BTO staff at Restore Nature Now, by Freya Knott

If not now, when?

BTO at Restore Nature Now

Juliet Vickery

Chief Executive Officer

Juliet is responsible for leading the work of the Trust, under the governance and strategy of the Board.

On 22 June 2024, central London took on the atmosphere of a festival of nature. People adorned with all sorts of creative signs and costumes took to the streets, to chant, sing and dance their way from Park Lane to Parliament Square, accompanied by the sound of bird song bursting from speakers. This outpouring of love for the natural world, grief at its current state, and hope for turning it around, was the Restore Nature Now march.

A key achievement of this landmark event was how it succeeded in bringing together over 400 charities, businesses and direct action groups for the first time, to call for bold steps to tackle the nature and climate crisis. Organisations as diverse as the National Trust, Just Stop Oil, the RSPB and the Hunt Saboteurs Association set aside their differences and agreed to share a platform. More than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets, and BTO staff, members and volunteers were among them.

This was the first time BTO has formally ‘signed up’ to a demonstration like this one. It was a novel and important step for us and it was wonderful to see our ‘Birds, Science, People’ strapline (which sparked many a conversation on the day itself) taking its place alongside so many others in the nature and climate community.

Although many BTO supporters were there, I recognise that some of you may be curious about why BTO took this step at this time, so I’d like to explain a little of the rationale behind it by focusing on three of the key areas – alignment with BTO values, the others involved, and the benefit of, and for, scientists being present.

‘Birds, Science, People’ at Restore Nature Now.

Chiming with our values ...

The first important factor was how the tone and underlying aims of the march aligned so well with BTO core values. Convened by Wildlife and Countryside LINK, of which BTO is a member, the march sought to “bring together organisations across the nature and climate spectrum in a large-scale, inclusive, family-friendly and legal event in support for nature and climate action”.

The positive language of the event planning and ultimately, the event itself, beautifully reflected three of BTO’s values – those of being inclusive, collaborative and empowering. What is more, BTO science has demonstrated that three of the march’s five key asks really can deliver for nature.

The first ask – a pay rise for nature, underpinned by a doubling of the nature and climate-friendly farming budget – is supported by BTO research over several decades demonstrating the effectiveness of properly designed agri-environment schemes.

The march’s third ask – more space for nature through expansion and improvement of protected areas – is backed up by numerous recent BTO studies on protected areas and their effectiveness.

Finally, the fourth ask – the right to a healthy environment, involving improved public health and access to nature – is also supported by BTO research, including results showing the importance of birds and access to green space on people’s well-being

Furthermore, the importance of access to nature and its value for people is a foundation of BTO’s work, and is evident in initiatives such as Garden BirdWatch, BTO Youth and our increasing focus on urban green spaces. The direct links between the aims and asks of the Restore Nature Now march and our research also strongly align with BTO’s fourth value of being evidence-led. 

The Restore Nature Now march culminated in speeches in Parliament Square, London.

... and the company we keep

A second reason for taking part in Restore Nature Now relates to the company we keep. Although the presence of direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion was likely to attract people’s attention, there were countless other non-campaigning organisations present, many of them science based.

These included the British Ecological Society whose mission is ‘Advancing ecology and creating solutions for a planet under threat’ and the Zoological Society of London – ‘An international conservation charity driven by science’ – with whom we collaborate on our Garden Wildlife Health work. This is not about campaigning. Rather, it is about being bold and confident in what our science is telling us. BTO was there, in part, as an ‘advocate for evidence’.

Every year thousands of BTO supporters help us, directly or indirectly, to gather data on the status of birds and other wildlife. These data contribute to key national reports such as the State of Nature. The latest State of Nature report was itself one of the catalysts for the march, with its headline statement that “UK is one of the most nature depleted countries on Earth … We have never had a better understanding of the State of Nature and what is needed to fix it”. As an organisation, BTO has a duty to generations of observers, to ensure that the evidence they contribute to is listened to and acted upon.

BTO Principal Ecologist and State of Nature co-author, David Noble, at the Restore Nature Now march.

Acknowledging eco-anxiety

Finally, climate and nature anxiety is, without question, on the increase and the chance for BTO staff to stand alongside others united by these concerns is energising and inspiring. The power of participation is evident in some of the quotes from staff on their return.

As one BTO staff member put it, “Going was a total first for me in terms of marching for anything and is completely out of my comfort zone. I was apprehensive and nervous, but I needn’t have been. Being surrounded by so many like-minded people and with such a great and friendly atmosphere, I enjoyed the part we all played on the day.”

Another first time BTO marcher commented, “I was proud to walk alongside so many people and look at what they had created and why they were marching. It was inspiring to see and hopeful to be part of.”

BTO Head of People and Organisational Development, Sian Knott, marched for the first time at Restore Nature Now with her teenage daughter.

From broker to advocate

Our presence there as a science-led organisation comes at a time when there is growing debate in academia about the role of scientists in the nature and climate emergency. There is an increasing sense that “scientists can and should advocate for one course of action over another if this is based upon their expert interpretation of the scientific evidence” as a recent paper by one of my former RSPB colleagues states. This promotes the idea of scientists as ‘honest advocates’.

Previously, BTO scientists have considered themselves more to be ‘honest brokers’ – laying out the facts and affording decision makers complete freedom of choice. However, the role of ‘honest advocate’ enables scientists to contribute to decision making in a well-informed way without damaging scientific reputation. It is, I believe, a role BTO science needs to play if we are to deliver our strategic goal of using our science and our data to ‘secure the future for birds and nature’. 

Juliet Vickery, 04 July 2024

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