a Green Recovery Fund?
DR: If I was speaking to someone who was unsure of the importance of the green recovery campaign, I would ask them how they feel about seeing butterflies on a sunny day or listening to birdsong or seeing a hedgehog. These are all of the things that we are protecting with an ambitious green recovery plan.

A green recovery offers so many opportunities – it’s the chance to create a more accessible public transport system and improve our air quality. It’s the chance to create green jobs that are good for people and nature. It’s the chance to reduce our carbon emissions and protect habitats at the same time by realising the potential of nature-based solutions. And it’s the chance to reverse the devastating declines in many of our favourite birds, mammals, pollinators and other species that helped to get us through this period. As we reshape and rebuild our society after the pandemic, this is an opportunity that Northern Ireland cannot afford to miss.

Hedgehog by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

Hedgehog by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

RSPB NI: How will a green recovery benefit young people in Northern Ireland?
DR: My generation are facing an environmentally bleak future of climate breakdown and mass species loss. We need to make our voices heard to shape what sort of society we are going to rebuild after the pandemic.

A green recovery would secure a more sustainable future for today’s young people by tackling the climate and nature crises here and now. However, the biggest investment that any society can make is in its education system. We’re not investing in our future when over 80% of children can’t recognise a bumblebee. We need to build an education system that facilitates learning to value nature which is accessible to everyone. By ensuring that every pupil gets more time spent learning in and about nature, we are giving young people the tools and knowledge that they need to be the sustainable leaders of the future.

RSPB NI: What would you like the Northern Ireland Executive to do to secure your future?
DR: Politicians will play a vital role in delivering a green recovery, but only if they choose to recognise the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises. All MLAs need to support an ambitious and effective Climate Bill and ensure that it is implemented. The Northern Ireland Executive also needs to acknowledge that it failed on the majority of biodiversity targets by making nature front and centre of its coronavirus recovery plan. The Executive’s current economic recovery plan doesn’t include nature at all and falls short of the radical action needed. When Northern Ireland ranks as the 12th worst country for biodiversity loss out of 240, it is very clear that we are running out of time. If our MLAs recognise the severity of these crises, then they should back the RSPB’s campaign for a green recovery that will benefit people and nature.

Swan in polluted river

Swan in polluted river

RSPB NI: How is lobbying the government an effective tool in driving change?
DR: Personally, I try to raise awareness where I can, and while I feel that individual action is effective, as a politics student I also see the necessity and opportunity in joining voices with others to lobby government to fund and make policy changes for nature right here in Northern Ireland.

Lobbying the government by adding your voice to petitions and e-actions, responding to consultations and spreading awareness on social media shows politicians that people care about environmental issues. Politicians rely on people for votes, they can’t ignore public opinion on these issues. Since many were elected based on their environmental commitments, putting pressure on them to follow through will help shape the policies they create.

Stormont by Simon Harrison Photography

Stormont by Simon Harrison Photography

RSPB NI: What does it mean to be an environmental activist?
DR: I think that a key part of environmental activism is finding the balance between communicating the essential services that nature provides and communicating why we should attach an intrinsic value to nature. When talking to policymakers, it’s important to highlight that we rely on nature for flood control, pollination and carbon storage, but it’s also important to appreciate the diversity of nature for the joy it brings us. Not everything can be quantified in economics!

I have actually become a lot more involved in environmental campaigning during the pandemic than I was beforehand. Using online platforms has removed the barrier of travel for a lot of young people and has meant that I can attend events beyond Northern Ireland.

Young campaigners protesting at the Youth Strike for Climate march

Young campaigners protesting at the Youth Strike for Climate march

How you can take action for nature
If you still think that making laws or shaping policies should be left to the people in powerful positions, remember, throughout history some of the biggest changes have been brought about by a small group of people taking action.

Maybe you can’t take to the streets just yet, but there are other impactful ways to speak up for nature and make it impossible for the government not to listen, like becoming an RSPB Campaigner - where you'll get guidance and support to fight for the environmental causes you care about most. Get involved!

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