Plotting in the Woods: Revitalising conservation at the BANC annual event and AGM
The BANC AGM and event sparked so many ideas that we want to hold a further event in 2016 to develop some of the ideas in more depth. If you are interested in helping us with this, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
BANC and ECOS have always fostered a community of people who want a space to share and discuss ideas and want to think outside the box of conservation. We have a history of holding our AGMs in interesting venues, and this year’s AGM and event (open to members and non-members alike) was no exception. The Neroche Woodlanders idyllic woodland site in Somerset, complete with musical installations, round house, fire pits and cooking shelter, allowed the thirty or so attendees (over half of whom were not members) to come together with the intention of ‘starting a conversation’ about three things:
- Celebrating what the conservation sector has achieved
- Reflecting on what we need to change as we move forwards with nature conservation
- Ideals about the future of conservation, and of our society more broadly
Sharing ideas over a cup of tea, home-made cakes and a delicious vegetarian lunch allowed for ideas and opinions to be shared in a friendly environment where the focus was on opening up and looking to the positive aspects of conservation activities from all areas – from national and international policy down to individual people working in local habitats. Attendees came from around the UK, and included environmental activists, government policy makers, academics, staff from the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts, apprentice conservation rangers, representatives from charitable projects with homeless people and refugees, environmental consultants and more.
Over two discussion sessions, three big topics were discussed: Nature, food and the land; Nature, community and social justice; and Nature, policy and economics. These topics aimed to get us thinking broadly, with the intention of sparking ideas for ECOS, for events next year and for the role BANC should play in the future of the UK conservation sector.
- The professionalization of conservation – and its consequent recognition by others. If you are seen as amateur, then you are not considered as serious. Conservation is now mainstream
- The conservation sector has done a lot to raise awareness of, and concern about, the environment and how we as a society interact with it. Environmental education and participation in environmental activities is increasingly popular, consumer awareness of the impacts of their decisions is greater than ever, novel and environmentally-oriented food production (e.g. organic and permaculture) is more widespread than ever. We should be proud of this achievement, but also recognise that there is more to be done.
- Specifically, the creation of legislation targeting nature and co-existence with other land uses (e.g. in farmland) has been a huge success both nationally and internationally. A big part of this is also the creation of protected areas, particularly the SSSI network which plays an increasingly key role in maintaining areas of high-quality habitat as surrounding areas become degraded.
- Public access to natural areas is greatly improved – e.g. national parks, long-distance foot path and cycle networks, Right to Roam and the CROW Act
What we should leave behind
- There has been a general decline in political interest in, and support of, environmental activities in the last 10 or so years. This trend needs to be reversed if we are to see any future gains in biodiversity protection, funding or political support for conservation actions, and a continued societal concern for the environment. In particular, we should avoid the trend whereby reports and big studies (e.g. the Lawton review) are associated with a particular political party, and are then lost when government changes. There should be more coherency and focus at a civil service level over environmental policy, that ensures continuity and long-term protection.
- We should, as a sector, move away from a negative/doom-laden language and focus more on the positives that come from nature conservation.
- There remain issues around land ownership and social justice that are in need of resolution. The increasing interest in community land ownership and sustainable land use models suggests that resolution may be arriving, but very slowly.
- The idea that continual growth is either realistic or desirable in a world of finite resources
- Globalisation and the out-sourcing of environmental damage from the UK to other countries. Linked to this is the need to reduce consumerism – notably around products such as bottled water and clothing which have high hidden environmental costs.
- Complex bureaucracy – both within and outside conservation – that complexifies and obscures the need for a society-wide, joined up approach to protecting and using the environment and its natural resources
- Short-termism in funding, management plans, policies and other areas – which do not match the long time-scales of many environmental processes
What the future should include
- Encouraging greater communication and collaboration between the now very diverse range of actors encompassed by ‘conservation’, ranging from policy-makers, academics, specialists, practitioners, the NGO sector, and non-waged actors such as volunteers, retirees, children and families, etc. Everyone has a stake in the future of the environment, but too often ‘talking conservation’ means exclusion of people, particularly practitioners, from policy and idea discussions, whilst ‘doing conservation’ often ignores academic research or policy trends.
- Less active management/less tidiness, where nature is left to manage itself to a greater extent
- Strong regulation of environmental legislation
- Be risk aware, not risk-averse. Linked to this is a need for greater focus on resilience – in all areas of society and the environment. This will involve embracing change – e.g. invasive species and climate change.
- Moving the conservation sector away from a dependency on grants (a finite and often short-term source of money) into undertaking actions that allow the sector to make a surplus (note: not profit) that allows more action to be done.
BANC in 2016BANC will be holding an event in 2016 that draws on the themes of this event. It is likely to focus on the role of community-based conservation in the UK, and how individuals, villages, online communities and so forth can be a power for the environment.
BANC Council is still shaping this idea, and would love to have your input for it. BANC is run for, and by, its members, and events are a chance for us to come together. Please contact email@example.com to register your interest in helping to design and implement this event: we cannot do it without support.