Unbelievably it is now four months since I finished the MSc, the big career jump and started work at The Conservation Volunteers. Since then, the blog writing has taken a bit of a nose dive. Moving to Scotland on two weeks notice and starting a new job have taken up all my time and thinking space!
But today I have been to the RSPB Conference for Nature in Edinburgh, and it has got me re-inspired to write, and also got me joining up the dots of my jumbled career path.
Working for TCV has been a great introduction to a new focus for me on community engagement and development primarily in urban green spaces in Scotland. It’s been a big contrast to my previous work largely in national parks overseas but at the same time refreshing to realise not only the differences, but how much is the same.
And for me it was summed up by one phrase which I heard again at the Conference today and must be repeated at almost every conservation and environmental conference across the world, “conservation is about people”. So it was interesting that despite the prevalence of this view, the conference was not an hour old when the debate began to re-polarise, between people. The particularly fraught area was over upland land use. For me personally this was like returning home to the comfortable shoes of my previous 6 months spent looking at land use conflict in the Lakes so was satisfying to feel another point in my personal career dot-to-dot was being linked in.
It was also fascinating to see again how quickly camps were entered and battle lines drawn. The message of State of Nature is of course challenging, 60% of species in decline, something needs to be done, something needs to change. This is in many ways an inspiring call to arms, but so often what needs to change is… you, the nameless others. In upland conservation terms this can be easily portrayed as the agricultural, the forestry, the land managers, owners and users.
Of course there is truth in this. Some forestry and agricultural practices have been harmful, landowners have a particular view of land use which as nature focused environmentalists we may consider harmful. But there seemed a certain irony that on the same stage where the disconnection from nature was being discussed as a major cause of our environmental problems, many of those such as forestry workers, farmers and large landowners, who, by the very nature of their jobs and lifestyles are very much more connected than so many urban people were being seen as, ‘the other’.
I am not, for a second saying that agriculture, forestry or landownership is environmentally perfect. Simply that we should perhaps be focusing more on shared passions for nature, shared experiences of species lost and land management techniques. The work I did in the Lakes constantly left me reflecting on the pros and cons of compromise but once again I find myself coming to the conclusion that without compromise, and an attempt to be inclusive and collaborative, that so many conservation issues are doomed to return to their polarised position and very little will get done.
I am also not saying that people should not have radical, strongly held views. Ambitious plans such as landscape scale initiatives and rewilding are exciting, inspiring and I think very much needed. But even here, whilst expounding radical, sometimes divisive ideas I feel there is need for compromise, for inclusive discussion and at the very least an acknowledgement that not everyone will agree and those who do may not be wrong, but just viewing the issue through a different lens. If we really believe that our vision is right, and the most important of the possible lenses which could be applied to the situation, we have a responsibility to include, to engage and to try to bring these people with us, rather than push them further back into their box.
Overall though I was excited by the conference, there was lots of discussion of progress, lots of examples of good collaborative, partnership working. Most of all I was excited to think that I am in a great place, working to engage more people, to excite them about conservation, to involve them in green spaces. It might be going too far to say this is all that matters, but in the complex environmental jigsaw, more and more I think it is the critical piece.