If the entire student body of St Andrews were to descend upon London, there’s no question that we’d get noticed extremely quickly. Had any of us been round the centre of our largest city on the 22nd of September, there’s a high chance that we’d have seen at least some of a roughly equal number of people linked by a common theme. Their destination was Hyde Park, from which they would depart for Whitehall to the tune of smartphone-borne birdsong. Quite a few were dressed as native British animals, but all of them were set to brave the rain. #SoddenTenThousand soon started doing the rounds on Twitter. It was the inaugural People’s Walk For Wildlife, and it occurred without my participation. This was a mistake.
In 2016 I missed a protest outside the capital’s Japanese embassy because I was flying to Malaysia for an undergraduate field course on the same day. The subject then was the former nation’s ongoing illegal slaughter of cetaceans under the guise of “research”. Considering how our shores play host to law-flouting raptor persecution and a scientifically absurd badger cull, I don’t think we can claim to be doing much better. These two colossal thorns in the side of British conservation were just a couple of reasons why last month’s grand spectacle was set up.
So then, we must come to the reasons for my absence. Too young to make a meaningful difference? Too short of money to be capable of going on the long journey? Too bogged down with master’s work? NO. And NO. And NO again.
I’ve been an adult for more than four years, but people of all ages marched that day. The complementary People’s Manifesto For Wildlife contained entries from four big names born after me — two undergraduates and two younger teenagers, with thousands of social media fans and plenty of notable accomplishments between them. I’ve volunteered on islands, done a long-term placement with the RSPB and been a citizen scientist since 2012, but it’s obvious that my level of involvement could be higher.
The cost of an optional return trip that would’ve approached 1,000 miles in length did seem unaffordable to a working-class person like me, but top-notch preparation might have changed the story. My homeward December ticket from Leuchars to Kings Cross with zero changes cost me £17.50, the key being to book approximately 11 weeks in advance without forgetting to declare my possession of a railcard. Similarly extensive forward planning for September may have forced me to cough up “only” £60 or so, which isn’t that bad given that I save money by mostly shopping in Aldi and not frequenting the pub every week. In addition, using my house as a base would’ve meant sleeping in my own bed for free.
I knew that a master’s would take up a lot of time, yet I can still write magazine content and go to society events without getting behind. I could’ve left St Andrews for no more than 36 hours, focused my productivity either side of my time away and even done extra work on the intercity trains. Once again, willpower was the name of the game, and my failure to realise this made me seem uninterested. I most certainly do care about wildlife, but as walk organiser Chris Packham wrote, “Caring is not enough. We must act”.
So how can I seek redemption? Moving on from my poor decision in the past would be a good start — apart from being pained by the flood of enviable social media content on the day itself, I have succeeded with this first step. Secondly, if you care even the slightest bit about the natural world, I must recommend that you download the aforementioned manifesto — all I’ll say now is that you will be shocked. If you feel sufficiently fired up, tell yourself that you’ll go on the next walk — as long as I’m still breathing, I’ll do everything I can to be there myself (it’s not clear if the walk will exist again; ideally, enough major improvements will soon be created to render another walk unnecessary, but I don’t see that happening). Whether or not another walk takes place, it wouldn’t hurt for each of us to write to our local MP either.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we should educate the younger generations. I believe that a fascination with nature is lost by the many rather than gained by the few, and we current enthusiasts definitely won’t be here forever. My two-year-old niece can recall every baby animal name from a book that I gave her for her most recent birthday — if I don’t make the effort to nurture this initial interest, then in at least one way I will have failed as an uncle.