In the Bedforshire town of Sandy we found a great bird habitat reserve, but we also found the headquarters of the RSPB (yes, we really are that lucky/disorganised that we didn’t plan it that way). Like perhaps many people I viewed the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) as focused only on birds, but what the reserve manager explained to me was that to protect the birds, you have to protect the habitat. Without the whole ecosystem, the birds don’t stand a chance. Sounds similar to the situation of my favourite upright primates…
The RSPB’s message has now changed to ‘Saving Nature’ to better reflect the work they’ve been doing for years. As someone who doesn’t know their bitterns from their sandpipers, but fervently wishes for the survival of them all, the broader systemic focus catches my interest. The RSPB is one of the biggest landowners in the UK and provides the habitat for over 80% of our threatened and endangered birds. They also have over a million members, so when they speak, people listen. Say it loud, say it proud RSPB, it’s time to save nature.
Something is wrong, and you want to make it right. You start talking to your partner or spouse, then one day your neighbours join in the conversation too. Together you arrange a film screening in the village and print out 1000 leaflets to tell your community about the public meeting. What can happen next is life changing.
Gamlingay Environmental Action Group started in this way, and once people are working together amazing things can happen. The village is located a few mile East of Bedford. It has it’s own community owned wind turbine, who’s profits go back to the village. There are 80 new allotments, and a habitat area because the group was able to successfully negotiate with a developer. Residents can get advice on green living and lowering their energy use. There is an annual bike ride and Green Day.
The village previously only had 8 allotments and there was a waiting list of around 40 people, but the new 80 allotments are now almost all taken! And if you find you need to spend a penny down on the allotment, how about this for a stylish toilet?
The other surprising thing about Gamlingay given the size of the village, is the Eco Hub. The amazing community centre is used for sports, dance, theatre, events, as a library and for computer access. The volunteers give their time to keep the centre thriving. The previous centre was badly degraded, leaking energy out and water in. In the few years since the new sustainable building was built, incorporating much of the old structure, it has become a real centre for the community, rather than just a single use venue for hire.
Located near Gamlingay is Sandy, where the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has it’s headquarters, and part of the success of the village has been the number of people who live in the area who care about the environment. Taking that first step though, to talk to our neighbours, to reach out, is how it all begins.
Did you know that the National Trust is the second biggest landowner after the Ministry of Defense? I didn’t. Why would an incomeless environmentalist like me decide to become a member of the National Trust?
I did not realise that the National Trust does a large amount of work to protect the environment, it turns out it’s not all about posh manor houses. When the National Trust staff kindly told us about the ambitious work happening at Wicken Fen, it was enough to stir me to part with the little money I have to support what they are doing.
Fens are wetlands that are fed by mineral rich waters. Wicken Fen is the oldest National Trust reserve in the country and one of the most important wetland habitats in Europe. Walking through the landscape of the fens the rivers are a lot higher than the surrounding land. Weird. You might think that perhaps they were built up that way? It turns out to be the other way around. When the fen ditches were dug and the land drained, the layers of organic matter that had been laid down over thousands of years were exposed to oxygen. With the oxygen the carbon started to break down and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Another surprise. It turns out that draining wetland is very bad for our climate as well as removing habitat. But what the National Trust have planned gave me a lift of excitement.
Most organisations and politicians seem to think a few years ahead, maybe a decade ahead, but the National Trust have a hundred year plan to restore fenland around Wicken Fen. By gradually buying up the land, they will restore this vital habitat, lock up carbon and protect it for the benefit of all.