Celebrity Line-up Debate ‘State Of The Earth’

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Carrie Symonds addressing the Birdfair audience

‘Eat Less Meat’ Hears Packed Audience at British Birdfair

Billed as the first public engagement since moving into 10 Downing Street for Carrie Symonds, the UK Prime Minister’s partner, this was going to be no ordinary speaking engagement for me, or for Miss Symonds.

To a packed audience, with Carrie giving the opening speech, I was honoured to be part of the ‘State of the Earth’ Question Time debate at Birdfair, one of the UK’s premier wildlife events. I was appearing alongside leading figures from the world of broadcasting, writing, campaigning, business and politics; Deborah Meaden (Business woman and investor), Tony Juniper (Chair of Natural England), Isabella Tree (Nature writer and rewilding advocate), Hannah Stitfall (Zoologist and wildlife film maker) and Chris Packham (Broadcaster and naturalist).  All admirably chaired by Dominic Dyer (CEO of The Badger Trust and Born Free ambassador).

Carrie Symonds

The Birdfair ‘State of the Earth’ panel

Carrie kicked off proceedings with an excellent opening speech describing Birdfair as a ‘birdwatcher’s Glastonbury’, an apt description given that the rain outside meant most of the audience were in wellies.  Whatever one’s politics, she was not afraid to speak her mind about the state of the world’s wildlife.  She eloquently spoke about her passion for nature, her excitement at seeing a Puffin for the first time at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire and the fact that all politicians, business leaders and journalists have a huge responsibility to make the right decisions for nature. 

Carrie set the scene perfectly for the 2-hour long debate.

The first question to the panel was how we saw meat consumption in the future, given the high consumption levels in the West and the ever-increasing population? 

I was the first to answer.

More Plants, Less Meat

Philip answering the first panel question of the night

I sensed that some in the audience were shocked to hear that for every one billion people, 10 billion farm animals are reared and slaughtered every year, the vast majority of them in factory farms. How factory farming is a key driver of birds and other wildlife declines across Britain, Europe and much of the world. And that the single biggest thing we can all do to help save wildlife is to eat more plants and less meat; making sure that any meat and dairy we do eat comes from pasture-fed, free range or organic farms.

Gathered in a huge marquee with a 500-strong audience of die-hard conservationists, the debate continued well into the night. There were great questions and high energy, insightful and often very personal answers from the panel. The drama of the event was matched only by the thundering rain outside.

The attentive Birdfair audience gathering in advance of the Question Time event

The subjects were far ranging from the stopping of grouse shooting, the need for rewilding, enhancing biodiversity along our road-sides, hunting of all kinds from trophy to foxes to beavers, HS2, meeting climate change targets, engaging with the young, gaining awareness, new ‘green’ business opportunities and reasons for hope and much, much more. 

The follow-up on social media and the newspapers today are testament to the great reception that the panel received at the close of the evening. 

As Deborah Meaden said as she gathered her wet weather gear to leave, ‘That really was the best Question Time ever, it should have been on the TV!’.

Change is Coming

Now, I’ve been going to the Birdfair since the early 1990s; in my capacity as rare bird enthusiast or ‘twitcher’, wildlife tour guide, and more recently, animal welfare environmentalist and author. The atmosphere has always been energising; being amongst so many like-minded people, all with a keen interest in birds and the natural world.

Yet, this year was something else; a timely and urgent debate amongst leading figures in the debate; all calling for change. And it’s a message that has never been more important.

And what gives me hope?

That more people, especially the young, and more forums, like Birdfair, are giving voice to the need for change. And that gathering sense that, for animals, the environment and all our sakes, change can’t come quick enough.

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