Caught by the River

The People’s Walk For Wildlife

Sue Brooks | 26th September 2018

Sue Brooks reports from The People’s Walk For Wildlife – the 10,000-strong march which, led by Chris Packham, took place in central London last weekend in support of more wildlife-friendly governmental policies.

Here’s a picture of Chris Packham onstage in a corner of Hyde Park on Saturday September 22nd 2018. It’s my Kevin Costner moment  –  build it and they will come. We did come. 10,000 of us by the time the walk started at 2pm. But in the beginning, crossing the Park from the tube station in heavy rain, it seemed like a few hundred at the most. Chris was in his element though – looking out from the stage across a sea of colour: umbrellas, people with painted faces, banners, flags, costumes, home-made placards sellotaped to bamboo, children dressed up as insects, birds, badgers, butterflies. Just marvellous. It began to build. He introduced his Ministers – for Diversity, for Wildlife Crime, for Organic Farmers, for the death of Pesticides, for Young People, for Culture. They gave their two minute maiden speeches and we all clapped and cheered. Billy Bragg sang and we knew most of the words to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – well the chorus anyway: they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Johnny Kingdom was remembered. The rain began to ease a little and we set off on The Walk.

So many of us by then. Along Piccadilly, St James’s, Pall Mall, Cockspur Street, past the Cenotaph in Whitehall. As we squeeze together to curve around Trafalgar Square I can see the banners waving the entire length of the next street and all to the sound of birdsong downloaded from Chris’s website onto a thousand mobile phones. Birdsong louder than the traffic, which has been rerouted to allow this raggle-taggle procession to pass through some of the most expensive real estate in the world. No beginning and no end. Exactly so. Someone starts singing: Where have all the flowers gone.

In front of me is a young mother with her daughter, aged about 5 or 6. She is pushing a doll’s pushchair crammed with soft toys – a badger, a fox, an owl, a rabbit. She has a painted badger face and a white t-shirt over her other clothes. On the back, she has drawn a heart and the words Save Our badgers in straggly letters. She is walking quickly to keep up with the crowd, both hands on the tiny pushchair and her feet keep colliding with the back wheels. We’ve been going for thirty minutes at this point and it’s probably only half way. There’s something deeply moving about this little girl: her determination, the soft toys AND the knowledge that Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows is being killed by men with guns, mostly at night. In my projection, of course, but the lump is in my throat by then and I imagine her as a future Minister in a Labour Government profoundly committed to the Manifesto we are about to deliver to No. 10 Downing Street. Hope and determination and the knowledge that there is so much we can do as individuals and in groups, but it has to be political in the end.

It was a truly marvellous Field Of Dreams. I was SO glad to be there. It felt urgent and essential. The Manifesto is political in the best sense of the word, something to build on, packed with controversial ideas, carefully considered and researched. Please read it.