“A glorious, moving and beautiful thing” is how Helen Macdonald describes New Networks for Nature. She spoke at the maiden event in 2009, a year before my own first experience of this consistently inspiring, uplifting, occasionally challenging but always entertaining autumnal gathering.
Writing in A Nightingale Sang, the New Networks for Nature magazine for 2018 (a free copy will be given to everyone who comes along this November) Helen continues: “It wasn’t quite a conference. Nor was it a seminar, a fair or a festival, though it shone with the palpable excitement of the latter. As the name suggested, it was all about networking but networking for the cause of nature, rather than to help one’s career.”
I first met Helen in the rooms of the Stamford Arts Centre, the home of New Networks for Nature for most of its first decade. Not to mention many other writers, artists, musicians, scientists, conservationists and eco-warriors who work with and think about the natural world, as well as the odd TV presenter and former cabinet minister.
Once, having popped out to answer (what else?) the call of nature, I bumped into Germaine Greer in the empty reception area. She rather impressively demanded to know where she might find a glass of red wine; if memory serves, it was not quite 11am.
Helen Macdonald is one of 60 writers, poets and artists to have contributed to A Nightingale Sang. Half are women. Some are bestsellers and household names, others are not; all are interesting. Together, they reflect the wonderful range and diversity of talent that New Networks for Nature nourishes and is nourished by. All have given their words and imagery without charge, in keeping with its voluntary ethos.
The magazine runs to 72 pages and is a beautiful thing – covetable and, one day, potentially collectible. Editing it, I was struck by several themes. Nightingales crop up a few times, as you would expect from the title. There’s anger and despair at the state of nature in Britain, too, but also wonder, hope and a questing spirit. Deep thought. Time travel. Unfamiliar places (among them Dogger Bank). Brilliantly perceptive observations of nature on our doorstep. A couple of passages moved me to tears.
Pick up your copy in Stamford on 15–17 November.