12:00 Monday 23 June 2014

Save our Wildlife: Cambridgeshire broadcaster and journalist Robin Page helps us launch a new campaign to protect and preserve the wildlife around us

Written byROBIN PAGE

The Cambridge News today launches a new campaign – Save Our Wildlife – raising awareness of the challenges facing the species and habitats around us, and offering ideas, advice and inspiration to help you play a part in protecting them. We will be highlighting the challenges facing our wildlife, the reasons why we must act and demonstrate how everyone can make a difference. In our first piece, Cambridgeshire broadcaster and journalist Robin Page, of the Countryside Restoration Trust, writes a personal account of his experiences, looking at an experience in Kenya and comparing it to the situation closer to home.

By Robin Page, founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust, www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com:

I will remember the full moon of June 13th, Friday 13th, for a long time – and the two events do not clash again until August 2049, when my interest in Planet Earth will be over.

I had been speaking at a packed Tenterden Town Hall in Kent, trying to spread the missionary message of the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT), and my wife Lulu had been helping me sell books and gain new members. We arrived home just before midnight and I checked my emails. An image appeared on the screen; what an image – an elephant with half its head hacked off and its body rotting in the bush; I had to fight back tears. I called Lulu – she wept.

The elephant was Satao, Kenya’s largest ‘tusker’, an elephant we had made a special journey to see in February this year. Then, there were only 20 giant tuskers left on the whole continent of Africa with just 12 surviving in Kenya – now with Satao’s death only 11 remain.

After numerous incredible trips to Africa our visit to search for this remarkable tusker provided us with an astonishing, moving encounter. I first saw Satao from the air, in a small plane piloted by Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust. We then saw the amazing bull elephant close to, in the bush. He was an old, wise elephant with two enormous tusks, each one weighing up to 120 pounds. As he walked slowly forwards the tusks made furrows in the soil. Insects flew to avoid his giant strides and European swallows and Carmine bee-eaters hunted around him. It was a deep and emotional experience connecting us to a time when the world was young – something that will live with us for the rest of our lives. Lulu took his picture.

Our Kenyan guide, Anthony Cheffings, had never seen such an elephant before. His words were simple:”What a privilege.”

I had hoped to share the privilege with others by leading a group to Kenya next February but now Satao is dead, killed by a poisoned arrow, his face shattered and his tusks gone for trinkets and carvings to be sold in China or Vietnam. Some will argue that the rural African is poor, that poaching is inevitable. Yes, there are people in Kenya surviving at subsistence level, but there are also traditional people who still respect their culture and their wildlife.

It is the same in Britain too. I have a field of 10 acres I could sell for development – and I know the ropes. It could give me millions of pounds, yet I will not sell. I want to continue seeing my cows grazing with the swallows now flying around them – the elephants in Africa can wait for their return in the autumn. We live in a world in which greed, arrogance and ignorance seem to rule.

In Britain we have no cause for smugness or boasting about how we regard wildlife. As I speak thousands of acres of green belt are being plundered for development and Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are among the worst culprits. Go to the edge of Cambridge where appalling developments resembling East German flats circa 1947 are divided by roads proclaiming Kingfisher Gardens, Lapwing Avenue, Skylark Road and Partridge Close; the tools of the marketing men cynically listing the wildlife that has been displaced. In Africa elephants are erased. In Cambridgeshire whole habitats are sacrificed. The reasons in both the Third World and the First World are the same – so are the excuses.

In Africa the battle is on to try and save the continent’s last large mammals. In Britain things are so bad that we are fighting to save wildlife at the other end of the spectrum – that is all we have left. But at last we have had some success. Last autumn the CRT co-operated with The British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, the Royal Naval Air Service and Tresco Island in the Isles of Scilly to introduce captive bred red squirrels to Tresco. Tresco has no grey squirrels and so the endangered reds will be safe. After a winter of storms, the reds have survived and three weeks ago we saw them – fit, well and breeding.

Nearer to home at the CRT’s Lark Rise Farm we have got otters, harvest mice, skylarks, orchids and many more species all coming back from the brink.

But the threats remain – I think of Satao – what a tragedy, what a waste. I look towards Cambridge at the diggers, the cement mixers, the call for a football stadium where flocks of golden plovers traditionally stopped on migration. Kenya, Cambridge, environmental abuse - is there any difference?

MORE ABOUT THE COUNTRYSIDE RESTORATION TRUST

The Countryside Restoration Trust was founded by Robin Page and is the UK’s leading charity promoting wildlife-friendly farming and campaigning for “a living, working countryside”.

The trust believes that wildlife is integral to good farming.

That philosophy is put into practice on more than 1,500 acres of working farms, smallholdings and woodland across the country.

The aim is to demonstrate how farming and other sustainable land uses can co-exist with, and benefit from, a countryside rich in wildlife.

The Countryside Restoration Trust now has approximately 4,000 Friends and manages land with properties in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire.

More details of the trust’s work around the UK, including how to support it and make a donation, are available online at www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com.

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