In the British countryside, a one-sided war is taking place. Wildlife is all too often on the receiving end of guns, harmful chemicals, and habitat destruction, and declining species numbers show the devastating impact human life is having on Nature. The latest State of Nature report, a collaboration between UK conservation and research organisations, showed the true picture - the UK has lost considerably more wildlife than the global average.
On 14th September, naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham joined with Lush to launch a national campaign, laying out a Peace Treaty and calling for a ceasefire on the war on wildlife. Chris is calling for people to sign Peace Treaty postcards in Lush stores across the UK, and join him on the People’s Walk for Wildlife in London on 22nd September.
“The ecological apocalypse taking place in our countryside is not going to be halted by me, or by you. It needs us to act; all of us who have a concern for the health of our landscape and a respect for the life that tries to survive there,” he says.
And it’s not just the countryside at risk. Paul Morton from independent publishing company The Sound Approach is also involved in the campaign. He explains why wildlife is important in cities too: “Urban spaces are just as important (arguably more so) as the wider countryside, with badgers, hedgehogs, foxes, and birds all choosing to live shoulder- to-shoulder with us in our man-made, food-rich urban retreats.”
The Peace Treaty
The first step in the campaign to stop the war on wildlife is the Peace Treaty. Anyone who wants to put their name to it can do so by signing a postcard in a Lush store, or on Chris Packham’s website. The signed postcards will then be delivered to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, asking him to take a stronger lead in conservation and to protect British wildlife before it’s too late.
“We have to empower ourselves to make a difference. If we stand around in nature reserve car parks or watching Springwatch moaning, we won’t make any difference. We all have to stand up together,” Chris says.
For every threat to wildlife that concerns the campaigners, they make a recommendation to change the situation as part of the Treaty.
“There’s never been a more important time for people to voice their concerns and anxieties about the health of our environment. Our wider countryside and urban spaces all need Nature to be a primary focus when future policy and decisions are being made by our government,” Paul says.
The campaigners believe there is a lack of education and engagement with wildlife, so they are asking for a Wildlife and Conservation GCSE to be implemented.
Another major concern is the drop in insect numbers. Last summer, insects hit the headlines when their absence was noted by motorists who were no longer seeing bugs on their windscreens. To protect insects, the campaigners want to see a slow down in pesticide usage, and ask that subsidies are redirected to make 20% of UK farms organic by 2022. With eight out of ten wildflowers depending on insect pollination, it’s clear why bugs are so important to the rest of the natural world.
There are 28 species of bird in the UK whose populations have halved in size within the last 48 years, according to a British Trust for Ornithology report. For the turtle dove, which has had a decline of 98%, the end could be near. These birds, and other animals at risk, are at the heart of the campaigners’ requests to rewild at least 10% of national parks, to ban the cutting of all road verges whilst in flower, and to fit nesting bricks or boxes in all new build homes.
Another major threat, particularly to mammals and birds of prey, is wildlife crime. The campaigners want to see loopholes closed in the 2004 Hunting Act, and for the law to be properly enforced to stop the illegal hunting of foxes and stags. The law bans hunting with dogs, and covers all mammals, with the exception of rats and rabbits in some circumstances. However, the League Against Cruel Sports claims that illegal hunts are still happening in vast numbers, estimating that 200,000 illegal hunting incidents may have been committed since the Act came into force. And as an increased deterrent to wildlife crime offenders, the campaigners say that firearms licenses should be removed upon conviction.
The campaigners also want to see the use of lead shot banned, to stop it being mistakenly eaten by birds; to ban the use of snares to trap animals; and to protect marine environments by making 30% of seas off-limits to commercial industries.
Chris hopes this Peace Treaty will convince people of the reality, namely that a war on wildlife is happening right now.
“A Peace Treaty is positive because it means the beginning of the end to the horror of conflict. It is about people recognising the scale of disaster and adding their names to the most optimistic chance of rectifying it.”
Walk for Wildlife
As the Peace Treaty postcards are gathered together on 21st September ready to be sent to Westminster, Chris Packham and his fellow campaigners will be preparing for the next stage of the Campaign.
On Saturday 22nd September, Chris will be hosting the People’s Walk for Wildlife in London. Anyone who cares about wildlife is invited to join, and to stand up for the lives of animals living under threat in the British countryside. The walk starts at Hyde Park at 10am, finishing at 2pm.
Talking about the upcoming walk, Chris explains why it is so important: “I was frustrated by inactivity and progress and the lack of cohesion between everyone and anyone with an interest in conservation. They’re all too preoccupied in their own little niches to be able to see the wider ecology of conservation.
“This walk is about getting people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. We must bury the hatchet when it comes to our differences and unite because, actually, we all care and recognise that something must be done. And it must be done now, because time really is running out.”
The War on Wildlife
Now in his fifties, Chris remembers a time when Britain was rich in wildlife. He took it for granted that he would always be able to jump over the fence to see common and small blue butterflies. But he wonders how different things would have been in his grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ times.
“If naturalists had a time machine and went back, they would see corncrakes nesting in England and yellow wagtails in the fields around our homes. These were everyday occurrences. It's beyond our comprehension. We can comprehend the decline in our own lifetime and that's terrifying enough, but we can’t comprehend before that,” he says.
Earlier this summer, Chris visited wildlife sites across the UK with his Bioblitz tour, which was described as a Citizen Science revolution. Alongside a campaign to audit the state of Nature in the UK, the team wanted to send out a message that wildlife reserves are not enough. The next step, naturally, is this new campaign.
Chris says: “I’ve launched this campaign from frustration of the fact that we've normalised declines in wildlife and people now accept that significant declines in Nature are an everyday part of our lives.”
Whether people are signing postcards or walking for wildlife, Chris is clear that something needs to be done in the name of British wildlife, and the statistics show why this campaign is so urgent.
Find out more about the state of biodiversity in the UK.