We have the medicine, but we have failed to apply it. I don’t want to have that on my conscience. I don’t want to have wholly failed.
“I’ve never seen a hedgehog, and that’s not from a lack of trying.” Bella Lack, the 15-year-old youth ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, told a shocked audience at the Lush Showcase in Manchester yesterday.
Speaking on a panel alongside Chris Packham the day after his 10,000-strong People's Walk for Wildlife, she added: "I’ve only seen hedgehogs through video, and I’ve only heard some birdsong through audio recordings."
The conservationists were discussing the rapid decline in biodiversity in the UK, including the dramatic reduction in insect and birdlife. The audience was told that 15 percent of UK species are now threatened with extinction - making Britain one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.
Packham, conservationist and presenter of TV favourite Springwatch, explained why he felt "he had no choice" but to call for the national demonstration in Central London having felt let down by environmental charities, including the RSPCA with him he serves as the vice president.
“It is time to take this onto the streets," he said, before then referring to his People's Manifesto for Wildlife. "We have got to instigate some change, and to do that we have to offer some solutions."
He described his frustration that the changes that could prevent the loss of biodiversity were "Not rapid enough, or broad enough in scale". He said ecologists and conservationists were "very often focused on the one thing that interests us, that passion. We lose sight of the fact that that single passion is linked to pretty much everything else."
He added: The greatest beauty of nature is that interconnectivity, is that balance, is that harmony. But it is hard for us to find it, because we have damaged it. If we destroy our natural environment, then we cannot exploit it - we won’t be able to grow food.
"But we also have a conscience - we know what we are doing is morally wrong, so why should we be comfortable with that."
He concluded: "We have the medicine, but we have failed to apply it. I don’t want to have that on my conscience. I don’t want to have wholly failed. Do we really want to fail ourselves, and fail this planet. Do we want that to happen to our generation."
Bella, who wrote on behalf of young people in the manifesto, and who is also a regular contributor to The Ecologist - emphasised the point by saying she had not seen the birds and animals that were common in Britain in Packham's lifetime.
She said: “Our wildlife is being completely decimated. But there is still so much left - and that is what inspires me. It is so important that young people are decision makes and they are involved. Not just preserve wildlife for future generations, but to persevere it with them as well."
She argued that humans are born with a fascination for wildlife, but that this can be lost. When lost, it needed to be rekindled. "I’ve never seen a very young child who is not fascinated by a worm, or a colony of ants," she concluded.
Dr Mark Avery, was the uplands minister writing for the manifesto and has worked in conservation for 25 years. He said on the Stop the War on Wildlife march: “Yesterday will stay in my memory for a very long time. I think it is right to think of it as a war. Big business interests who do not give a toss. We are going to have to piss some people off. It’s not all about being nice.
Habitats for wildlife
He added: "We’ve got a get a gang together and get out and change things. If the government does not want to give you more wildlife, if industry does not want to give you more wildlife, then being right is not enough. I do not mean throwing stones…but we’re going to have to tool up."
Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust and author Badgered to Death, told the audience: I was in those meetings with ministers and Prime Ministers, I did those backroom deals.
"I do understand how industry and government work, and the danger of when they work so close together. I changed my outlook, and thinking, and career, to put my skills to better use for wildlife. If we do not change the way our government works, and how our economy works, and how we live our lives, we are going to lose an enormous amount of wildlife."
Kate Bradbury, author of the Bumblebee Flies Anyway, said: "We’re lobbying government, effectively. So many of these things, we cannot change as individuals - we have to lobby government and get these changes. At the same time, the actual urban spaces in and around our homes, we as individuals have the ability to make those changes and improve those habitats for wildlife."
The speakers were talking at the Stop the War on Wildlife Debate at the Lush Showcase yesterday. The showcase continues today.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague.