Last Friday I attended the Nature Summit organised by Suffolk Wildlife Trust at the Dance East studios on the Waterfront. I am so impressed with the venue – I can’t often see shows at Dance East, like the event with schools earlier this week, because I am in London on your behalf, but we can be proud as a town of being host to arts facilities like this of the highest calibre.
The Nature Summit was very well attended by people from across Suffolk – and beyond. I saw messages from other Wildlife Trusts around the country saying what a good idea they thought this summit was, and proposing to copy the idea in their own Counties. I do hope they will. The people I met on Friday, young and old, gave me hope that we live in a County where people care about nature. More importantly, they were able to give each other hope, and the encouragement to carry on campaigning, and I am sure that sense of shared challenge and commitment can be spread throughout England.
We are lucky in Ipswich. We have many excellent parks, and the Borough Council has made a conscious decision to encourage wildlife in parts of them – wild flowers and plants and the small animals that thrive in a wilder habitat. When Labour took control in 2011 we cancelled the plans for a private housing development on Kiln Meadow and dedicated that area as a wildlife site, to sit alongside the marshes on Belstead Brook. We have a nationally important population of toads and also butterflies, dormice, slow worms and various other creatures living there. And Ipswich provides a valuable habitat for hedgehogs and is at the heart of one of the three main population centres for stag beetles.
More and more Ipswich people who are lucky enough to have gardens are setting aside areas for wildlife. It’s not necessary to have an enormous garden – I have a little pond in my garden no bigger than a pool table, but it has a resident frog and toads which visit. And there’s a hedgehog living in a woodpile, for which I have cut little holes in the fence to let it pass through.
Why should all of this matter? Well, firstly we need to know if our world is in a fit state for us to live in. It was the fish and other sea creatures dying off in the 1960s which alerted human beings to the pollution of our seas and rivers. Now nearly 60 years later we have still not fully learned the lessons from back then, but we have discovered a lot more about our planet and the way it works. We have banned DDT and ozone-depleting chemicals. We have cleaned up our rivers to the extent that now many of them support otters. There are oyster-catchers and cormorants in the Orwell, and I have even seen kingfishers and a seal in the stretch near the Bobby Robson Bridge.
If birds or insects die off there may be a crucial change to their food or habitat which we have caused, and if so we need to know about it. We cannot afford to lose our bees, but if we start losing any other insects that may also have damaging consequences. And if the air or the water is too polluted for other animals to live safely, that is probably an indication that its not very safe for us either.
Secondly, I believe that we behave more sympathetically towards each other if we also behave sympathetically towards animals. We all know instinctively when we see someone mistreating a dog or a farm animal that they are likely to also behave cruelly with other people. That’s why I think it is right that we have passed laws and regulations recently to protect animals from mistreatment. I want all our children to learn respect for our fellow creatures, both wild and domesticated, and hopefully those children will be able to pass that education on to their friends and families too.
But in addition to both of those reasons, I think wildlife matters simply because it is life – not just because we want to respect it or enjoy watching it, but also because it is a wonderful thing in its own right. If human beings had never evolved, it would still be a great marvel that there were living creatures on our planet. Let’s hope that we come to cherish other living things in that spirit, before we carelessly lose them forever.