A future vintage?
So here we are. ECOS at 40. On this special birthday we have cause to celebrate, and to pat ourselves on the back. And given our meagre resources, there is relief at getting here. So throughout this year we will look back, and indulge just a little, but we’ll also look ahead. What awaits the nature conservation community, and how can ECOS play a relevant role with its comment and analysis?
ECOS remains a hybrid. It flits between a journal and a magazine, and these days there are blog sites to muddle the definitions. Being tricky to categorise has strengths, but certainly has limitations, not least in finding your audience. If you’re subtle and niche filling, there is no obvious cause to unite people and to gather a following, or to hold a viable medium-term membership. There are upsides of course. A core group of readers keep strong and loyal links, suggesting the independent voice of ECOS is crucial. “ECOS makes me think” said one respondent to a past readership survey. “The authors’ tell me what’s really going on” said another.
To help us reflect back and forward, over the year we’re going to review ECOS itself. In each issue we are picking clusters of old editions, asking writers to reflect on the vibes of ECOS at that time, and suggest any future lessons. Simon Leadbeater and Andrew Irving start us off in this issue, rummaging through the first decade of ECOS. In those days it certainly was raw, but pretty compelling. It was an age without social media, no blogs, no constant news. Nature conservation was a hidden cause, fighting to be heard. ECOS was hard to find, but regarded as a lifeline to some people who discovered it.
The early phase of ECOS was brave. The accusations and opinions were pushy, as a new generation of impatient progressives jostled with an old guard. These days the pendulum may have swung too far. We’ve given the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife quite a bashing in the previous and current editions, suggesting it is too radical and unrealistic. How the outlook has changed. Yet in our attempts to be measured, we must not become boringly wise.
Just 5 years back BANC and ECOS curated the Woodland Edge Conference, with outdoor workshops and deep dialogue on woodlands and the communities that shape them. This was a proper rumpus in the forest, with an intoxicating mix of policy debate, arts and crafts, alongside the bodgers, and all amongst the fire pits. The surrounding veteran oaks were illuminated for the week, and no doubt enjoyed the party. Given the capacity and resources, this is the potential of ECOS and BANC – providing a shot in the arm to people who care for nature, and helping discuss things in the whole, and beyond stuffy rooms.
ECOS and BANC have regularly broken new ground. Our content on rewilding and on wellbeing and nature was 10 years ahead of the curve. This year we are consolidating by producing a rewilding theme issue in December. Few people know or acknowledge the boundaries pushed by ECOS as they follow such topics and help them get mainstreamed. And as we grapple with established subjects, part of our role is to look beyond the orthodox. Cue Martin Spray and Simon Leadbeater in this edition. They delve into the deeper dynamics of plants and explore implications for our relationships with plants and other beings, and the way we help conserve, protect and manage flora. Drop any prejudices before you read on.
In our next two editions we present themes on ‘the meaning of nature conservation’. This seems fitting as we turn 40 and return to enduring debates about the grounding and the direction of nature conservation.
Many past issues seem crammed with rich ideas and crafted comment. Today when our content is free, and in straightened times across conservation work, we haven’t the means to replicate that range of material. In a 24/7 world, in an age of overload, we hope the six shorter editions a year provide some worthwhile fodder. Our role is to keep the essence of ECOS alive, to go deeper and wider on topics, and to fuel independent minds. ECOS was brought to life by young pioneers and their passion shone through. New recruits will no doubt guide it with equal vigour in ‘challenging conservation’ over coming years and hopefully decades…