top of page

Harnessing the Power in our Parishes

This is a preprint of an article by Ian Carstairs in the North Yorkshire Moors Association Spring Magazine

Well, it’s all over the media. We are in the ‘last chance saloon’ to right the wrongs that threaten the planet, the plants and animals that live here and ultimately the natural systems on which we all depend. The gauntlet has been thrown down firmly for nature recovery and for the moment at least increasingly picked up in a multitude of ways, not overlooking the fact that many throughout society have been quietly trying, unsung, to make a difference for years.

The RSPB encourages us to send £10 so that they can help fix the problems. The National Trust and Wildlife Trusts are gearing up too. And, of course, the Government has its schemes for landowners and farmers. But these are all ‘top-down’ initiatives. Good and worthy as they might be, they are inevitably dependent on the mechanics and processes of the organisations promoting them to deliver the desired outcomes. Their practical effects are thus often driven remotely from the ordinary person in their everyday lives.

Of course, these initiatives by organisations have their critically important place. But what really interests me is the degree to which society in general can be influenced and encouraged to meet the challenge in a very ‘bottom-up’ sort of way. How, realistically, can the necessary shift in attitude be achieved and fostered in an enduring way when we have heard the same messages so many times before over the last 50 years? Such cultural change requires a seismic shift in the way we all see the world, demanding that we seek more simply to satisfy our needs and limit our self-interest wants. Alongside this taking the pressure off nature has to gain wide acceptance, giving it the space and the ‘break’ it so desperately requires if we are to reverse catastrophic loss. This is a given.

It is as Sir David Attenborough so clearly emphasises at the end of many of his programmes: “up to every one of us” - a message which bears repeating time and time again.

Taking Sir David’s lead, in his Foreword to this edition of ‘Voice’, our Chair Adrian Leaman touches on this very issue, going to the heart of our attitudes and need for cultural change. Coincidentally his sentiments have been given a topical focus for me through the example my Town Council, here in Harleston, Norfolk has set. Based on an aspiration in its adopted Neighbourhood Plan, Harleston Town Council, with the support of County and District Councillors, has adventurously declared the parish to be a local Nature Recovery area.

At first this raised confused eyebrows as to what would be involved, whether there was such a thing and how it would be organised. But once established that there is no organisation, only the concept of nature recovery as a ‘badge’ under which everyone - be they farmers, developers, organisations and individuals - who takes any positive action can rally with a sense of collective common purpose, the initial response has been amazing. Importantly, it is drawing out imaginative support with enthusiasm and skills from diverse quarters to get the ball rolling centred on ‘Bring Back our Butterflies’ as the initial theme, and so far initiatives have included an inspirational launch event, a huge butterfly mobile made by schoolchildren and hung in the parish church, and re-seeding of a wildflower meadow with butterfly-friendly species.

The Town Council has sparked a chain reaction through its very simple, non-bureaucratic approach. As such it has been asked: could the formula be replicated elsewhere?

The answer to the question is both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’. ‘No’ because the momentum so far is driven by spontaneous actions of many different residents who have emerged to take on the mantle in ways that suit themselves. It follows that it cannot be the same in any two places as this depends on the individuals in the community, and the very structure and geography of the parishes. But the answer about the overall approach is most definitely: YES.

To this end NYMA’s Council is exploring ways in which this approach could work to support parishes over wider areas in and around the Moors in parallel with the potential for a similar initiative in the vicinity of the York, Selby, and Pocklington area. Will it work? Maintaining momentum is always the hard part. It is very early days; we can only try and see.


bottom of page