People’s emotional and intellectual responses to the natural world are as diverse as nature itself. Nothing could better prove this point than this year’s New Networks for Nature event in Stamford, which featured contributions ranging from photographs of marine worms to an electronic music-scored poetic voyage through the solar system, via medieval ornithology, bee conservation, and some rip-roaring botanical yarns.
As the name might suggest, a hefty chunk of the event was also dedicated to networking – and there’s no better opportunity, with the delegate list reading like a who’s who of conservation and the nature-inspired arts in Britain. At such events I’m every bit the wallflower, if you can call a bearded, balding, not-quite-six-foot birder a flower. I hover silently between groups of people deep in conversation. I identify people I admire, mentally ticking them off my ‘famous writers checklist’, and wonder if I have anything interesting to say to them. In an echoey room full of competing conversations you can see why a sound-sensitive person with a quiet voice would struggle.
I’m always grateful, therefore, to those people – kindred quiet folk or otherwise – who make an effort to engage me in conversation at such events or kindly overlook my stumbling introductions. At New Networks, you invariably find even the most successful of people entirely approachable and down to earth. There’s very little pretense, and I wonder if this is because people who are genuinely, deeply engaged with all the manifold wonders of nature can’t help but be humble. And funnily enough, not all of the big names on the program are booming-voiced extroverts themselves.
I write this blog for myself, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care whether anybody else read it. From time to time some of you who do are kind enough to say nice things about my writing – now I’m trying to figure out how right you are and where I should go from here. That’s part of why I go to events like New Networks, with the added draw this year that the theme – ‘a sense of scale’ – chimed nicely with my PhD research, which concerns the location of tiny insects within big landscapes. So, I go to be entertained and inspired, and I certainly was and am, but I also go in the hope that by rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of nature writing some of their magic might filter into my writing. By which I don’t mean I plan to start writing exactly like Mark Cocker or Richard Mabey, more so that by drawing practical tips and inspiration from their examples I might learn to write more like Chris Foster – whoever he is!
In the end, whether known names or not, and no matter how diverse our work, the attendees at such events are quite alike. We’re people with nature under our skin and in our bloodstream, people to whom nature does indeed matter, and we’re convinced, like any evangelist, that we have something worth sharing, worth shouting about. The whole point of New Networks for Nature, as I understand it, is working out how best to get that message out beyond our rather enjoyable clique and into the world beyond. That seems to me a point to reconcile around, for if the conservation community can’t put aside its scientific or ethical differences and work together, it will only be to our own detriment in the end.