Protest demanding action on the climate and nature crisis, (c) Nick Hawkes (rspb-images)

In today's Why Policy Matters blog, Jeff Knott, RSPB Director of Policy and Advocacy, writes on the need for the political and media spotlight to be on the issues, rather than focusing on the those who are raising the flag.

I’m just back from a couple of weeks holiday with the family. Getting a proper break away is important for resetting and reenergising, but its always interesting to come back and see what I’ve “missed” in the world of conservation.

I use quotation marks advisedly, as clearly I’m still around, but focussing on other things, such as the Lionesses amazing run to the world cup final. In many ways, that’s an important reminder of how most people digest environmental news. It’s there in the background but doesn’t always come to the front of mind and as a result, there were some great stories I didn’t see. It feels like the environment gets more media coverage than ever before, but it still sometimes feels like a struggle to get the visibility we need. Would Mary Earps saving Water voles get as much media coverage as her saving penalties? I doubt it.

So what news did I miss? Well there was some fantastic news from the Lake District, where we’ve worked with partners to bring back Water voles to the riverbank, meaning Water voles and Beavers will be living alongside each other in Cumbria’s rivers for the first time in 400 years. And there was the news that baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen was stepping up to help find wildflower and meadow conservation, including unique machair habitats in Scotland. Apart from making me feel a bit better about my laziness preparing fresh food for our baby, its brilliant to see a business helping fund conservation in this way.

Wildflower meadow at RSPB Haweswater, (c) David Morris (rspb-images)

But despite these great actions to address the nature and climate crisis, the only stories which punctured my holiday bubble were far less happy. With apocalyptic images of wildfires destroying lives, livelihoods and habitats from Greece to Hawaii, its clear that human induced climate change is stoking extreme weather events in the here and now. The nature and climate emergency is no longer something in the future, its on our doorstep here and now, destroying lives.

In that context, the responses to a Greenpeace stunt demanding no new oil have been interesting and informative. What constitutes legitimate protest has been in the news a lot in recent months, with protests from Just Stop Oil and others hitting the streets and the front pages. What is most worrying for me is not so much the protester’s actions, but the fact that almost every bit of media coverage, focused on the tactics and not the issue. In particular, the Government’s response to drop ties with Greenpeace, seems to fundamentally miss the point.

As England failed to breakdown Spain in the world cup final at the weekend, one of the most frustrating things was watching the cynical time-wasting fouls. I know it goes on it pretty much every high stakes football match, but tackles targeting the player not the ball, are always frustrating to watch. The Government response to the Greenpeace protest and indeed to other recent demonstrations feel like the equivalent of playing the (wo)man, not the ball.

Protest is a very subjective thing and organisations and individuals have different approaches and cultures. RSPB has a very different campaigning approach to Greenpeace or Just Stop Oil, but bringing about lasting change often requires a range of approaches. More broadly, this breadth of debate is fundamental to a functioning democracy, so efforts to shut it down are hugely worrying.

Faced with high public concern about climate change and the knowledge nature will suffer alongside people, to mix sporting metaphors, the Government seems intent on taking its ball home. With the devastating effects of the nature and climate emergency on wildlife and people becoming clearer by the day, is it any wonder that more people are getting desperate, and desperate people do desperate things. Rather than debating or even decrying the actions people take, we desperately need our politicians to focus more on why they are desperate in the first place. Let’s focus on what we need to do to address the issue, rather than what people do to bring attention to it.

The Government has committed to being a leader in action on nature and climate on the global stage. Now is the time to see these commitments through to action.

Nature needs action, not just warm words. We’re proud to support the Nature 2030 campaign, demanding more action from politicians to stop nature’s collapse. If you haven’t already, please do add your voice.

Petitions and direct action are two sides of the same coin. Different ways for people to demand change. But it does not change the fundamental point that we are in an emergency and an emergency demands and emergency response. And in an emergency, nothing should be off the table.

  • It was also great to see the RSPB calling out the government but then it was frightening to see the oppressive response.  Clearly, the government is intimidated by an organisation that wants to protect nature and will stand up for itself in the political arena, where it counts.  More of the same, please.