The 2018 meeting of New Networks for Nature was again held at the Stamford Arts Centre and featured another rich and varied programme of events spread over three days. This was also our tenth anniversary meeting – and so a special celebration of what has grown to become a key event in the annual calendar for naturalists, artists, writers, poets, musicians, scientists, conservationists and all those whose work draws creatively on the natural environment.
This year’s meeting was organised by three of the founding members of New Networks – Tim Birkhead, John Fanshawe and Jeremy Mynott. It was marked by a splendid anniversary brochure, edited by Ben Hoare and produced by Mike Toms, which demonstrated the range and interconnections of the voices and interests that have made New Networks so distinctive and stimulating. The overall theme for 2018 was ‘Creating Connections’ – which encapsulates our central purpose of establishing and expanding such networks.
We are also, increasingly, drawing in politicians and other public figures to debate the larger implications of our shared concerns. How are we as a nation to protect what is such a crucial cultural as well as natural resource in the life of our country? A highlight of the 2018 event, which went to the heart of this, was the discussion between Caroline Lucas and Barbara Young, chaired by Michael McCarthy, on ‘Can conventional politics save the environment?’. Their wonderful exchanges prompted a student present to say, ‘I never realised there were politicians like this – real people, who care’; while a distinguished American visitor exclaimed from the stage, ‘New Networks is more important than NATO!’.
The meeting began with one of our Thursday evening in-depth conversations, featuring the writer Adam Nicolson (himself a remarkable one-person network of varied talents) in an entertaining exchange with scientist Tim Birkhead about their different engagements with seabirds. Subsequent highlight sessions included a passionate presentation by Mark Cocker on the state of nature in Britain today; stimulating panel discussions of nature writing, predator control, seabird conservation and the role of online and social media in reaching new audiences; and a whole range of original presentations by poets, writers and visual artists. The audience participated in as lively a fashion as always, and we again enjoyed superb, locally sourced food from Gilly Franklin and her team.
Friday finished with a live performance by Lloyd Buck and, more particularly, by his travelling entourage of starlings, charismatic raptors and Bran the brainy raven; while the whole event was concluded on Saturday with an extraordinary musical performance by Paul Winter, who had the audience howling in unison like wolves for his finale.
A superb ending to what was one of our best-ever gatherings, leaving us all with an inspirational sense of community – and indeed communing, with the natural world that is our shared home.
Footnote: New Networks for Nature is moving next year. The meeting will be held at St Peter’s School in York from 30 October to 2 November, 2019. The organisers are Amy-Jane Beer and Ben Hoare, and updates will be posted on the website in due course.