Today, I am delighted to host a blog from our Vice-President, Chris Packham. Below, Chris explains why he wants all of us to support The People's Walk for Wildlife on 22 September. I'll be there - will you?
56%. It says 56%.
I think back to 1970, I think about what I was doing in 1970, what happened in 1970. I remember Apollo 13, I remember Bobby Moore’s bracelet and Gordon Bank’s save. And that damned Mungo Gerry song. It seems like yesterday, going to see Kelly’s Heroes. But since that yesterday yellowhammers have declined by 56%. Almost half of the UK’s yellowhammers are gone.
I’m sat in my caravan on the Springwatch set waiting for the morning meeting to start and I’m looking at some notes. They say “we’ve lost 56% of our yellowhammers”. Except that isn’t true. Because its not like these birds have mysteriously disappeared into the ether, like they’ve been inadvertently misplaced, like they’ve annoyingly, accidentally vanished. They haven’t been ‘lost’, they are dead, or they don’t exist. Destroyed is the word. Our ‘little bits of bread with no cheeses’ have been destroyed. Their hedgerows have been ripped up and their food has been poisoned, since The Goodies, in my lifetime, whilst I was meant to have been looking after them - they’ve gone. It’s my fault. I’ve failed. I’ve let millions of yellowhammers die.
I look up the IUCN Red List website on my phone. It says ‘the species suffers indirectly from the use of insecticides and herbicides, as these reduce the abundance of arthropods and the availability of weedy patches rich in seeds (Perkins et al. 2002, Morris et al. 2005, Hart et al. 2006). And then I walk to the meeting and look out into the countryside. Nothing buzzes, no flowers speck the fields, there’s no bread and no cheese.
They are all talking, and someone is saying that the yellowhammer population on one of the farms has significantly increased because the farmer has been doing good things. So all’s not lost then, that’s okay, good, great, phew.
No, it’s ***. We are orchestrating an ecological apocalypse in our own back yard and for all the work done by good farmers and conservationists our ‘green and pleasant land’ is going to hell fast and we’ve got the data, the science, the graphs to prove it. The truth is we can make a difference, but we’re not, because what we are doing is piecemeal, tiny, inconsequential in the face of the ruthless and relentless agricultural monster which ploughs, pollutes and poisons our so-called countryside. Neither are we repelling the greedy concreting sprawl of our towns and cities or stopping the senseless slaughter of ever decreasing species for fun.
By the time I get back to the caravan I’m a very angry man. And for me anger is an energy, a fuel to be harnessed and re-directed into making a difference. So, I weigh up some options for a full five seconds and then decide its time to take to the streets. The People’s Walk for Wildlife.
Because it’s not my fault that the yellowhammers are dead, the foxes are hunted, the badgers are culled, the eagles are shot, the meadows are vacant, and they are cutting down all of Sheffield’s street trees. It’s not down to me that there are just three ‘no-take’ zones in our seas, that the uplands are barren, the farms are toxic, that children don’t meet wildlife anymore, that there are so few black birders. It’s our fault. Mine and yours. So, if I do something, that’s ‘me’, but if you do something too that’s ‘we’, and if there’s a whole load of ‘we’ then that’s a full bladder and something will have to be done. And quickly. So let’s walk.
By lunchtime I’ve got this idea that people could download an MP3 of yellowhammer song, nightingale song, and play it on their phones as they walk through London to remind us of the missing millions, the 44 million birds that have been destroyed in our countryside. Then I scribble a quick sketch for a poster and then I ring Patrick Barkham and he thinks a good idea and then I mail Robert Macfarlane and he is excited too. And that night I lie awake remembering the ‘Rock Against Racism’ carnival in 1978 when 100,000 people marched to Victoria Park and The Clash played ‘White Riot’ and the ground shook and my life was never the same again. I remember Billy Bragg saying that he was there, and his world changed too. So I sit up in bed and re-write one of his songs and ponder about having the balls to actually send it to him. I can’t sleep because I’m imagining Billy Bragg on a stage singing about Rachel Carson and loads of people ‘unsilencing spring’ with their mobile phones playing birdsong. It’s already beyond the point of no-return.
Three days later the date is set. And then the overall purpose begins to focus. I’m at home with Scratchy, in the lounge designing another poster and I draw a big heart and write ‘See The Bigger Picture. We Are United Because We Love Life – All Life’. It’s obvious to me that, for all our energies, passions, skills and endeavours, our simple failing is that we are disconnected. That we are all too focused on our own specialisms, too sure that they are the most important thing, that they, that we, can ‘save the world’ on our own. But we can’t. If those of us who campaign to stop the illegal persecution of raptors succeed, will that stop the decline in hedgehogs or water voles? If we finally stop fox hunting will that help restore our wildflower meadows? If we sort out the ludicrous mowing of our road verges will that help re-introduce the beaver? No. Not independently, but if we can just open our eyes for a moment, put our egos in a box, stop bickering over details, summon the courage to admit the truth about what is really wrecking our landscape and just SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE, then together we can make a real, a big enough difference. If we stop mumbling about ‘loss’, if we wake up to the fact that we have somehow normalised living without wildlife, if we collectively realise that it’s now or never, that our wildlife needs us, and needs us more than ever, then we can have our ‘little bits of bread and cheese’ back and a bright yellow bird will stir hearts from hedgerows again.
So please, whoever you are, get off your *** and join us on September 22nd in London and help us make the ground shake because we need to change the world now.
My anger is just under the lid. Mainly about divisions being creating between people. It's not war, it's peace we must broker. For our's and wildlife's sake insideecology.com/.../bugbears-bioblitz-buzzard-beaver-and-bat
"Summon the courage to admit the truth about what is really wrecking our landscape" - then read this on consumerism and how we live today www.theguardian.com/.../save-earth-disposable-coffee-cup-green
ps if I see a full-stomached walker with a plastic coffee, I'm minded to set the wrath of Monbiot on them.
Best wishes Rob
I'm trying to change the world for the better, but I can't be in London then. Grrrr.
A neighbour from our village died a few years ago, aged 80. He remembered turtle doves singing from every bush as he walked along the footpath to the next village as a boy. Now I breath a big sigh of relief if a single pair makes it back to our local nature reserve in spring. We still see the occasional yellowhammer but corn buntings went from here in the last 30 years. That's why I'm doing the Walk for Wildlife.
Quite brilliant Chris. Thank you. we'll be there!
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