Cambridge hears stories of conservation success that show there really are grounds for Earth Optimism
By Cambridge Conservation Initiative
Nature, including humanity, is facing a crisis. The statistics look grim: the United Nations estimate around one million species are under threat of extinction. So why did Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) recently curate a festival celebrating Earth Optimism?
Earth Optimism is a global movement that aims to reframe the environmental narrative, from one of doom and gloom to one focused on solutions and success. Earth Optimism emerged from two key realisations: that fear without hope leads to apathy rather than action, and that conservation successes are numerous but largely invisible.
Running from March 26 to April 4 as part of the inaugural Cambridge Festival, Earth Optimism Cambridge shared stories from across the generations and around the globe, with partner festivals in Nairobi, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and Washington DC.
From saving tiny species to restoring vast landscapes; from school children to Sir David Attenborough, the scope and scale of conservation success is truly inspirational!
All these stories and conversations will remain available through the website as a permanent resource for the public, communicators and educators to draw upon as we enter what Tom Rivett-Carnac, in his remarkable video on Stubborn Optimism terms, “the most consequential period in the history of humanity”.
At the smaller end of the animal scale, Earth Optimism showcased the incredible story of the Lord Howe Island stick insect in Asher Flatt’s documentary ‘Stuck on a Rock’.
The insects were thought to be extinct after rats from a shipwreck on remote Lord Howe Island, off New South Wales, eliminated the island’s population in the early 20th century.
But in 2001, live insects were found on a nearby volcanic stack, Ball’s Pyramid. Since then conservationists have worked tirelessly to save the species, building up numbers in a breeding programme at Melbourne Zoo.
Saving individual species gives us some wonderful conservation stories, but those species need places to live. Earth Optimism provided uplifting tales of success in restoring landscapes and habitats, highlighting the scale of ambition of conservationists worldwide.
Earth Optimism visits three of CCI’s Endangered Landscapes Programme sites to explore some of the largest habitat restoration projects in Europe, where endangered Mediterranean monk seals are being encouraged back to breed on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey, bison are being reintroduced to sites in Romania from where they have been absent for over 200 years, and dam removal in the Danube Delta is reconnecting the natural flow of water and wildlife.
There’s large-scale landscape restoration here in Cambridgeshire too. Sarah Smith, manager of the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve at Wicken Fen, talks about the Vision project.
This 100-year plan will extend the reserve all the way to Cambridge, connecting fragmented habitat for wildlife while at the same time giving people much-needed space in nature.
Passionate people are a common thread to all these stories.
When communities are involved and invested in the conservation efforts on their doorstep, they gain a sense of belonging and attachment to the natural world around them.
People around the world are engaging in conservation efforts ‘on their patch'.
Women of the Land tells the story of a group of women in Mexico, who, inspired by their children, decide to get involved in the conservation of the golden eagle.
On the other side of the globe, Saving the Crane is a remarkable story about how communities got together to stop the decline of the iconic grey crowned crane, turning from poachers to protectors in the space of a few years.
Closer to home, Brighton teacher Dan Danahar and his pupils at the Dorothy Stringer School created a habitat for butterflies on their school site, inspiring the local council to extend the project across Brighton and the surrounding area.
The local chalk downs have now been recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere, demonstrating that even seemingly small local efforts can lead to big changes.
For conservation to work in the long term, people need to be able to thrive and make a living alongside nature. Earth Optimism’s Solutions Fair includes an extraordinary piece about how to ‘Eat chocolate and save the rainforest’ with The Gola Rainforest project in Sierra Leone. The project works with the forest-edge communities of the National Park to enable them to make a living from the protection of the landscape through sustainable cocoa farming.
Meanwhile in the South Atlantic, the Albatross Task Force, an initiative coordinated by RSPB and BirdLife International partners, has been working with fishing fleets to identify ways to reduce bycatch. Albatross are the most endangered group of birds worldwide, and bycatch – entanglement in nets or on fishing hooks – is responsible for the death of an estimated 100,000 birds annually.
By working together, conservationists and fishers have reduced bycatch by an amazing 99 per cent in South African fisheries, giving these fabulous birds a chance to recover numbers.
Some of the most inspiring stories come from our youngest contributors. Schools Eco Council member Junayd Islam tells us how he has been motivated to raise awareness of the climate crisis, while Wildlife Trust junior ambassador Henry Day made a fabulous film encouraging us to garden for wildlife. It is heartening to know so many young people are ready to carry the conservation baton!
While we must not hide from the reality of the problems facing nature, Earth Optimism shows us that we have many solutions and successes. So many of these stories involve partnerships – between conservation organisations, communities, governments and business. By working together, we can make real progress towards a more sustainable future. There is not much time but there is much hope.
As Chris Packham says at the close of his Q&A session: “We have the answers, yes of course we are optimistic, but we do need to get on with it!”. Our partners here at CCI are getting on with it, as are tens of thousands of people worldwide. We hope we’ve inspired you to get on with it too!
Enjoy some of the videos
Threatened plants with a ‘Ray of Hope’
Conservation Success Stories at the Museum of Zoology