Joan Edwards, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at Wildlife Trusts, reflects on how they are building the ability of their organisation and their allies to speak boldly into the public debate.
It’s hard to argue that the benefits of healthy, abundant wildlife and wild spaces should not be taken seriously. Given the current state of our natural world, and the fact that the UK is still one of its most nature-depleted countries, it feels ever more critical to ensure the threats are also given full consideration. As a federated movement of 47 independent organisations, The Wildlife Trusts are proud of our reputation as a voice for nature. Having recently aligned under our new strategic framework, we have a new opportunity to speak with a stronger, bolder, more confident tone of voice – both locally and collectively.
So, what does ‘being bold’ mean to us? How are we making sure we’re ‘match fit’ for the challenges that nature faces now, and will certainly face in the future?
Being ‘bold’ isn’t about being the loudest or showiest
To Wildlife Trusts, ‘bold’ means staying consistent in our messages, confident in our values, and committed to our purpose – not chasing publicity or headlines for their own sake.
We don’t want to be the lone voice. We want to help our members, volunteers, and the communities where we work to have those conversations too so they become part of the fabric of national debate. Regardless of the different hats we all wear – nature-lover, land manager, decision-maker, parent, consumer, friend, and more – we each have a responsibility and all the tools we need to see, and be, the change. After all, people are a part of nature too; people need nature and nature needs us.
Being bold isn’t always comfortable
For us, being ‘bold’ means being unafraid to have difficult conversations, knowing what we say is evidence-based and not simply opinion.
Sometimes that means difficult conversations with decision-makers, like politicians. We have been bold about publicly challenging the UK and devolved Governments on the need to take greater, more urgent, and integrated action to tackle the nature and climate crises together. We cannot restore nature without mitigating and adapting to climate change, and we cannot achieve either of these without restoring nature.
We have challenged on the international stage at COP27 and domestically on the UK’s Net Zero Strategy. We have demanded that businesses, land managers, and farmers should be properly supported to reduce their own emissions and transition to more nature-friendly practices, in order to build their resilience to climate change. We demand this – and will continue to do so – because that’s what has been repeatedly, publicly promised to them.
Sometimes it means having difficult conversations with our closest supporters. Today we are almost one million members strong – every one of them different. We have roots in local, diverse communities – from countryside villages to urban hubs to coastal communities. Most of our members agree with every one of our collective positions; some won’t. Many thousands will actively stand beside us; thousands more want us to get on with the job and are just happy to support us so we can. The same goes for our partners, and funders, too.
As a lot of our sector friends will know it’s not pleasant to publicly disagree with the people and groups we rely on, or which might otherwise consider us allies. I know none will underestimate how difficult it can be to call out broken promises or missed opportunities in the face of so many other pressures society is dealing with. It’s not fun to spotlight poor practice, especially when it comes from a fundamentally good but perhaps misguided place.
Being bold requires transparency and integrity
So, at Wildlife Trusts, being ‘bold’ means not being afraid to acknowledge our own limitations while actively speaking out against bad decisions, and publicly pushing for the changes we know are needed.
It doesn’t mean we claim to be perfect. Just as choosing to live a vegan lifestyle often demands balance, we each live our chosen values as best we can. Balance is important – and by that, I mean being even-handed as well as sure-footed!
We recognise that, while challenging others, we have our own house to get in order too. Wildlife Trusts are major landowners, habitat managers, energy users, consumers of water, venue and event providers, educators, vehicle fleet operators, and employers (to name just a few). These all contribute to achieving our charitable objectives, but they also have environmental impacts that we are working to avoid or minimise. We want to be honest about our progress and the challenges we face. Grazing livestock, for example, make up a significant proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions. So, we’re working to reduce them and to balance the outcomes for both climate and nature. For us, transparency is a key part of being bold while acting with integrity.
As Wildlife Trusts reflect on our own footprints and the steps we still need to take, we recognise that, sometimes, meeting the desire to be ‘bold’ can also be uncomfortable. But, for all of us, not being perfect should not stop us from speaking out about important issues and coming together to find solutions. It is an ongoing process, and it is vital that we continue to challenge and press both the Government, and ourselves, to do better. Making sure we are prioritising actions to get our own house in order and being transparent and open about this is a crucial element to being ‘bold’.
Being bold needs us to consciously build confidence
Well-founded confidence is key. We find that talking through wider issues as teams, reminding ourselves of why we choose to take certain actions on behalf of nature, and why we have agreed on a solution helps us all feel more confident. Looking back at an agreed position, and checking on previous messaging and the evidence that led to that position, also helps build confidence. Ultimately, we can remind ourselves that in pursuit of our aims there is a moral imperative we must uphold to ensure wildlife, and people, can thrive.
So, being bold means staying consistent in our messages, honest in our communication, confident in our values and committed to our purpose. But it’s important to accept it may take time for everyone to be comfortable with what is a cultural as well as communications change.
Being bold now is imperative
We are all of us in civil society working to change the world so that we are no longer needed. Across the UK, Wildlife Trusts see our presence in different community spaces growing. It is enabling us to listen to more people and help them to actively express their views while they make connections between their needs and ambitions, and a heathier, more sustainable natural world. As a movement, we believe that connecting people to nature and bringing nature back into everyone’s lives is still very necessary. At the same time, we are aware that we are (mostly) being listened to, and heard, by those who can facilitate change at the pace required.
If the tides are to shift towards that wilder future, then being bold now – when there is so much to lose – is imperative.
We can’t go back from here.
Wherever you live, there is a Wildlife Trust caring for natural spaces that surround you – we’ve been defending and celebrating nature, restoring habitats and bringing wildlife back across the landscape and into neighbourhoods for over 100 years.