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East Anglia Future 50

Amid Brexit, farming and climate change, what is the future for Norfolk's nature?

PUBLISHED: 11:57 26 March 2019 | UPDATED: 19:20 27 March 2019

Conservationist and author Isabella Tree will be one of the speakers at a debate on the Future of Nature at the Forum in Norwich. Picture: Charlie Burrell

Conservationist and author Isabella Tree will be one of the speakers at a debate on the Future of Nature at the Forum in Norwich. Picture: Charlie Burrell

Isabella Tree

A “timely and important debate” on the future of nature in Norfolk will bring leading conservationists and wildlife experts to Norwich next month.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Pamela Abbott will be one of the speakers at a debate on the Future of Nature at the Forum in Norwich. Picture: NWT.Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Pamela Abbott will be one of the speakers at a debate on the Future of Nature at the Forum in Norwich. Picture: NWT.

The event on April 13 is the centrepiece of the weekend-long Festival of Nature at The Forum, and will be hosted by Guardian writer and author Patrick Barkham, who lives on the edge of the Norfolk Broads.

Other panellists include award-winning writer and re-wilding enthusiast Isabella Tree; Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Pamela Abbott; Water Resources East chairman Henry Cator OBE; and Jake Fiennes, general manager for conservation at the Holkham Estate.

The evening concludes with an open debate between the panel and the audience, discussing issues including climate change, Brexit and how Norfolk’s past can help inform future work in farming, conservation and water management.

Mr Barkham said: “Norfolk’s countryside is going to change more dramatically in the decades after Brexit than at any time for more than a generation. We need to work out how we can all change our county for the better, and put that into action – for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Jake Fiennes, general manager for conservation at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Carl EllisJake Fiennes, general manager for conservation at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Carl Ellis

“The leading farmers, conservationists and thinkers at this year’s Festival of Nature can help show us how.”

Ms Abbott added: “We have a history of pioneering in Norfolk, from the establishment of the first wildlife trust to the large-scale habitat restoration projects across the county.

“It is clear we need to do even more if we are to have any hope of reversing the devastating decline in wildlife and the use of our natural resources beyond their ability to renew themselves. We need to find a new way for everyone to take action for nature, whether they it is individuals with their window boxes for pollinators, communities creating a patch of wild land or farmers with ambition to transform the landscape for wildlife.”

READ MORE: Wildlife groups want to build a ‘motorway for bees’ in south Norfolk

Isabella Tree, who is married to conservationist Sir Charles Burrell, will also talk about her new book Wilding, which tells the story of the couple’s major wildlife experiment at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

Henry Cator OBE is the chairman of the leadership group at Water Resources East. Picture: Bob HobbsHenry Cator OBE is the chairman of the leadership group at Water Resources East. Picture: Bob Hobbs

After accepting that intensive farming on the heavy clay land was “economically ruinous”, they decided to step back and let nature take over, which has turned the degraded agricultural land into a “functioning ecosystem” again in less than 20 years.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping-point – a moment in time where the world feels ready for change,” she said. “Environmental catastrophe has been breathing down our necks for decades and we’ve been too oblivious, too stuck in our ways or too damn scared, to turn and face it.

“But over the last few years extraordinary pioneers in rewilding and regenerative farming – from Alan Savory in Africa to Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin in the States, to Charlie Massy in Australia – have discovered ways to work with nature to reverse desertification, regenerate soils and water sources, restore biodiversity and tackle climate change.

“All is not lost. For the first time, in a generation, we should be feeling tremendous hope, as long as we can persuade the rest of the world – and that includes the big food and farming lobby – to come to its senses.”

The Festival of Nature from April 12-14 will also include nature walks starting at The Forum on the Saturday, and free children’s activities in Atrium on the Sunday.

• The Festival of Nature runs from April 12-14 at the Forum in Norwich, and the Festival Debate: ‘The Future of Nature’ is from 6pm on April 13. For tickets and more details on the Festival of Nature see the Forum website.

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