For the love of all nature

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On the day the highly respected naturalist and broadcaster, Chris Packham has been announced as the latest patron to join Compassion in World Farming, here’s an article based on my meeting with Chris last Autumn. The Big Table podcast arising from the meeting can also be downloaded here.

‘There’s an old expression ‘you are what you eat’ . I think we need to change it to ‘what you eat says who you are’ because now each and every one of our diets needs a critical rethink . From our health perspective , from the point of animal welfare , to the impact farming has on wildlife and to the way that our food choices shape the environment of the entire planet . Thinking about eating no, or less or better quality meat or dairy, needs to be on our agenda . As does a better understanding of the way modern farming practices are shaping our world and how we can work together with farmers to improve these for everything and everyones benefit . Young people in particular need to re-connect to the nature of food and learn the true cost of its production and food labelling , so we can make informed choices must be significantly improved . All this is why I am pleased to be a patron for CIWF , a body calling for reforms based on science , best practice and compassion’. Chris Packham

A few days ago I was deep in the New Forest visiting the farmhouse home of TV presenter, conservationist and photographer, Chris Packham. Like me, he’s been a wildlife enthusiast since a small boy. In latter years Chris has become a well-known and much-loved champion for wildlife, perhaps best known for fronting TV shows, The Really Wild Show and BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch.

As we sit chatting, a robin sings from the lime tree outside and it’s easy to forget that so much of our natural wildlife is in decline.

The passion, frustration and concern in Chris’s voice is palpable: “We had a healthy farmed environment for thousands of years. It was diverse, it actually generated a mosaic of habitats that weren’t there before we farmed that environment. But those days, we farmed in sympathy and harmony with nature. Now it’s all about dominating nature. It’s about controlling it and generally controlling it without tolerance. It’s about pesticides, it’s about herbicides. But what we’re doing is damaging that environment beyond the point that it will support our farming processes. We know that soils are in a disastrous state, not just in the UK but all over the world. You know, soil’s fundamental to any farming, any terrestrial farming. If we don’t look after those soils we are doomed.”

We talked about the industrialisation of the countryside and how our ‘green and pleasant land’ in Britain and across Europe is increasingly becoming a wildlife desert.

“We’ve realised – State of Nature Report 2016 said quite clearly that one, if not the most important drivers of decline in the UK environment is Industrial Agriculture and this is leading to a bit of a backlash, where people are blaming farmers. Well, there are certainly some bad farms out there but there are some very good farmers too. And I think at this point it’s clear that we’ve got to see the difference between those things and support as rapidly and as effectively as possible, those farmers who do understand the problems: they’re interested in securing a sustainable future for them, their business as well. And they see that sustainability as embracing a care for wildlife and the environment. They see that necessity. So we have to be encouraging of them.”

We discussed our feelings on Brexit and the problems and opportunities that it might afford. We agreed that we really must work hard to ensure we have the right legislation in place that matches – and improves upon – current European law on the environment and animal welfare.

We talked about factory farming and the way pigs, chickens and cows are treated: “Why is it… that we treat and respect our dogs in this country, our cats in this country, our companion animals – our rabbits – whatever they happen to be, differently than an animal which is just over the fence in a farm. Well, there’s such an artificial construct. What’s that about? Just because some of them are what we call ‘meat’ okay, then that means that we apparently think it’s okay to treat them completely differently?… I’ve got to change that. We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to engender a similar respect for all life. For me that’s tremendously important.”

Photo Credit @marenwinter

I couldn’t help but be impressed by Chris’s complete focus and determination to bring about change. We both understand that in order to bring about real change, it will mean all of us working with common interests in conservation, the environment and animal welfare, all pulling together.

“We all have our disparate interests and we’re sometimes very good at doing good things for conservation, but in a narrow way. And I think if all of us were to get together and bang our heads together and see the bigger picture, and that in fact there is a complex connectivity between all of these things, whether you’re rehabilitating hedgehogs, whether you’re campaigning to have the verges mown after they’ve finished flowering, whether you’re sick of them cutting Sheffield street trees down; these are actually all related. And they’re related because they come from a passionate care for the world, the natural world around us,” Chris told me.

We part after what has been a truly fascinating meeting, the first of many to come.

Thank you.

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