Review of this year’s meeting by John Aitchison

The volunteers who organise New Networks for Nature make this annual commitment and self-sacrifice because they care about the outcome. They want us to inspire each other to achieve more for conservation than we could do on our own. This is as profoundly important as it is hard to measure – which is probably the point – but if emotion is a good measure of their success, I can say that I have only been to one other conference that several times brought me to tears.

I brought my 18 year old son, Rowan, to this one. As we travelled away from Stamford, talking non-stop about the event, I realised that I can trace a direct line from my present commitment to campaigning for marine conservation to my previous time at N3. The sessions and conversations this time have helped to further clarify my views, they have broadened my understanding of several things of direct value to the campaigning and to my work and they have focused my attention on community, as the best level to achieve both large scale and local change. New thoughts and ideas are still forming. The event is still effervescing in my mind, as Barry Lopez might have put it.

At one point we were asked, by a show of hands, how many people in the audience were over 60 (around a third) and how many under 30 (a quarter to a fifth). The 60+ were then asked to ask a 30- what most mattered to them about the natural world. This led to the conversation I most treasure from N3 this year: A 60+ lady leaned forward to speak to a biology student from Sheffield University, who was sitting next to me. The ocean, she answered. What about you? The Fens.

I asked them both why:

‘The ocean because I am studying biology and have become fascinated by the intricate, beautiful lives of invertebrates’.

‘The Fens because they are now my home. I did not choose to live there, it is like an arranged marriage, but I am learning to love them.’

I was struck that both had embraced the beauty and the fascination of the wild lives they know best, even though the oceans are huge and remote, and both cared for these animals as if they lived close to their homes – and more than that; that they comprised and shared their home – and that this sense of closeness to home is the key to conservation; persuading us to care enough to act, because we love most what we know best.

N3 makes it clear to me that, in all the gloriously different and creative ways available to that room full of different, creative people, and to all of us who were not in that room, we must strive to show everyone we can reach, how to know and to love the world as our home. There is not much time. We must do it now.

My new friends then asked me what I most cared about, and being asked brought the answer I had not known I knew. It is feeling connected, being part of something bigger. And I cried then too.

And then again, when John Fanshawe quoted David Attenborough who spoke at last year’s New Networks for Nature event in Cambridge. David had told the audience, which contained a large proportion of students, that they had something he did not – while his age gives him perspective, the younger people had time. And of course this was at the heart of that conversation about the Fens and the oceans forming equal parts of our home.

There were so many other highlights of N3 this year: Mike McCarthy’s light, intelligent chairing of the brilliant Caroline Lucas and Barbara Young, who discussed whether conventional politics has failed (against the background of Extinction Rebellion blocking bridges in London), a mature, rational panel discussion on predator control, Lloyd Buck showing his deep understanding and love for the birds who share his life, Mark Cocker’s eloquent anger about the loss of nature, and much else besides.

Best of all, Rowan loved it. We are having conversations we would never otherwise have had. He is coming to understand what drives me, and I him, as he grows and apprehends more about the world and our place in it.

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