Talk proves a winter winner… trust us

Dr Andrew Impey gave much food for thought (pic EWT/Twitter)

The date… Wednesday, February 22. The time… 6.30pm. The place… your laptop. Yes, it could mean only one thing: the CPRE Essex winter talk.
Choosing to do things a little differently this time round, we elected to have just the one talk over the season – and so it fell to Dr Andrew Impey, chief executive of Essex Wildlife Trust, to present The Vital Role that Wildlife Trusts play in Nature Conservation.
Some 30 people joined us to hear Dr Impey tell us a little about his Essex roots – he’s from Boreham, near Danbury – and how his fascination with local wildlife such as lesser spotted woodpeckers and bluebells led to him peaking at the age of seven. It had all been downhill since, he joked.
A career in wildlife conservation had seen him specialise in rainforests, but he stressed that whether the issue related to barn owls, hornbills or rhino, we all faced essentially the same problems wherever we were.
As for the wildlife rusts, we learnt that in 1912 Charles Rothschild held a meeting to discuss the idea of saving places for nature, and so The Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves was born. One of the first county groups to form under this umbrella organisation was the Essex Wildlife Trust, which came into being in 1959.
Now it had 40,000 members; 87 reserves (maybe more than 100 if the smaller sites were included) covering some 8,400 acres; and 11 nature discovery centres that attracted some 1.25 million visitors a year.
Some 200 staff, including casuals, were involved with EWT, which was about four times the number for most wildlife trusts.
Dr Impey acknowledged an undoubted bias of focus towards the east and south of the A12 but at the same time the need to operate where the biggest impact could be made for wildlife.
Cheerily, he told us that he was encouraged more people were taking the climate and ecological emergencies seriously and felt more positive than ever before.

Dr Impey then went on to outline the role of EWT:

  • Show leadership and innovation: EWT was the leading conservation organisation in the county and had the necessary experience. For example, at Fingringhoe Wick it oversaw, with the Environment Agency, the breaching of the sea wall and flooding of barley fields – now there were 50 hectares of intertidal habitat.
  • Fight to protect our natural habitat
  • Protect habitats and species: protection was particularly important to members.
  • Restore habitats and species: water vole, for example, was a flagship species and the trust had been involved with relocation of animals, notably from Hertfordshire.
  • Highlight wildlife spectacles
  • Develop places of wonder: for example, a café or play area might be created so visitors would feel more welcome and less intimidated.
  • Use every tool available: sometimes a site might appear like a glorified attraction, for example the Gruffalo Trail at Thorndon, but 80 per cent of people visited for the wooden sculptures. Similarly, Hanningfield Reservoir was attracting 30,000-60,000 visitors in a season largely because of the woodland sculptures. People were engaging with nature.
  • Run public events: more than 1,000 came to listen to Chris Packham at an EWT event.
  • Deliver ecological monitoring
  • Improve habitats
  • Provide context: at Havering Country Park, there were multiple landowners and users – everyone was playing their part. EWT couldn’t make as many acquisitions as it would like as there wasn’t the money.
  • Input to planning applications: EWT had only one planning officer – there was always a trade-off between what you had and what you didn’t have.
  • Challenge people to take responsibility: where did our food come from? Our choices.
  • Build a case for defending nature: almost a spiritual argument regarding our natural capital. The winning argument was health and well-being – Covid showed us the importance of engaging with green space.
  • Campaign: bees were in focus at the moment.
  • Coordinate direct action: especially with other wildlife trusts.
  • Communicate with the general public: EWT was on the radio every 10.3 days.
  • Engage with EWT members: the magazine was a great marketing tool.
  • Think outside the box: for example, a hedgehog mural highlighted the plight of an animal that was disappearing faster than the tiger.
  • Build meaningful and diverse relationships: EWT couldn’t do everything on its own.
  • Evolve and move with the times: a facelift of the trust’s badger logo had been adopted by the national body.
  • Argue for more space for nature – a wilder Essex: it couldn’t just be about nature reserves – metapopulations wouldn’t do it.
  • Try to foster positive thinking: there was so much good stuff – it was about what we could do.
  • Champion equality, diversity and inclusion: nature conservation had been second bottom in that regard, but EWT wanted everyone to engage with nature. We had to be more diverse.
  • Harness enthusiasm: be advocates of what we were doing.
  • Find solutions to the challenges: for example, Covid, fundraising regulations and loss of funds from the EU.
  • Highlight key local issues: examples were the number of cars on the roads, housebuilding targets, people moving out of London to the south of the county and a new power station that could threaten a Marine Conservation Zone.
  • Lobby for positive change for wildlife: EWT was apolitical, while it was better if all 46 wildlife trusts were saying the same thing.
  • Educate and enthuse the next generation: for the first time ever, the current generation was better informed than those who had gone before (the internet helped). Nature nurseries for two- to five-year-olds would help youngsters gain their life values then.
  • Tell stories that captivate people: a simple picture of a shed on the coast could be so evocative.
  • Engage people with memories: a picture of a muddy schoolgirl on an EWT reserve made the point.
  • Inspire people to take action: a picture of Essex bluebells could work wonders.

Dr Impey then outlined the EWT vision – of a county rich in wildlife, with people connected to nature. A screen of wildlife images helped him recall some of his early experiences.
A question-and-answer session wrapped things up, with subjects ranging from heavy metals in water, lobbying for a sensible Wildlife Act, the axing of some 570 pieces of environmental law courtesy of Brexit to one person’s concern about badger numbers and another’s over the growing trend for wildlife reintroductions in this country.
Only one talk this winter… but what a talk! Thank you, Dr Impey.