A Focus On Nature

A Vision For Nature, Advent Calendar

The Gifts of Naturalists Past, Present & Future – Matt Williams

Welcome to our 2015 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! For each day in the lead-up to Christmas, we have a post from an A Focus On Nature member on this year’s Advent theme: “The Gift of Giving”. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Some of my most treasured possessions are Christmas presents I received as a child that are related to my love of wildlife. In particular, a Reader’s Digest guide to birds that my grandparents bought for me when I was about six years old.

My own passion for wildlife was in part founded on the presents people got me.

But recently, I’ve started looking even further back in time.

I have come to realise that for decades – even centuries – naturalists, ecologists and campaigners have been walking the hills and lowlands of the UK, identifying and categorising wildlife, and campaigning for the protection of green spaces.

Frozen reedbed at RSPB Minsmere, by Matt Adam Williams

One of the greatest gifts for today’s young people who care about nature is one that keeps on giving: the institutions they put in place, both metaphorical and literal.

Octavia Hill campaigned tirelessly and successfully for the protection of green spaces in urban areas, and her legacy was the foundation of the National Trust.

Aldo Leopold, in one of the most important conservation books ever written, A Sand County Almanac, describes sawing down an oak tree. Each ring they cut through takes them farther back in time, and he imagines all the events that have happened during the tree’s life, right back to the family that planted it so as its wood could one day keep him warm in the depths of winter. He was a writer acutely aware of the history he relied on.

They say it’s better to give than to receive. This Christmas, perhaps young nature lovers can contemplate the gifts we’re leaving to those younger than us and future generations. Will our names sit in the hall of fame alongside naturalists gone by? Will our generosity be remembered like theirs?

If we wish this to be the case, that means fighting for a natural world we want to grow old in, retire in, and that we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.

In addition to doing our own volunteering, setting out our moth traps at night, diligently submitting records to the county recorder, we also need to ask for change.

Young people’s voice needs to be saying loudly and clearly that in 2050 we want to live in a flourishing natural world. Politicians, business leaders and the conservation NGOs should help us be much more ambitious about our aims for nature. Or they should stand aside and let us get on.

This is what the forthcoming Vision for Nature report will set out in early 2016 – how young people want the natural world to look in 2050 and how they want to get there. It’s also what our advent blog series this year will be about.

Matt Williams is the Associate Director of AFON and is helping to lead the Vision for Nature campaign and report. In his spare time he works for the RSPB and is a wildlife photographer. Follow him at @mattadamw and mattadamwilliams.co.uk.