Vision for Nature – Day 1

On Friday 5th September over 100 young conservationists descended on Cambridge, joined by many established professionals, to discuss their Vision for Nature. Over the course of the weekend friendships have been forged, contacts established, ideas formulated, minds inspired and hearts impassioned.

Sitting back in my room in Somerset, a day after it is all over, my throat sore from the amount of talking I did, I still am absorbing everything that went on and processing all my thoughts on the last few days. There is so much I want to write about, partly for myself to just help reinforce it all, but also for others; for those who couldn’t make it to the event but desperately wanted to be there, so that they too can be informed, encouraged and inspired, that I will probably be writing a few blog posts, detailing both days and my feelings at the end. So please bear with me; to paraphrase James Borrell from this weekend – if you have something worthwhile to write about it is your responsibility to conservation to share it.

Day 1

The first session of the day after opening remarks from the incredible Lucy McRobert and Matt Williams was an A Focus on Nature showcase. I’d received an email earlier in the week from Lucy asking if I fancied talking for a ten minute slot on UBC. I agreed but then found myself stood on stage as the first speaker, with a few slides I’d quickly put together gone midnight on Wednesday night and a talk I hadn’t even run through in my head! Luckily it all went fine; as I reminded myself before I stood up I run the competition so I am the world expert on the topic! I was followed by Ed Marshall who talked about his time on the Isles of Scilly and the conservation work they carried out there. He’s originally gone over as part of a six week photography internship awarded by AFON, but had ended up staying longer then that and is now planning on going back for an extended visit at the end of this month. Wrapping up the AFON showcase was Madison Wales, the recent recipient of the award in Environmental History for her dissertation on Ladies for Nature. After giving the audience a taster of just some of the things that AFON does it was time to really get stuck in to the day.

The view from the stage!
The view from the stage!

The first debate of the weekend was ‘Should Science have the final say in Conservation?’ with the Panel made up of Andy Clements (Director, BTO), Debbie Pain (Director of Conservation, WWT), Rob Lambert (Environmental Historian, Broadcaster, Expedition lecturer) and Ralph Underhill (Common Course for Nature). Although right from the word go all the panellists agreed that Science shouldn’t have a final say, but does play an important role, there was plenty of passionate discussion about how much weight we should actually give to science. Rob Lambert described humans as sociocultural beasts highlighting that the majority of British people engage with nature in a non-scientific way so science will not always get the public engaged or inspired about nature and conservation. Although science is vital for policy making Ralph Underhill said we need to stop arguing about the details of science and come together and be enthused. He also raised the point that psychology is also a science, yet is largely ignored. Although some panellists seemed to want to give science a larger weighting then others it was generally agreed that the division between culture and science is wrong. Debbie gave us the beautiful line “Worms are food for thrushes, and thrushes are food for the soul”.

Debates get underway
Debates get underway

Delegates were then presented with their first opportunity to choose a debate or workshop to attend:

  • Debate: Natural Capital: are we putting a price on Nature? Chaired by Martin Harper (Director of Conservation, rspb) Panel: Tony Juniper (independent environmental advisor, campaigner and writer), Donal McCarthy (Economist, rspb), Mark Avery (Independent conservationist) and Matt Shardlow (CEO, Buglife).
  • Workshop: Introduction to Moth Trapping, Simon Phelps
  • Workshop: The Essential Path for Wildlife Education, Stephen le Quesne
  • Workshop: Wildlife Filmaking, Cain Scrimgeour
Cain leads his Wildlife Film making workshop
Cain leads his Wildlife Film making workshop

My plan had been to flit between all of them taking photos to share on the AFON Twitter page but I walked into the debate and couldn’t tear myself away. I read Tony Junipers book ‘What has Nature ever done for us?’ at the beginning of the year and it was a real eye opener; I’d strongly urge everyone to read it. It’s a sad state of affairs that we are having to put a pounds and pennies figure on our natural world and the ecosystem services that it provides to make people sit up and care, yet the figures that are stated really can’t be ignored. Anyway, the debate considered these issues and brought up the difference between putting a price on nature compared to putting a value on nature; with price implying that nature is for sale. Interestingly enough when asked to not a single member of the panel could put a price on their individual love of nature, stating that too many other factors came into play.

Next on the agenda was a session led by Conservation Careers entitled ‘So you want to work in nature Conservation?’. Nick Askew (Director, Conservation Careers) opened the session before the fantastic Niall McCann (Zoologist, Explorer, Tv presenter and TED talker) took the the stage. Niall was truly inspiring, making us believe that people truly can make a difference, whilst wow-ing the audience with his tales of adventure out in the rainforests of the world. Niall was followed by three others: James Borrell (Conservation Biologist) who first wanted to go on a expedition to impress girls but had his ‘moment’ whilst in the Madagascar rainforest, Neil Prem (Career Coach), telling us that we can change the world, and Pamela Abbott (Natural England and Cambridge Conservation Forum) who showed that you shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself forward and go for things. Each of the speakers worked in a different area, had come from a different background yet their underlying message was the same; people can make a difference to the world and if you want it enough you will get there.

The day ended with another choice of a debate or workshops:

  • Debate: ‘All creature great and Small: species conservation in Britain’. Chaired by Hugh Warwick (Author and Ecologist) Panel: Tim Mackrill (Rutland Osprey Project, LWRT), Jenny Leon (Learniing Cooordinator, Froglife), Ian Rowlands (Organiser, Whalefest) and Sarah Henshall (Lead Ecologist, Buglife).
  • Workshop: Wildlife Photography, Tom Mason
  • Workshop: Attitude and Values in Communications, Ralph Underhill
  • Workshop: Developing a Career in Ecological Consultancy – is it right for you? Matt Collis

I’d decided to attend the debate for this session. Hugh Warwick, who champions the Hedgehog asked each panellist to defend their own species and say a little about why they focused on a single species. Jenny Leon asked the audience who’s love had stemmed from a childhood experience and every single person in that room put their hand up. A point, that had been raised many times through out the day was that people, especially children, like stories, and telling the story of a single species can get people interested enough to want to find out more about other things; they can act as gatekeeper species. Getting conservation right for one species can help get it right for others. Tim Mackrill used the Osprey’s migration route as a real example of a Living Landscape – it covers multiple countries and cultures and it is possible to bring them all together in the celebration and protection of one species that they all share. The use of a single species to tell a story can engage a range of different groups of people that will all help contribute to the larger conservation effort.


Some of the Dorset Wildlife Skills trainees shared their vision for nature
Some of the Dorset Wildlife Skills trainees shared their vision for nature

We all left the building with lots to think about and discuss. Although we had been talking about real problems faced by conservation I felt that most of what being said was positive; there are challenges ahead, and they will be difficult but if we fight for what we believe we will succeed.

I know I’ve only really skimmed the surface with what was said but I hope I’ve given a flavour of what was discussed and if you want to read other peoples thoughts and reactions to the workshops and debates then search #VisionforNature on Twitter. The amount of tweets on there is incredible!

Stay tuned for Day 2!


 Postscript: Day 2 is now available here!


5 thoughts on “Vision for Nature – Day 1

    1. Hi Heather. It really was an incredible weekend. The afon committee are currently discussing where we go next and if we make it a regular occurence but the feedback we’ve had has all been positive so I’m sure there will be something similar at some point in the future 🙂

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