Monday, 4 November 2013

Stage 1 Complete - The Catalyst is Ready..

MMNN is now almost three months old. 

Firstly I want to say a massive THANK YOU to my small but tireless team of volunteers. Without your support, passion and commitment, we could not have reached this point so quickly.

To see our current position clearly, I want to have a quick look back at our perceived role, which was defined, not long after our launch in August 2013:

MMNN: It's role in the U.K. (click to enlarge)
MMNN was designed to be complimentary and not as a substitute or rival for any other part of the UK's Wildlife Network. In fact, whilst gathering my thoughts for this article I received some wise and consise words from a talented individual who is combining her gift with the power of Biophilia (basically defined as the innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world - per Biologist E.O. Wilson). She said:

"We are all working towards the same end, we just chose different paths. Nature Matters!!"

I have recently undertaken a fascinating journey, exploring these various "paths" that exist in the UK, that can lead to our biodiversity goals being met. I have been fortunate enough to find so many remarkable individuals and initiatives, whose work is serving to ignite the flame that draws more people towards nature.

Others are investing so much time and effort, whilst creating projects across Britain, which show innovation and passion for nature. Whilst reserves remain a safe haven for wildlife, thanks to our marvelous national organisations, it is sad that the vast majority of the UK's land area remains "unprotected".

Whilst considering the fact that 75% of the UK's surface area is managed by farmers, I looked at schemes which, whilst being revolutionary in some aspects, draw on ancient practices to increase biodiversity, maintain food webs AND produce crops effectively.

I had a wonderful chat with the the creators of Dorset Forest Garden at Beaminster Bottom Farm in Dorset. For anyone who is not familiar with the principles of Forest Farming, the farms' own words on it's home page serves to provide an excellent summary:

"Imagine a garden that is not fighting nature, but working with it. 

Where most of your time in it is enjoying its beauty, diversity and not to forget food! In fact a garden that cuts out the supermarket and makes eating local food as simple as walking out of your door and selecting what’s in season.

If you’re new to the concept – a forest garden or food forest is nothing to do with gardening in a forest, but creating a multilayered garden that mimics a young woodland but where plants are chosen to maximise the health and productivity of the space.

A forest garden is beautiful and delicious, a polyculture developed in harmony with nature and so incredibly low maintenance.

So is this for you? I’m not going to say you’ll get a completely un-biased opinion from us! We’re big fans of forest gardening; for our UK temperate climate it ticks so many boxes. In our damp climate, the land’s natural state is woodland. In fact if left alone, ground will slowly revert to woodland. Because of this the further we try to maintain land from this natural state – the more work it takes to maintain.

Here are a few bullet points that makes us such enthusiasts of food forests.  They are:
labour saving,
High yielding,
A relaxing, beautiful space,
Contain huge biodiversity,
Locking up carbon – making it kind to the environment,
Both a source of harvest and income,
Good way of putting children in touch with where food comes from, as well as educating them on other topics – environment, biology, design…"

This practice of Forest Gardening can have a major impact on levels of biodiversity and participation in urban settings, and also create a "living class-room" for children to learn more about nature, carbon issues and sustainable farming.

Another developing practice in the UK is Agroforestry (Simply agriculture that incorporates the cultivation of trees)

Research over the past 20 years has confirmed that Agroforestry can be more biologically productive, more profitable, and more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures. (Source:

If we can offer our 300,000 UK farmers an incentive or reward for adopting methods that enhance biodiversity, whilst maintaining their place in the market, we shall be able to halt the decline of wildlife across an area that represents 75% of our land surface area.

Whilst there is talk that 15% of direct payments to farmers should be " held-back" to contribute towards biodiversity work, I do hold three fears:

1. If this money is not kept to manage biodiversity across our farmland, then a policy that holds so much hope for wildlife would end up feeling like Biodiversity Offsetting. A system which would let people ignore biodiversity, as long as they forfeited money, for wildlife projects elsewhere, would do little to produce a unified nation that cares for and respects the power and beauty of nature, especially at a time when we are trying to define it's true "value".

2. We should be careful not to penalise farmers who are already actively protecting or enhancing biodiversity. We need to protect initiatives like the fantastic Conservation Grade Scheme - a sustainability protocol being implemented by farmers in return for contracted premium prices for their crops. We cannot simply put everyone in the same boat. 

In the UK we have an inspection service covering food establishments, which helps protect people from being poisoned. Would it not be great to create a "Biodiversity Task Force" to ensure that farmers are thinking about biodiversity and protecting our amazing wildlife?

Such a task force could work closely with our Local Records Centres (LRC's) (who could also do with some extra funding) so that farms are subject to 5 star biodiversity assessments. Under such a scheme, local naturalists, experts and patch watchers, could apply to get involved in the farm surveys, designed by local experts, under a permit scheme, allowing limited access to land. 

Not only would this increase the amount of coordinated and repeated recording for future "State of Nature" reports, it would offer our children the opportunity to study wildlife and become guardians of the countryside under part of an inspectorate system, similar to what we have in meat production. Permits could be issued by the government to those that have demonstrated to local recorders, Wildlife Clubs and LRC's, that they have the necessary skills and passion for nature to conduct impartial surveying. 

3. We are in a potentially strong economic position, with regard to UK farming. Perhaps surprisingly the average size of our farms in the UK are larger than the European average 
(Source: means that we should be able to enjoy a competitive edge by virtue of achievable economies of scale.

History actually made me cringe as a child, because I learned about so many industries, within which we were once the world leader. So many crowns have fallen!! With 75% of our land given over to farming, we have to keep our eye on the ball and not lose our place in this market. 

The consumer will only buy fresh, healthy, sustainable, local produce, if it remains sensibly priced. If we are going to take something from the farming kitty, then let's make sure that the funds go to schemes that protect biodiversity over a land area that has no "reserve" status to protect it, whilst rewarding wildlife-friendly farmers AND maintaining their place in the market.

There is much much more that has come from our review, and the amazing people and organisations that we have and will continue to come across, will be incorporated in one of two places:

1. This main MMNN site will now become a reference site connecting the "1st Element" to the volunteer wildlife network, and the public. It will encourage membership, participation, volunteering and recording through the national wildlife organisations and via our local Councils that manage so many of our green spaces. ( Please note: we are in the process of adding "Link areas" which will cover Schools, Wildlife Identification, Council Biodiversity work and Farming)

2. We are now focusing on the creation of our Local Nature Networks. After the launch of our maiden MMNN- Bournemouth Local Nature Network, we will conduct an appraisal to see just how effectively we have served to encourage, coordinated recording, participation, biodiversity protection and education, across the launch area. This experience will assist in the creation of other networks around member sites. The local network will aim to help send the "1st Element" deep into local communities. We have a few surprises, which will become apparent on launch, which we hope will demonstrate the potency of the MMNN catalyst.

In this regard, I wish to thank our members for their continued interest and support, and to all of those involved in Biophilia, Forest Farming, Agroforestry and on so many other biodiversity "paths" that have influenced our thinking, whilst designing the characteristics of the MMNN catalyst.

Local councils are under extreme pressure, whilst trying to manage biodiversity with ever-decreasing staff and resources. MMNN will support them, whilst minimising requests for information. We shall now use the LRC's and the NBN Gateway to obtain site wildlife information, whilst our focus will remain on working towards coordinating surveying and encouraging more participation and volunteering across member green sites.

Our Local Networks will bring together all patch watchers, wildlife bloggers,"Friends of" and other wildlife groups so that they have more support.

Our community work will become apparent on the launch of our first MMNN Local Nature Network.

I am carrying out a fund-raising walk in Spring 2014. Half of the proceeds will go towards local School wildlife activities and equipment. If you are a wildlife-friendly school near Smestow Valley LNR, Wolverhampton, Clayhanger Marsh, Walsall or Harborne, Birmingham, please register your interest in this event. Local businesses can also get involved.

The other half of the money raised will support local biodiversity projects. If you require help to fund such work in the above areas of the West Midlands, please email brief details and links for our consideration.

If you support our ethos, join MMNN today. It's free and our benefits are becoming more apparent as we prepare to cross the three month mark since our "birth" on 13th August 2013.

To join MMNN or get involved in our fund-raising event, please contact us at

Thank you

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