Connected Gatherings

| 5th December 2012

Ecologist and blogger Hugh Warwick

Over the course of a weekend ecologist and blogger Hugh Warwick had two amazing experiences: One was a gathering of naturalists and artists at the New Networks for Nature, the other a flashmob of protesters at the British Museum.
In politics, the left and the right each see environmentalism as the other in disguise

I was introduced to the New Networks for Nature and their event, Nature Matters - by the otterly wonderful (sorry) author, Miriam Darlington.

Mim is the otter-woman from The Beauty in the Beast,and has written her own amazing book, Otter Country. The New Network describes itself as 'a broad alliance of creators (including poets, authors, scientists, film makers, visual artists, environmentalists, musicians and composers) whose work draws strongly on the natural environment.' It originated from the dissatisfaction felt by many about the low political priority placed on Nature in the UK.

I was slightly daunted by the list of people who were going to be attending, but in the end it felt a little like I had come home. I still enjoy, but remain unfulfilled by purely scientific conferences. And I get frustrated when art fails to connect. But here there were scientists, writers, painters, musicians all weaving webs with their passion.

Early on there was a talk from Jim Perrin on rapture - and whether that was a concept we should embrace - clearly amongst this audience it was - without the ecstasy and joy of time immersed in the Natural world, commentary upon it remains fraudulent.

Conor Jameson - who has revisited the classic green book Silent Spring - talked of the sense of wonder in Nature that drove Rachel Carson. If this is all beginning to sound a little like a hippy convention, you could not be more wrong. This was science leavened with love and empathy - but it was grounded.

Okay, not always grounded; the soaring voice of Hana Tuulikki took us to other planes as she opened and closed proceedings. But the main thrust was evidence based. Mark Avery made the wry comment that you don't need a license to release 35 million alien birds (in the form of pheasants) into the wild in the UK each year - but try and get permission to release 35, formerly native, white-tailed sea eagles!

My notes are incomplete so I cannot attribute a thought expressed that in politics, the left and the right each see environmentalism as the other in disguise. I thought this was very interesting and helped explain the refusal of either wing of politics to seriously engage with long-term matters.

In politics, the left and the right each see environmentalism as the other in disguise

Well perhaps that is the problem. Mainstream politicians, whatever end of the spectrum - are out on one wing or the other, while the rest of us remain in the body unable to wrest control. Time for the body to beat the wings for a change.

There was an unsurprising ornithological domination of proceedings, due to the fact that the NNN had arisen from a local meeting of the TA (twitchers anonymous). How many hedgehogs were mentioned? None! But I have a long term plan to infiltrate some 'proper' animals.

I do love birds too and there was a perfectly pitched Cuckoo segment - Mike McCarthy of the Independent'svoice was breaking as he talked of the real risk of the loss of the cuckoo from this country.

There was an interesting moment too when he played the cuckoo's call on a recorder and found that the familiar descending minor 3rd, from G to E was too low when compared to the real bird, which is closer to A to F#. I was distracted by this - it may be that this is more to do with the rather variable frequencies that have been chosen to represent the notes throughout time.

Mike's moving talk was followed by the brilliant science of Nick Davies, and then Peter Cowdrey stepped up and slowed down a starling. I have never been taken with the song of the starling - scratchy, noisy, impenetrable. But as he slowed it down it began to make sense (though occasionally sounding rather like a pig). And then he turned it into music, transcribing it for 13 instruments -startling starling -Messiaen meets John Adams!

Friday night in the pub surrounded by some of the funniest, wisest and strangest people was a delight. Stamford, in Lincolnshire, has a lot going for it! So Saturday morning was a little bleary - but no less extraordinary.

I have been rambling and I still have to tell you about Shakespeare, so just two more highlights from this gathering. Andrea Roe. Astounding. A deep artist who made more than one of the audience cry. And Charles Bennett poet and empath; 'The more I love Nature, the more difficult I find my own species.' This is not about 'raising awareness, but expressing disgust.'

Connections - I loved the connections.

And then on Sunday morning there were more, as I filmed the FlashMob protest at the British Museum by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company. I am lucky enough to know many of these people and have already helped film one of their courageous performances. Currently they are protesting the presence of the oil company, BP, as a sponsor of the arts, and in particular this season of Shakespeare.

Sunday was the last performance, but this time it was not just a couple of courageous actors. This time a cast of hundreds descended upon the British Museum for the last day of the BP-sponsored Shakespeare exhibition.

Rehearsals with the core group were fun. The energetic wit of these clever folk is inspiring but would it work? Could we get banners/cameras/leaflets and witches' hats into the museum through the suddenly heightened security? Would a flash mob appear?

We drifted in one or two at a time and as we mingled around I started to see familiar faces and felt that it really could work. But would the expected 70 or so people just get lost in the amazingly large space? As the chant started from the cast, and was picked up by the crowd, my worries vanished.

There were over 200 people there, and for the next 20 minutes the museum reverberated to the gentle anger as we reclaimed the bard

And the connection I would love to see? I would love to see the brilliant minds of the New Networks for Nature meet with the courage and wit of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company (and many others of their ilk) and see what happens.

It is not enough to sit and think and dream of a better world. And it is not enough to react against the evils of industrial capitalism without the love, wonder and rapture that exposure to Nature brings.

Are we like Andrea Roe's blackbird? Watching our own dissection - comforted by powerful art - and reacting only when it is too late?

Hugh Warwick is a writer and ecologist - his most recent book is The Beauty in the Beast. Please visit for more information.



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