We must lead by example. That was my prevailing thought as I stood watching the crowd of school strikers gathered outside Buckingham Palace this weekend, cheering in their high-pitched voices for a ‘Royal rewild’, alongside their television idol, naturalist and campaigner Chris Packham.
As he spoke his impassioned words to the young crowd ; “On my watch as an environmentalist and conservationist, I have failed these young people. I have failed to act quickly and broadly enough to prevent the crisis that we find ourselves in. The world that they are likely to inherit, unless we act urgently, properly and quickly now, will not be as pleasant as the one that I inherited at their age,’ it was hard not to wonder if whether they truly grasped the sentiment of his words.
But I suspect they did. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the decade that’s past since I started this blog (myself a self-styled ‘young voice for the environment’ when I first put words to electronic paper), it’s that young people are more switched on and eco-conscious than ever before.
We know this already, from the likes of high-profile young voices like Greta Thunberg, and every other rising young star of the environmental movement who’s indiscriminately dubbed ‘the next Greta’ in her wake.
A Royal call to action
This Saturday (9th October), however, the sense of how deeply the roots of this new wave of youth activism spread, was clear to see. Away from plinths, rolling news cameras and a multitude of microphones, a grass roots movement of children had achieved the unheard of; Buckingham Palace sent formal communication that it would accept a 100,000 strong petition, which calls on the Royal Family to rewild their lands.
In scenes of peaceful protest, song and laughter, hundreds of children and families marched peacefully through Green Park in central London to Buckingham Palace, where the school strikers’ choir SOS from the Kids (as seen on Britain’s Got Talent) led a singalong to the Royals, and Chris Packham addressed the crowd.
During the procession, a jazz band provided a beat for a large 4 metre sculpture of a White Stork (one of many species that ecologists say could be successfully rewilded on royal estates) to flap its wings to, as it carried the petition in a huge envelope hanging round its neck.
Their message was serious, but the high-spirited, playful approach in which they delivered it spoke to the genuine nature of the event; these are simply children, behaving in the way that children do best – but with the weight of multiple global crises on their shoulders.
Now, I’m no stranger to marching to Downing Street in solidarity with nature, and I’ve seen countless petitions disappear through the security gates of Number 10, to be hand-delivered at the front door, but hearing of the surprise communication from the Royal Household to the Wild Card ‘Rewild Royal Land’ campaign, felt like a historic moment indeed.
It is believed that the petition, organised by campaign groups Wild Card and 38 Degrees, is the first ever environmental petition to be accepted by the palace.
Leading school striker Simeon Macaulay, 14, was permitted to enter the palace grounds and hand the petition to a waiting member of royal staff, raising hopes that a major rewilding commitment from the royals may be imminent.
What is the Wild Card campaign asking for?
The petition builds on an open letter sent this June by over 100 leading scientists and celebrities – including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Kate Humble and Anita Rani – challenging the Royals to urgently ‘walk the walk’ on climate action in their own backyard before they appear as our ambassadors at the crucial COP26 climate talks in November.
The Wild Card campaign is calling for 50% of the UK to be fully rewilded. With half of England owned by less than 1% of the population, the campaign calls on the UK’s biggest landowners to act first.
The Royal Family owns an area of land TWICE the size of Greater London: 850,000 acres, just over 1.4% of the UK – more than any other family in the nation.
Despite the Royals being increasingly outspoken eco-warriors, much of their land is considered by experts to be an ‘ecological disaster zone’, featuring degraded landscapes such as grouse moors and deer stalking estates.
A risk of right royal hypocrisy
According to ecologists, Royal land has in many places less trees and wildlife than the rest of the UK. For example whilst EU average tree coverage is 37%, Prince Charles’ own Duchy of Cornwall estate has only 6% tree coverage!
Much of Balmoral, owned by the Queen, and Dartmoor, owned by Prince Charles, would naturally be covered in rare temperate rainforest, but today only tiny fragments remain.
Ecologists believe the Royal estates would naturally be home to golden eagles, elk, pine martens and white storks – and would benefit from so-called ecological engineer species such as beavers, wolves, bison and wild boar.
However, in these same landscapes, the Royal Family – even eco-warrior Prince William – regularly enjoy deer stalking and grouse shooting, despite experts insisting that grouse moors are some of the worst landscapes in the world for nature.
With the Royals increasingly calling for action on climate change and Prince William taking to the screen just last week with his own planet-saving TV show on the BBC (The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet), Chris Packham fears that accusations of hypocrisy could quickly follow.
“I’m delighted that the Royal Family are being more and more outspoken about ambitious environmental action, but words without action risks accusations of hypocrisy. By rewilding their estates, the Royals could become the real environmental heroes we so desperately need,”he added.
A public poll earlier in the year also showed overwhelming support for rewilding Royal land.
Time is running out
Speaking outside Buckingham Palace, TV star Chris Packham, 60, said: “I am thrilled the Royal Household has agreed to accept our petition. With the Royal Family due to attend COP26 as our climate ambassadors next month, now is the perfect opportunity for them to start walking the walk on their own vast estates.”
“Returning degraded Royal landscapes like grouse moors and deer-stalking estates to wild nature would show inspiring leadership in the midst of the climate and ecological crisis we face.”
The young choir ‘SOS from the Kids’ then sang their powerful message of caring for our planet’s future, their future.
Speaking after entering Buckingham Palace to deliver the petition by hand, school-striker Simeon Macaulay, aged 14, said: “I couldn’t believe it when I found out I’d be allowed to enter Buckingham Palace to deliver the petition. It was crazy! It feels like the Royals are actually listening to us and might take action soon. With the climate crisis getting worse and worse, rewilding royal land would be a huge step towards saving our future.”
What’s next for Wildcard’s plight to rewild?
The Wild Card campaign is a new campaign group of ordinary citizens, scientists and ecologists launched in June this year. The group wants to see 50% of the UK fully rewilded and is calling for a national effort to make this happen.
Wild Card’s plea to the Queen is only the first step for the newly launched campaign, which will next request that the Church of England and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge Universities act urgently to rejuvenate the ecosystems of the hundreds of thousands of acres of land that they control.
Wild Card campaign coordinator and co-founder Joel Scott-Halkes said: “With today’s historic acceptance of our rewilding petition, we’re hopeful that the Royals will put nature and biodiversity firmly on the global agenda at next month’s COP26 conference. Revealing a plan to restore at least half their estates to nature would signal to the world that saving nature is the best way to save ourselves.”
In less than a month, The Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William will attend the crucial COP26 climate summit in Glasgow as Britain’s climate ambassadors. With the eyes of the world upon them, campaigners say that a Royal rewilding commitment could galvanise world leaders into enacting crucial nature-based solutions at scale.
The UN has said that the world must rewild an area of land the size of China if we are to avoid runaway climate heating, but experts fear that not enough is being done and that biodiversity won’t be prioritised at the talks.
Chris Packham concluded: “Making a commitment to rewild their land before COP26 starts would help show the world that Britain’s climate targets aren’t just empty promises.”
Want to know more Britain’s ambition to rewild?
- Wild East: 10 exciting ways that Fritton Lake is rewilding
- Rewild Success! Beavers can stay in their Devon home
- HS2 and the UK’s post-lockdown challenges
Learn more about British wildlife
- How To Help Endangered UK Wildlife
- How to embrace autumn by learning lessons from nature
- How to help end hunting on National Trust land — for good
- How to care for your local foxes
- Fox hunting ban: Holding on to hope
- Thousands of badgers to be killed in 7 new areas despite government promise
- National Badger Day: Betrayal in the British countryside
- Crush Cruelty march: Chris Packham campaigns against driven grouse shooting
- Bringing British wildlife to schoolchildren: badgers, foxes and 30 Days Wild