A Focus On Nature

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A Focus On Nature, A Vision For Nature

Vision for Nature : Landscape

By Simon Phelps

Landscape; it’s a big, bold daunting concept isn’t it? It implies a sense of vastness that makes it difficult to find a point of focus. It is a concept that the conservation sector struggled with in its early days, focusing instead on protecting single sites in an effort to save our species. It is therefore highly admirable that the Vision for Nature report has dedicated a whole section to this challenging subject. Perhaps it is not surprising, as A Focus On Nature has always shown itself to be a group of bold and bright young people, who are more than willing to tackle the big issues in conservation, and they come no bigger than landscape.

The concept of landscape scale conservation is so ingrained within the conservation sector that it seems surprising to think that until relatively recently it was seen as a new concept. One of the first iterations of this approach came with The Lawton Review, which was published in 2010. This was a report requested by the Environment Secretary at the time, Hilary Benn. The review was chaired by Sir John Lawton, and aimed to review England’s wildlife and ecological network and how this could be improved to help nature thrive in the face of climate change and other pressures on the land. Its main conclusion was that conservation had to focus on making its network of sites ‘bigger, better and more joined up’. Many conservation charities had been aware of this for some time, and indeed were already working on such projects. Butterfly Conservation published its landscape scale report in 2012, and the Wildlife Trust’s began working on their Living Landscape areas. The sector was growing, and looking outside the realm of its own nature reserves, into the wider landscape.

 

Looking at conservation at a landscape scale is essential if we are to halt the downward spiral that the majority of our species are trapped in. A site-based approach will only ever work to a certain extent, and is ultimately necessary in securing some of our rarest and most precious species from extinction. To grow and expand our wildlife populations, and save our widespread species, we have to improve the landscape beyond our nature reserves. We have to look to the agricultural land in-between and how we can make space for species to live and move through it. The seminal State of Nature report, published in 2013, showed that 60% of 3,148 species have declined in the past 50 years, 31% declining strongly. We are rapidly losing much of the biological richness that used to make our countryside such an enthralling place to be. Tales from former naturalists astonish me now, the riches they encountered wish ease are seemingly all gone. As Michael McCarthy succinctly demonstrates in his brilliantly tragic book, The Moth Snowstorm, the cloud of moths you once encountered when driving down a country lane is now almost entirely gone, lost from the landscape.

Yet all is not lost. Yes we have lost a huge amount of our wonderful wildlife, some we will never get back. But there are ways and means to save what we have, and allow it to expand and increase. We have brought species like the Red Kite, Otter and Large Blue butterfly back from the brink of extinction and we know how to save countless others. Where the will and support is there, we can bring wildlife back.

The Vision for Nature report contains some ambitious but essential recommendations on how we can bring back wildlife to our increasingly impoverished landscapes. The headline recommendation of 25% of UK land and marine environment to be managed for nature to the highest standards under robust nature legislation, is ambitious, but needed. Only 5% of our land surface is deemed to be well-managed for nature, which is a shockingly low amount. Vast swathes of our seas are also left unprotected, with current levels of protection often inadequate. The report rightly recommends that we restore our overgrazed and over-managed uplands, allowing parts of them to rewild. I have seen first-hand, in places like Dartmoor and Scotland, the effect of overgrazing from deer and livestock. It sometimes feels like you are driving/walking across a mown grass lawn, with the odd stunted hawthorn bush hinting at the supressed forest ecosystem waiting to return. Similarly, we need to connect more with the agricultural community, to work together to look at ways of restoring our hedgerows and rough grassland field margins, restoring the untidiness to our countryside that so many species love. Only then will we start to see our wider landscapes returning to the good old days.

Restoring landscapes is not easy, it is a long and challenging process, one often fraught with disagreement. Compromise is needed, and works have to be pragmatic and look to include people. It is needed though, if we are to halt the slide towards extinction that we are witnessing. We have to ask ourselves what kind of country we wish to live in. Are we happy to live in a dull, dreary landscape, bereft of beauty, where wonder has gone from the world? Where a walk in the countryside is a walk through silence, with little to excite the eye? The young people who contributed to the Vision for Nature report care about wildlife, they care about our landscapes and want to see them restored. This report gives me hope that the conservationists of the future will continue to work to make our landscapes better places for our precious wildlife.

Simon is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, naturalist and writer. Over his 5 year career in conservation he has worked and volunteered for many conservation charities, such as Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, BCN Wildlife Trust, Froglife. He currently works for Butterfly Conservation as a project development officer. He was also a Young Champion on the 2020VISION wildlife photography project. He holds a BSc in Geography and an MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation, where for the latter he spent 3 months in the Guyana rainforest studying dung beetles! Simon has an endless passion for the natural world, covering all species groups, but with a particular fondness for moths, butterflies, birds and dragonflies. To read some of his writing and see some of his photographs, visit his website: www.wildlifephelps.com or follow him on Twitter @wildlifephelps

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RT @josiethebirder: Great blog from James about his recent visit to the Knepp Estate! #nature #wildlife #conservation #PSL @AFONature http…

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RT @alkakori: Important and inspiring: young people give their view on the world they want 2 live in @AFONature #VisionforNature https://t.

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RT @jazzy_jeff44: Interested to hear @AFONature members’ views on RSPB leaving the #HenHarrier action plan. What do you think? https://t.co

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RT @RewildingB: The UK youth group @AFONature has put rewilding at the heart of its #VisionforNature https://t.co/dyijLBFVFU https://t.co/y

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The third key recommendation of our #VisionforNature report looks to food & farmingnhttps://t.co/BQJeoQt74c https://t.co/HDkfkDDShm

A Focus On Nature, A Vision For Nature

Vision for Nature : Food and Farming

No matter how much we think about it day to day, food touches all of our lives. After all, we all eat! As well as being responsible for managing many of the landscapes we appreciate, the food and farming sector generates jobs, especially in rural communities where employment is sometimes more difficult to find. Many young people are concerned about the future of food and farming, shown through the activities of grass roots and youth organisations such as Common Soil and the county Young Farmers Clubs. There are also many young people, such as our own members, who are passionate about the future of the natural world.

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So who saw AFON member @GeorgiaLocock featured as @ChrisGPackham’s Unsung Hero in @WildlifeMag? https://t.co/1VUaaapDo9

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RT @benjy_eagle: A brilliantly personal & passionate post on #climate section of @AFONature’s #VisionforNature report from @mattadamw https…

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RT @randomdoorbell: Protecting nature is not limiting ourselves, it is enriching ourselves and respecting that which allows us life @AFOnat…