Earlier this week, I returned to our Headquarters at the Lodge. I needed to pick up my office chair and a few other things. It was only my second visit in six months and because the sun was shining, I took time to enjoy the Lodge gardens before taking a few calls while walking on the reserve.
It was a bit discombobulating as everywhere I went there were signals of the normality that we have lost: empty offices, empty (yet still gorgeous) gardens, the heath just about retaining its late summer purple haze and nature gently taking over areas vacated by people.
We’ve all been shaken by the pandemic and this week’s talk about a possible second wave with new government restrictions reinforces the fact that we are in this for the long haul.
While the RSPB will continue to adapt our operations reflecting the evolving guidance that emerges from the four UK governments, changes are unlikely to be as traumatic as they were back in March.
I was reminded of the early days of lockdown last weekend by a new book called “The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus” by three brilliant writers Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren. It is being published on 15 October and is essentially a nature diary of this year’s incredible spring which, of course, coincided with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and life under lockdown. The three authors record the nature they encountered during their rationed daily walks in their own patches in Wiltshire, Suffolk and South West London. While doing so, they also reveal their personal response to the crisis as it unfolded.
As expected from these three authors, it is beautifully written, but it is also extremely evocative. I read it alongside my own diary and it was a bit of a jolt to return to the intensity of that period – dominated by thoughts of family, supporting teams in repatriating staff, postponing conservation projects, furloughing staff and adjusting to becoming a virtual organisation overnight. But some of the authors’ experiences matched my own. As Mike found a new wood on his doorstep after living in the same house for 25 years, I too found a new woodland on the edge of my local common down the road from my home of 16 years. Like all the authors, I also noted where I was when I heard my first chiffchaff or cuckoo or saw my first swallow or swift (the latter while on a Microsoft Teams meeting staring out of my window in Cambridge). I too became obsessed with a few individual flowers – for me it was goat’s beard. And like so many people in that period, the daily walks in nature provided essential therapy to help me cope with what was going on during lockdown.
The book also reminded me just how quiet it was. No cars, no planes - humans had hunkered down for a season and nature seemed to be flourishing. There was a sense then that when this was over, we had to do things differently – we had to win a green economic recovery. Although much of the traffic (on land, at sea and in the air) has returned, the need remains.
It’s why we welcome the commitment to tackling climate change made by the Prime Minister in his statement yesterday to the UN and it’s why we look forward to similar commitments to be made about nature when the Prime Minister addresses two UN General Assembly events on biodiversity next week. It is particularly pleasing that "the Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that nature-based solutions are a key part of the fight against climate change". We agree. And it one of the reasons why we need leaders to commit to 30% of land and sea to be well protected for nature by 2030.
And it is also why, as I wrote earlier in the week, we will continue to campaign to ensure international commitments are backed up by domestic action including by establishing legally binding targets to drive nature’s recovery across the UK supported by the right policies and funding.
This autumn, I have no doubt that contact with nature will continue to provide consolation for many still struggling to deal with impact of the pandemic but we must retain the energy to hold our politicians to account to help Revive Our World.
We do indeed need to revive our world, or, quite frankly, just stop choking it to death.
The quiet was one of the best things about lock down, early on.
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