A disruptive conservation collaboration


James Wallace

James is an environmentalist, conservationist and archaeologist. He has established or transformed enterprises ranging from conservation and development in the tropics (Blue Ventures), scientific exploration in NW Atlantic (Nekton Foundation) and ecotourism in Europe (Sawday’s) to climate communications (Susten8), CSR and education (Global Cool), renewable energy (Empower Community) and clean technology investment (The Research Exchange).

Close your eyes; rewind a few decades… breathe in the rich smells and sights of the bucolic British countryside of not-so-long-ago. Verges thick with the hum of butterflies and bees, skies full of swooping peewits and starlings, sluggish streams burbling by, flashing with perch and trout, the verdant thrust of cathedral hedgerows shading cool banks… This was the magnificent cacophony of life that once blessed these small islands, when people lived in relative harmony among the rest of nature. We are one, after all. It’s a deeply-rooted vision that some of us remember well; tragically one that our children and grandchildren may never see.

Why? Well, perhaps surprisingly, Britain is the 29th most nature-depleted country out of 218 in the world. You may not have noticed, but our life support systems are on the brink of collapse. Thanks to what ecologists call ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, we’ve become used to the neatly manicured, linear blandness of our empty modern landscapes. We’ve clean forgotten what it’s like to have one foot in the wild. 

We are economically rich, yet ecologically poor. We strive for control and growth, then ‘off-shore’ our guilt, saving Sumatran tigers abroad while British wildcats drift away, into extinction. Anima mundi, the soul of the world, shrivels, as yet another species fades into legend. And we sit hooked to a screen, red-handed and numb.

The Cornwall Beaver Project was conceived in 2014 following flooding in the village of Ladock. A Geomorphologist visited and suggested constructing leaky dams and creating ponds adjacent to the stream to collect water from the stream in periods of high flow. These prescriptions seemed very doable in practical terms, but would cost us money that we did not have to spare. I thought ‘What if we had beavers here to do this work for nothing?’
— Chris Jones, Organic Farmer & Agri-Ecologist

We are already facing the escalating costs of climate breakdown. £5 billion from the 2015 storms alone. We’ve lost over half of the birds, mammals, reptiles and plants common in our childhoods. While intensive farming increases productivity, we accelerate soil erosion, eliminate pollinators and flail the life out of hedgerows. And then we waste 40% of our nutrient-deficient food, including the ecologically-costly animal products grown on 70% of our farmland. 

And what about the farmers? We must not blame them. They are us; our friends, our kin, our neighbours. So many are trapped in a spiral of ever-decreasing margins and supermarket price war whims, often skimming close to the cliff-edge of poverty. Many feel forced to drive productivity by out-dated, post-war policies rather than rewarded for environmental land management. In a trice, they could become the progenitors of our natural capital and protectors of our wild heritage. 

Yet, despite the challenges, there is good news. We can still save British wildlife. We can still restore our natural systems on this green and pleasant land. But only if we confront the problems staring us in the face, and act locally, now. Our farmers, landowners, utilities and local communities have the power to put our ecological decline in reverse. We can progress collectively towards a future full of biodiversity and beauty, health and wealth, in its very broadest sense.

© Science Magazine

© Science Magazine

A new nature restoration charity – Natural Trust – is alive, and kicking up a fuss. Our mission is to bring back wildlife to Britain, before it’s too late. We are agile and small, humble but effective. We won’t judge past behaviours, just tell the truth and offer salves to our aching wounds. Because Great Britain is hurting. Hurting itself and others deeply.

Natural Trust is a new and positively-disruptive conservation collaboration. Pioneering scientists, wildlife farmers, landholders, funders, conservation groups, industry, government and media are joining forces. Led by environmentalists James Wallace, Nicky Saunter, Chris Jones and Iain Beath, we’re energetic changemakers and trusted conveners. 

I was aware of the potential that beavers had as an agent of natural flood management through the construction of dams. But, I had no idea that these animals could have such an incredible effect on all aspects of river ecology.
— Chris Jones, Organic Farmer & Agri-Ecologist

We’re not afraid to shake things up to wake us all from our sleep-walk into the eerie silence of a barren nation. With a touch of the maverick and a friendly ruffle of your hair, we’ll take you by the hand on a journey of learning to coexist and thrive. There will be laughter, and perhaps a few tears, as we sing our message from the treetops.

We’ll find proven solutions and then scale them, rapidly. We’ll help landowners and communities to create space for wildlife and use nature-friendly ways of living from the land. We’ll restore endangered species, recover wetlands and give hedgerows freedom to grow. Together, we’ll seed trees and encourage back the scruffy abundance of life that comes with bogs, thickets and scrub. 

Beavers are our first keystone collaborators. Mainstream is our first nature restoration programme. We’re introducing beavers across Britain to engineer whole ecosystems and manage catchments. As they have done across Britain for 40 million years, beavers will once again slow the flow of rivers and streams, filter polluted water and lock away carbon. They’ll create rich wildlife habitats to feed and water us, and the rest of nature.

Our national communications and education campaigns will reconnect people with nature. They will inspire local participation, change behaviours and reform policy. Whether through full immersion in our beaver-created wildlife-oozing wetlands, or by having your heart broken and healed by our factual films, we’ll share our stories, advice and support with you. We’ll shift the dialogue from a narrative of fear-fuelled stasis and uncertainty, to a positive one of active recovery, collaboration and abundance. 

In about two months the beavers had impounded nearly 2000 cubic metres of water and wetted areas of land that had not been flooded since the last time beavers were present many centuries previously.
— Chris Jones, Organic Farmer & Agri-Ecologist

The process of healing has already started. Over the last 20 years, small pilot projects have shown time and again the positive impacts of nature restoration. Whether it’s through planting trees at the end of the street, giving insects a home in swathes of roadside wildflowers or reintroducing extinct species in nature reserves, discrete bubbles of positive action exist. Now we need to join the dots, scale these inspiring initiatives and spread tales of success across the nation.

Frankly, we are scared silly about our future. We will not rest until we have done everything we possibly can to avert climate change, reverse the collapse of ecosystems and restore nature. Not everyone can stop what they’re doing and roll up their sleeves. But by supporting us financially, as a volunteer or noisy ambassador, we can help you to secure a future for everyone

Visit our website http://naturaltrust.org/ to see what we’re planning. Please shout out if you’d like to join us. We’re gathering an alliance of partners and supporters to help communities restore nature locally and quickly, and we need your voice, hands and funds too! 

This is for our children, and those of our wild cousins pollinating our crops, purifying our water, soaking up the smoke and soothing the stress from our hectic lives.

Email: info@naturaltrust.org

© Dave Parkyn | Natural Trust is registering as a charity with the Charity Commission.

© Dave Parkyn | Natural Trust is registering as a charity with the Charity Commission.