ECOS 38 (3)

2020 vision – do we have it?

Over the next two years, nature conservation on the ground will remain largely the same as we know it now. Nature reserves will still be owned, habitats will be managed to our best abilities and available resources, and the projects we are working on will continue for the most part. However, what happens to us, and what we do to others, in the next two years will determine how our natural world fares in decades to come.

As the fog of elections and Brexit slowly lifts, what landscape will be revealed and will our organisations, whether they be government bodies, third sector or private companies, have an influential place within it? To ensure that we are still relevant and effective in 2020:

  • We must make sure that we have a coherent story to tell so that our core messages are clearly understood and are familiar in the media and to the general public;

  • We must be prepared to make enemies, to take on our opponents and win the arguments.

Our recovering otter populations are a conservation success story, but we should not let their protected status allow complacency.   


Time for radical thinking

There are concerns of poor financial resources in the conservation sector, but if each Wildlife Trust would sell one reserve for housing development then there could be a fighting fund of many millions of pounds. Trusts could buy more land once the battle is won. Each Wildlife Trust could make a decision to maximise the profit by selling to a major developer such as Persimmon Homes to provide affordable houses, or to work with an innovative developer to develop fewer but larger eco-homes and accept a smaller return. Would it not be better to have 47 less nature reserves and carry the day than cling on to land and lose the arguments through lack of funds and influence?

New minister – friend or foe?

We have a new Secretary of State and unless we can be persuasive with him and his ministerial team, then little of what we want will come to pass. We must be pragmatic. Michael Gove is an experienced minister of state (he is certainly not “unfit” as Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted) and as such he knows how to get things done. He and his wife Sarah Vine are influential journalists commanding six-figure salaries in the News Corp media group. He knows how to articulate a message and will instantly recognise an issue that might bring him benefit. If we do not make him our ally, and become his ally in turn, then we will have failed. We must provide him with our stories, projects and themes in ways that will play well for him and get him off Theresa May’s “naughty step” at Defra. If his particular political ambition coincides with our much greater ambitions for nature, for however long he may be in post, then I’ll be his best buddy.

Ancient woodland bluebells - habitats with cultural and wildlife signficance, but could they lose some of their protection in future? 


Time to take responsibility

Peter Shirley’s call for “focus, focus, focus” in his article in ECOS 38(2) makes a great deal of sense and I applaud it. I think that his strategic understanding is spot on. Nature conservation organisations, whether they are local or national, should focus on what people understand to be their mission. This is where they have authority and integrity. Nature conservation did not get much of an airing during the election debate and the reason for that is that we did not raise it forcefully enough or in ways that could be expressed and understood in the campaigns. Nature conservation is our subject – we are its custodians and champions. If it gets ignored, side-lined or misunderstood then we only have ourselves to blame.



Curator of Wessex Wildlife Photography and Project Development Officer at Cranborne Chase AONB, these views are his own.

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