Friday, 9 January 2015

A long-standing vision for a new year

Brendan Joyce, CEO Norfolk Wildlife Trust

As we all emerge from the Christmas break like hibernating animals, shaking off the all too common common cold -  which I swear seems to be lasting longer than it used to - and considering the reality of our well intended New Year’s resolutions, I thought I would do a bit of crystal ball gazing into the year ahead.

The first thing I see is not so good I am afraid. It is the annual risk we face of more sea flooding at Cley and possibly elsewhere and I always think of the next two or three months as the danger zone. This time last year we were in complete lock down at Cley, partly due to the December flooding but also the tragic US air force helicopter accident which claimed the lives of Staff Sgt Afton Ponce, Capt. Christopher Stover, Technical Sgt Dale Matthews and Capt. Sean Ruane. But we recovered from the floods and have achieved great strides there since. I have no doubt that if we do have further storm surges this year, and I hope we don’t, we will once again recover.

Bittern, photo by Liz Dack
And now I see much better things… the completion of the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre and its grand opening, setting the beginning of a new epoch for the Trust as it moves towards its 90th anniversary working for and protecting wildlife in Norfolk. I can see the practical completion of the wetland creation project at Hilgay, where a new wildlife haven of water, reed bed and wet grassland is being created and we then move to the second phase, creating new wetlands.

Now I see the general election results… I can’t quite make out which victorious face it is standing outside Number 10, but I do sense that there will be a renewed effort towards the conservation and protection of our fragile wildlife and the environment. Why? Because it has to happen and nature itself will force our hand. 

Perhaps it is understandable, predictable even, that concern for the environment would slip down the political agenda, as it most certainly has, due to the economic problems that have affected every nation and most individuals. We tend to put our own short term economic welfare and wellbeing on a higher priority than other concerns, such as welfare, poverty and health, and especially environmental health and sustainability. But we must also realise, and history informs us, that this is folly, even more so in the light of the overwhelming proof of climate change, however caused, which threatens not our planet, but our own existence on it. You just have to look at the mounting and irrefutable evidence of our impact on the atmosphere, natural resources, ecosystems and individual species. It is compelling and deeply unpalatable. But I sense that this is the year when we will see a major re-emergence of individual and political concern for the environment and a growing acceptance that our own health and wellbeing and that of future generations is best served by placing the environment at the centre of policy and sustainable development, not as an afterthought. And this does not mean a return to the stone age or a blockage to progress, but investment in new technologies and new economic possibilities.

Stonechat watching people at Cley, photo by Pauline Greenwood
What next is emerging from the mist? I see people. Young and old. I see the Wildlife Trusts leading in ways that we had not imagined before to reconnect people to the wonders and benefits of the world outside our man-made environment. I see people feeling a much greater sense of understanding and purpose in getting away from their computer and TV screens and discovering a more interesting world outdoors, where we more truly belong. Not to say that digital technology is wrong, far from it. We are experiencing a technological revolution that is more amazing and exponentially developing than the industrial revolution. But just as people realised during the industrial revolution that some aspects of it were having a very bad effect on us, and that we needed more green space, better health and cleaner air to breathe, so too we need to redress the balance with the current revolution which threatens our connection and identification with the real world. We will get there I am sure, because we have to, unless we prefer the kind of nightmarish artificial future world envisaged in so many science fiction books and films. I doubt it. But there is much work to do to encourage us all into a better balanced direction.

Natterjack toad, photo by Karl Charters
What else can I see? Bitterns, cranes and marsh harriers at Hickling Broad and Upton Broads and Marshes. Skeins of geese flying and avocets and godwits feeding at Cley Marshes. Nightjars and hobbies at Roydon Common and on the Tony Hallatt reserve, marsh orchids at Rush meadows, bee orchids at New Buckenham Common, swallowtail butterflies on Ranworth Marshes and natterjack toads at Syderstone Common and Holme Dunes. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. I see our nature reserves flourishing with wildlife and I see other landowners, organisations, local communities and individuals working together to help rebuild our broken ecosystems because they want to and can see the relevance and purpose to their own lives and wellbeing.

Common tern
The last things I see is somewhat hazy at present. I think it is a new plan. It looks like a lot of work; a lot of writing and consultation. A lot of meetings spanning the whole of 2015, but culminating in a document which celebrates our 90 years of nature conservation and setting out a vision for the next 90 years. And I am there too. Having served 20 years. I wont be there for the next 90 years, but l hope, with the permission of our 35,000 members, our council of trustees and our excellent team of staff, to lead us through to the next epoch of saving Norfolk’s wildlife for the future. 

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