Catherine Masterman celebrates the joy of wildlife as an antidote to consumerism, and highlights the role of the Wildlife Trusts in stewarding wild spaces on behalf of a distracted nation.
With my growing allergy to the proliferation of ‘stuff’ disguised as Christmas presents, I braved some scepticism and ventured into gift membership of two Wildlife Trusts. The enthusiastic reception more than made up for my discovery that had I waited until January they could both have joined at half price.
So I’m now championing their annual half price membership drive for anyone still lacking a New Year’s resolution. At the very least, it comes with a guarantee of lasting the full year!
Why this plug? (I receive no financial inducement). Because I think that in the range of organisations in the ‘green’ cause, the Wildlife Trusts do something unique and really special; something which the recent lockdowns have helped to make more precious and more apparent, and something that is so much more than conservation programmes for rare species, important though they are.
Interwoven with the human scale infrastructure that dominates and regulates our lives – the roads, the trains, the telegraph wires, the pavements, the houses, shops, schools and offices – is the world of wildlife that we can completely pass by. The Wildlife Trusts not only work to protect this world but also make it accessible and tangible, revealing the ways in which they interlock with the places we live, work and travel between.
Fields that acted as moving wallpaper for my train commute are revealed as hunting grounds for kestrels and buzzards; the Commons offering a tree to climb on a Sunday walk can be unlocked as a patchwork of different heathers unique to the County. I lived in Surrey for 15 years before being aware of how special are its heathland and chalk based woodland – home to an incredible range of species. I visited Lyme Regis for two decades before discovering it was regularly frequented by a small number of seals – known by name and monitored by the Dorset Wildlife Trust (explained in its excellent centre at Kimmeridge).
As a child I wondered why, when we visited the zoos, that all the animals came from far-flung places and yet I understood so little about the ones in the UK. The magazines, walks, talks and activities offered by the Trusts can turn that on its head and give a lasting sense of connection to what might be happening immediately around us. I should also mention the British Wildlife Centre at Lingfield which is a brilliant antidote to thinking interesting animals only live in exotic places.
These hidden worlds operate on completely different parameters to ours. During lockdown we had the privilege of watching a pair of starlings build a nest on our neighbours’ roof. Even if we hadn’t seen the process of nest building we couldn’t escape the raucous chirping that welcomed each parental homecoming. Over the next few weeks it was apparent that the legal boundaries between our gardens had no meaning for them. Whilst they nested on one property, their regular sources of food and water spanned at least three others. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘as the crow flies’.
It is the Wildlife Trusts that are at the forefront of the plea for fence holes for hedgehogs, and the wider need for wildlife corridors that secure the infrastructure for the little worlds within our big world. This is not just about their survival. As has been widely documented following the lockdown, our health and well-being is closely tied to our ability to experience and enjoy the nature on our doorstep, currently facing such huge challenges.
In facing those challenges, the Wildlife Trusts have a key role to play. Whilst acting as independent organisations, built on local membership, the 46 Trusts across the UK join together in the campaigning and advocacy to have a voice at the national level, making the connections from the micro to the macro, offering the strength of their local support to add weight to their argument.
I don’t have the time I would like to volunteer with the Trust, learn to lay a hedge, or even listen to a talk. But even without that I am grateful for the different perspective that our family membership has brought. Our village is stretched out along a busy road. It’s easy to view the dwellings and fields as adjuncts to the road – things you pass by on your way to somewhere more important. Through starting to appreciate the world of wildlife, I can learn to view the road as a noisy, (albeit convenient) line through the countryside, which contains many other smaller transport networks and is home to so many more species than I currently understand. I look forward to when I have time to discover more. For now, I am grateful to feel at least better connected to the wildlife in our Country and to support the network of people working so hard to help it flourish.
Never have we needed this more.
- First published on the Grain of Sand blog.