Farming, bird watching, beluga whales and didgeridoos at the New Networks for Nature Gathering 2017

Storyteller Malcolm Green blogs about the New Networks for Nature Gathering 2017 which took place at the Arts Centre in Stamford in November.


It would take a book to outline all that  was discussed during the New Networks for Nature Gathering but underlying many of the contributions was the tension between the need to recognise the ecological catastrophe facing the planet and the desire to express the wonder of its wild inhabitants.


This was the ninth conference, this year on the theme of Changing Nature. As always it had an extraordinary cast of contributors, including: Tim Smit (Eden Project), Doug Allen (natural history film-maker), Patrick Barkham (journalist and writer), Philip Hoare (writer), Katrina Porteus (poet), Sam Lee (singer), Mya-Rose Craig (15 year old birder and activist), Robert Craig (Cumbrian dairy farmer) and so, so many others.


In conversation, at the start of the event, Tim Smit, in his provocative manner, decried large scale environmental organisations saying that they were ‘playing the game’ and becoming dictated by accountants. The Eden Project was only ‘good’ in respect of other institutions being so bad in what they communicated. He said he saw hope in China, where after their massive industrialisation, the people and the government were seeing the harmful consequences and espousing a more Daoist philosophy (living in harmony with the way). Perhaps in this respect authoritarian governments can achieve what democracies cannot.


Michael Benton, a palaeontologist, commenced the main proceedings by bluntly outlining the rate of extinction of life on the planet. He estimated that a natural extinction rate for the present diversity of life would be in the order of 20 species a year. We are currently experiencing an extinction rate of 30,000 species per year. All the participants knew we were in trouble but this sent a chill through the room.


Doug Allen, Philip Hoare and Helen Scales talked of intimate experiences with marine life. Doug told the story of encountering a beluga whale, which clicked and whistled directly to him, so that he was aware that the animal was endeavouring to communicate / talk directly to him and he could understand what it was saying…it was speaking a foreign language.


Three people involved with agriculture and farming took to the stage and in answer to the question, why are farmers doing so little benefit wildlife, dairy farmer Robert Craig replied, if the population wants very cheap food, then economic margins for the farmers are so small that even if an individual wanted to make place for the curlew, s/he couldn’t afford to.


There were many tales of positive initiatives by groups and individuals to reconnect us to the wild but most impressive was the 15 year old British Bangladeshi girl Mya Rose, who talked of her campaign to get wildlife organisations to encourage the participation of ethnic minorities (BAME) in the outdoors and told us of her initiatives to get BAME individuals to experience nature through camps she organised.


In addition to all this serious discussion Sam Lee sang whilst Mike Edwards played the digeridoo.


All in all, the conference was a sobering, affirming, enjoyable and powerful experience. Thank you to Derek Nieman and Mary Colwell who put it together.


was established in 2009 by a group of artists and scientists committed to nature conservation. It is a politically neutral, networking organisation that endeavours to inspire people and be a positive force for change in attitudes and policy around the natural world. Although 100 people or more people attend the gathering, it has the feeling of an extended family, with new members welcomed.  To find out more please see the website: