25/07/2016 07:19 BST | Updated 26/07/2017 06:12 BST

The Challenge of Saving Nature Increasingly Falls to Millennials Like Me


Bank vole; photo by Matt Adam Williams.

It can't have escaped your attention that more and more media coverage is written about the problems facing millennials these days. I'm only 29 years old and according to these articles I should be worrying about how I'm ever going to afford to buy a home, asking whether I'll retire before I'm 75, and wondering why I still feel young but no matter how hard I try I still don't really get Snapchat.

However, what really keeps me up at night is something different. It's the fear that this Summer may be the last time I hear a turtle dove in the UK. I heard one just two days ago at a spot far off the beaten track in rural Cambridgeshire, UK. Its gentle purring was particularly poignant given that I knew I'd be publishing this blog in the next couple of days.

My fear is one shared by a large number of young people. What concerns us is that the wildlife we've grown up loving is in such dramatic decline. 60% of species we know about have declined in the last few decades. And that's just the UK. Globally, many think that we're witnessing (and causing) the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history.

The birds, like cuckoos, my grandfather used to tell me about after his walks on the hills are disappearing. As are the moths that used to invade our bedroom windows on warm Summer nights when we left the lights on. Now those windows lie bare and clear on those same evenings.

I don't want to live in a future bereft of the butterflies and birds that make the British countryside so special. I hope that when my children and grandchildren are growing up the cuckoo's and the turtle dove's calls will be sounds that are only too common.

These losses will affect young people and future generations worst. To fail to tackle them is a great injustice to those who will come after us. If things continue, then we will live in a world more barren than that of our parents or grandparents.

Young people are losing out already: those even younger than me are less connected to nature than ever before. They spend more time looking at screens than ever and face greater obstacles to connecting with the natural world. That means they're less likely to care about it and protect it. It's making us sick too: nature is proven to have mental and physical health benefits and depriving ourselves of it can have the reverse effect.

But we should take our inspiration from the naturalists, campaigners and ecologists of generations gone by. The likes of Octavia Hill (who founded the National Trust by protecting green spaces for the poor in London) and Oliver Rackham (the recently deceased and extremely knowledgeable botanist) put in place protections and knowledge that the wildlife and naturalists of today still benefit from. In a sense, we owe a debt to them.

And while children and young people in general are less connected to nature, there's a rapidly growing youth nature movement in this country made up of young people who love wildlife, spend every spare minute out searching for it, and are speaking out about its future. They're using social media to connect and create communities like never before. They're embodying start-up spirit to set up their own projects to reconnect others with wildlife. In the past five years or so this movement has ballooned, with groups like Bristol and Sheffield Nature Networks, A Focus on Nature and Action for Conservation all appearing on the scene.

And now a group of young people, myself included, have set out our vision for the future of nature in the UK. It's an alternative to the negative stories we're so used to, and an alternative to the path we're on.

The Vision for Nature report, published by the youth nature network A Focus on Nature, sets out the direction we think we need to be traveling in. By doing so, we're starting to repay the debt we owe to the past by helping to protect nature for future generations.

We've set out some of the changes we feel are needed in order to secure wildlife's future. Our vision for 2050 is of a UK where much larger areas of land and sea are managed for wildlife and protected under law that's stronger than what we have today; where our farming systems are rewarded for helping wildlife; where people are healthier and happier because they spend more time in nature; and where we've let lots of land return to being wild and brought back creatures from centuries gone by, just like they've done at the Knepp Estate in Sussex.

The UK Government has recently delayed publication of its 25-year plan for nature, a manifesto commitment. Delay is not an option: nature needs our help now. But while we can destroy a precious place or creature in the blink of an eye, nature recovers slowly, and protection for it needs to be ensured for many generations to come, not just one generation.

So our top recommendation is for a 250-year plan for nature. We'd like to see this long-term thinking adopted in all four countries of the UK. The Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act is a good first step in the right direction. We need to go much further. Only with such radical steps will we create the flourishing future we need and want.

My peers, my friends (young photographers, bloggers, ecologists, wildlife artists and campaigners) and I, would like to work with anyone who wants to take on this challenge. From businesses to governments to NGOs, we would like to collaborate with other generations and parts of society to solve this problem and make our vision a reality, to help our wildlife to flourish.