UK’s Royal Mail Drives Backwards on Sustainability

Update 12 Dec: my partner met a postman puffing up to our house with a delivery yesterday, having left his van up the road.  “Is it more difficult now that you have to park a way away ?” she asked (there being very little parking here, while on a bike that’s no problem).  Yes he agreed it wasn’t as good as having a bike, and then added “but the worst part, it’s the Carbon Footprint !”


I live in small town by the sea (Wells Next the Sea) where until recently, Royal Mail postmen and women delivered our mail on bikes.  There is hardly any traffic, distances are short and everyone knew the ‘posties’ – you can talk to someone on a bike in the street but not a van driver.   Last year the UK Royal Mail announced it would be phasing out all bikes in favour of vans, and now all our posties are in vans.  Bikes are gone, social contact reduced, vehicle pollution is up – NOx, hydrocarbons, CO2 – and Royal Mail sustainability is down.

s post box -

It’s a bizarre, retrograde and perverse step, as evidenced by the policies of rivals like TNT, and now of Amazon, which are all switching to more bike use as it is quicker, more sustainable and cost effective.  And of course it keeps the workforce and community healthier.

Amazon has dropped it’s much publicized drone delivery idea and Grist Magazine reports it is experimenting with bike couriers instead.

Postman Pat needs to rethink.


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Wake Up Nature It’s Halloween !

insects on bramble 31 10 14

Here’s a bee and a hoverfly buzzing around a newly flowering bramble in my garden in North Norfolk today – Halloween 2014, 31 October.  This is supposed to be when nature is going to sleep – undoubtedly the pre-Christian origins of the belief in what led to ‘Halloween’ – when trees safely shut down into frost-tolerance for the winter, when insects and other animals hibernate or go into over-wintering conditions.  Not when spring flowers start to bloom.

The temperature is 17.C.  The “long term average” here from 1981 – 2010 was 14.4 for October and 10.2 for November … and before that 30 year ‘climatology’ ?  Something lower.  It’s about time weather forecasters stopped saying “how well we are doing” when they report ‘above average’ winter temperatures, and start admitting that we are doing badly.

How about climate scientists giving them a UTA as a benchmark ?  An Unpolluted Temperature Average from before the anthropogenic (human pollution) signal really kicked in ?  Then we could talk about Polluted Temperatures and Unpolluted Temperatures.  Which would be more honest.

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Navigating Nature

ECOS (A Review of Conservation) has published an article by me “Navigating nature ECOS 35 (2)“. (See more articles at )


Parents, grandparents, and even teachers, are no longer able to ‘introduce young
children to nature’ because they can’t really see nature themselves. This article calls for
a national campaign of remedial action to motivate a population which has become
‘nature blind’. Such a drive needs to learn the lessons of marketing and large-scale
campaigns that have influenced public priorities.




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Message in a bottle that should not be ignored

Today Kumi Naidoo, international director of Greenpeace, is handing a bottle of Arctic meltwater to the UN Secretary General in New York, calling for the Arctic to be protected from oil and gas development.  It contains six million drops, one for each of the six million who have supported the Greenpeace Arctic campaign with their signature.  Let’s hope, for the future of our world and children, that this message in a bottle is not ignored.

Sadly the track record is not good.  Back in 1997 when I was a Greenpeace director I asked our campaigners to visit the huge (and to many scientists unexpected) crack that had appeared in the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  Greenpeace called for stronger against on climate change.  Politicians took shelter behind ‘scientific uncertainty’.  As usual, many in the media accused Greenpeace of scaremongering.

larsen water s- Copy

Here’s a bottle of Antarctic (Larsen) meltwater I asked the team to collect for me.  A bit dusty and sitting on my shelf here in England.  Meanwhile, most of the rest of the Larsen Ice Shelf has ended up somewhere in the ocean, getting warmer and warmer.

Today Scotland votes on independence from the UK and politicians of all stripes are calling it the ‘most momentus decision that any Scot will ever take’.  To be honest I doubt it, whichever way it goes.  What a shame that they can’t muster up as much interest in a vote to keep the ice intact.  And how tragic that the only ice-water left may one day be in such bottles.

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ISIS: How Important Is The Look and Where Did It Come From ?

I have seen more campaigner chatter about the ice-bucket challenge than about ISIS.  Yet if there was a current communications phenomenon that is making serious waves, the social media reach of terror group ISIS is surely it.

ISIS Reuters two men

In Britain there has been understandable concern that ISIS has inspired over 60,000 supportive social media accounts this summer, and alarm at the claim that in recent years, more young British Moslems had gone to join Jihad in Syria than had joined the army.

Many analysts and commentators have pointed to the “media savvy” of ISIS.  Some have identified its ‘marketing war’ with the older Al Quaeda.  For instance Jim Armitage who wrote in The Guardian, ‘Isis is refining terrorist marketing … they know all about corporate branding in war zones’.   Salience and recruiting support are presumably the two key metrics.

As well as drawing analogies with brand battles in business, there is an erudite literature about importance of Islamic ‘narratives’ and ‘Master Narratives’ in forming the stories that sustain ISIS and other Jihadist groups but despite the very visual nature of social media, little attention seems to have been devoted to the ISIS ‘visuals’.  Perhaps fashion seems too flippant to consider when innocent people are being slaughtered and journalists beheaded ?   Yet if ‘jihadi cool’ is important, what ISIS looks like may be very important.

Most press analysis focuses on the politics and hardware. ‘As The US Strikes At ISIS, Here’s A Look At What The Jihadists Have In Their Arsenal’ said Business Insider.  Maybe we should also look at what’s in their wardrobe ?

Any Colour So Long As It’s Black ?

AP march isis The most obvious thing is that ISIS has black clothes, masks, and black flags with white writing on them.  There are whole books on the use of symbols by insurgent groups but more important for their power to recruit from afar (people from over 80 countries are said to be active with ISIS) is how the overall communications ‘package’ registers with potential sympathisers.

Black and white is graphic.  The look is instantly recognizable, and its use is clearly controlled, in set piece marches such as these in The Independent and on the BBC and in set up shots such as this AP photo of a convoy reproduced in The Guardian.

ISIS convoy

It also comes in handy when the flag doubles as a banner.  But is it cool ?  With the atrocities dulled by the distance of time, many writers have noted that the Nazis looked ‘cool’.   In 2005 even Prince Harry had to apologize for wearing a Nazi army shirt to a party.   Designer Hugo Boss became notorious for having made Nazi uniforms, and Walter Heck who worked for him, helped design the iconic black and white SS uniform.

ss uniform The Nazis espoused futuristic technology and power which created now embarrassing links with companies such as Bayer, Siemens, IBM and VW but most notably, Hugo Boss.    A article ‘Third Reich to Fortune 500: Five Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us’, which has been viewed three million times, notes  ‘while today Boss uses black for slimming effects, in the SS uniforms it was used to command respect and fear in the populace’.  Nazi style was later picked up and played with by punks, incorporated into fetish fashion and has been parodied and copied countless times, from fashion to the Stormtroopers and  Imperial Officers of Star Wars.

imperial officers

Black has had its own separate fashion journey but with the context, purpose and allusions to taking and exerting power and control, the choreographed use of black and white by the Nazis and ISIS seem more than a little coincidental.  Below: ISIS and a SS tank general.

ISIS TankSStankgeneral

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Chief Nazi propagandist Herman Goebells was no slouch when it came to organising events for visual communication, as shown most famously in the film The Triumph of the Will, which Hitler persuaded Leni Riefenstahl  to make.   Cinema newsreel was the most powerful propaganda medium of the day but social-media uses video, twitter, facebook and the like.  Several other Middle Eastern organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas use partly black uniforms but none of them seem have attracted foreign online support like ISIS.

Nobody knows, or nobody is saying, who might have inspired ISIS from the world of online but it seems likely that their digital strategists have looked at successful online campaigns, commercial and otherwise, which have appealed to other young, ‘Western’ audiences.

One of the most widely discussed of these was ‘Stop Kony’ by Invisible Children.  In 2012 this became the most successful viral video campaign in history, inspiring admiration at its techniques as well as a slew of questions and criticisms.

kony poster

The Most Successful Online Campaign ?

I analysed the motivational structure of the Stop Kony campaign in a previous post and more on that below but there are some striking visual similarities between some of IC’s promotional videos and the ISIS, not to mention between some IC visuals and those of Nazi rallies.  Of course IC are neither Nazi nor Islamic Jihadists – they are evangelical Chrsitians – and Stop Kony was a campaign to capture a notorious human rights abuser, not a campaign causing human rights abuses but their cultish communication, some would say propaganda, has similar visual elements.



Triumph salute 1Third Reich (Triumph of the Will)

IC arms up

Fourth Estate (IC)

Fourth Estate

IC vans on desert road ISIS convoy


IC has used music videos for campaign recruitment,  such as Blazing Trails 2007 which shows triumphant IC supporters riding a fleet of glossy black people carriers emblazoned with white graphics, frantically air-guitaring to Kings of Cydonia by Muse.

IC vans forward IC wrote in 2007: ‘Thirteen black vans, filled with teams of four, are driving an uprising across America’.

IC shirts

After viewing Stop Kony and IC recruitment videos about the ‘Fourth Estate’, UK TV host Charlie Brooker commented on Channel 4:  “In summary, Invisible Children are expert propagandists with what seems to be a covert religious agenda, advocating military action in central Africa, while similtaneously recruiting an “army” of young people to join their cause and their weird “Fourth Estate” youth camps… ”

IC on vans 1

IC women on vanIC blazing still girl


What’s The Appeal ?

With apparently opposite agendas but similar audiences (mainly young, mainly online), can there be any similarities between the communications of groups like ISIS and IC ?  A lot of evidence suggests there is, and it’s motivational needs rather than just age or the medium which defines them.

IC effectively made human rights into a movie (and previously a dance video – now deleted from its website but viewable in part in the Brooker piece).  Patrick Skinner, analyst with security intelligence services company Soufan, says ISIS aims to reach specific demographic groups and in the West, they try to make jihad seem like a Hollywood-like video game.

“They make jihad seem cool, not over the top – beheading videos aren’t recruitment videos – but they do do very slick productions, with music overlaid on top of very slick graphics, and they make it seem like a video game. They don’t show the after effects. They’ll show an attack or they’ll show a killing, or they’ll show shooting with explosions, and it’s very Hollywood-like,” says Skinner.  Apparently ISIS also shows Jihadists with kittens and sweets in order to ‘humanize’ its fighters for the intended audience.

More importantly, both groups offer an apparently simple, attractive way to gain power over others, and a story about why it’s the right thing to do.  We are going to ‘change the course of human history’ Jason Russell tells the audience in the Stop Kony video.  The decades long struggle for human rights is reduced to mobilising to capture or maybe kill, one man.   We are not joining a long campaign, having to negotiate or to study history, we ‘are changing it’.

This is classic Golden Dreamer content (see guide to Prospector Values Modes at ): we will gain the esteem of others with one simple easy act.  Caliphate or the Fourth Estate, we will create a promised land.

Raffaello Pantucci, from the Royal United Services Institute, has said idealism, fleeing trouble at home, seeking redemption for a criminal past and religious vision may all be factors for ISIS recruits. “And yet”, he added, “others are simply young people at a juncture in their lives where the idea of going to run around a training camp and shooting guns seems quite appealing.”  Germany’s Head of security has suggested   ‘some young people are attracted to Isis because of its brutality, which makes it appear “more authentic” than al-Qa’ida’.

In a recent post, Pat Dade from Cultural Dynamics has analyzed population-wide psychological data from four countries to compare commitment to religion with the appeal of using force to ‘get what you want’.  He writes:  ‘in each case, we have found only a small percentage that espouses the combined ‘religious-force’ factor within the culture. These …  will likely be regarded as outliers and aberrant by the standards of the culture in which they are embedded’.  His ‘working hypothesis’ drawn from the evidence is that “given the right (not necessarily extreme) circumstances, Force will trump Religion”.

The psychological group he is talking about is a (subset of) the Golden Dreamers, people moving from Settler (Security Driven) to Prospector (Outer Directed or Esteem Driven).  This group has strong identity and esteem requirements and scores higher than others on factors such as the desire to have power  ‘over others, over things, over ideas’.

Dade also analyzed the motivation to riot, in the case of the 2011 UK “shopping riots”.  He noted “Apart from the extreme youth of many of the participants, commentators and analysts have struggled without success to find a ‘demographic’ base for the majority of participants”.

Amongst hundreds of questions put to thousands of British respondents he used four to charcaterize an ‘Attribute’ termed ‘Asocial’.  The four statements that correlate and make up the Asocial Attribute are:

  • If someone does me a bad turn, I don’t get mad – I get even
  • The thought of social disorder excites me
  • I look for people’s weak points
  • I would enjoy being involved in a street riot

(The survey measured agree-disagree on a five point scale).  This overlaps with just the same Golden Dreamer area of motivational values (see links above), where in his words, “The old rules that provided stability now seem oppressive and stifling.  A new world beckons, a Prospector world, one where anything is possible.  As bounded and accepted morality frays around the edges new, multiple possibilities for recognition by others and rewards for social displays of prowess emerge and drive an excitement with life not previously experienced. Anything and everything is possible and only the experience of trying new forms of behaviour will enable the person to know what is best for them. No amount of moralizing will stop the person in [this] Danger Zone from doing or thinking what they want to ‘right now’.”

Which could be leaving a comfortable suburb to join a foreign Jihad because it looks cool or simply X-box style ‘fun’, or opting into a riot, or opting into the Fourth Estate.

Looking for Certainties

Many commentators who obviously do not share such motivational values see what people in such groups are doing and call them ‘extremists’ rather than ‘moderates’ but although their actions are extreme to us, to the followers they may look more like purity, authenticity or truthfulness.   They may quite literally be looking for and finding a simpler, black and white, uber-certain version of reality, as well as winning status within their group.

A Mother Jones article by Chris Mooney,  ‘Here Are the Psychological Reasons Why an American Might Join ISIS’ quotes Maryland University Professor Arie Kruglanski who has interviewed and studied the way a large number of terrorists see the world.  He pinpoints a high need for ‘cognitive closure’, which Mooney describes as ‘a disposition that leads to an overwhelming desire for certainty, order, and structure in one’s life to relieve the sensation of gnawing—often existential—doubt and uncertainty’.

“These extreme ideologies have a twofold type of appeal,” says Kruglanski “First of all, they are very coherent, black and white, right or wrong. Secondly, they afford the possibility of becoming very unique, and part of a larger whole.”   This he says, attracts young people who lack a clear sense of self-identity, and are craving a sense of larger significance. ‘If you go through the world needing closure’, writes Mooney, it predisposes you to seek out the ideologies and belief systems that most provide it.

It is perhaps this which is the common thread of appeal in Nazi, IC and ISIS ‘messages’, and the lure of many other fundamentalist propositions.  These could even be ‘extreme’ animal rights and other ‘issue’ activists, or ‘extreme’ right-wing, left-wing political groups, while in business it can drive the ‘wolves’ of Wall Street and ’extreme’ predatory captialism.  Causes which demand total devotion and commitment to the cause, and corporations which demand total devotion and commitment to the cause, may be very different in their impacts on society but not so different in their motivations.

Postscript: since I began writing this post I came across the ‘Burn ISIS flag challenge‘ (#BurnISISFlagChallenge), seemingly started by Moslems outraged by the actions of ISIS, it rolls the Ice Bucket Challenge into the bloodbath of Levant.  It is unlikely to make much impact on ISIS but it could triangulate the public discussion, and in particular the visuals, and might just be the sort of thing to give potential recruits cause to think twice.

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UK Independent Power

A sign that solar pv is seen as normal in the UK.  This Norfolk bungalow sports a large solar pv array.  It also has a sign in the window reading “I’m voting UKIP’.  The core UKIP vote is Settler.

Framing eg solar noel 2014

Norfolk bungalow with large solar array and I’m Voting UKIP poster

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Evidence That Changing The Frame Can Improve Appeal Across Values Groups

Chris Rose     June 2014

Chris Rose, Director, Campaign Strategy Ltd,,

This report Broadening the Appeal of Environmental Action through Values Framing Uplift presents evidence from UK surveys which shows how environmental and conservation groups could reach beyond the ‘green ghetto’ to attract a wider, more ‘mainstream’ audience.

Many NGO environmental campaigns and government-sponsored attempts to encourage pro-environmental behaviours struggle to reach beyond ‘the converted’.   Surveys show that in most cases the engaged support base of environmental NGOs is dominated by the psychological group Pioneers (inner directed).  Most of their staff are also Pioneers. Their campaigns are usually framed in ways that appeal more to Pioneers, than to Prospectors (outer directed) or to Settlers (security driven).

Surveys also show that many Prospectors and Settlers are potentially just as ‘green’ but are not being engaged.  This report gives examples from surveys conducted for the Fairyland Trust and Greenpeace UK, demonstrating that by using differently framed propositions, such as about ‘nature-for-children’ rather than just action for ‘nature’ or ‘environment’, support amongst Settlers and Prospectors can be significantly increased.

On climate change, the gap between the position of ‘the public’ measured in a National UK survey, and that of Greenpeace UK Supporters as reflected in a Supporter survey asking mostly the same questions, can be reduced by as much as 38% if you test the statement “There’s still time to address climate change if we all make quite small and easy changes” as opposed to testing belief in climate change.   The reduced gap (7.5% as opposed to 45.1%) is mainly due to increased support from Prospectors and Settlers.

Similarly, the ‘gap’ between where Greenpeace Supporters are and the National population is, on ‘environment’ is closed from 49% to 21% by use of a for-children framing, again almost all by uplift amongst Settlers and Prospectors.

As the underlying reasons for differences are psychologically fundamental (such as different senses of self-agency and the importance of being a parent in self-identity), these findings are also likely to apply to other ‘causes’, where these are primarily framed in ethical and Pioneer terms.

for env for children framing values effect

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Blander Britain. No primroses at Primrose Corner

Journalist Michael McCarthy published an article in The Independent newspaper this week attacking one wild plant (cow parsley) for smothering others.  Often this sort of thing is reserved for attacks on ‘aliens’ but cow parsley is a native.  Cow parsley’s tall white flowers make Britain’s characteristic roadside hedgerows look white and frothy in spring but McCarthy is right: this is not a good thing.

cow parsley prim corner

There’s too much cow parsley.  Along with a few other rank, fast-growing plants, it is  pushing out most of our native flora.  Slowly but surely, Britain is losing its rich, diverse tapestry of nature in favour of something closer to a monoculture, and much the same thing is happening in countries all over the world.

The cause is pollution, nitrogen pollution from farm fertilizer (eg the intensive arable land by the road above), and the fall-out from burning oil, coal and gas.  The nitrogen fertilizes, a few responsive species grow more quickly, and we lose the rest.  UK roadsides as enjoyed by previous generations had hundreds of species, and now many have just a handful.

Better management – cutting and taking away vegetation rather than cutting it and leaving it in a rotting mass – would help but in the end pollution also needs to be drastically reduced.  Meanwhile Britain gets blander, and not in a good, funny way as evoked by P G Wodehouse with his fictional town of Market Blandings and Blandings Castle but in a sad little noticed impoverishment.  It’s the Blanding of Britain, and almost completely ignored by conservation groups, Councils and government alike.

primrose corner 1

Today I drove across part of East Anglia and passed hundreds of miles of cow parsley.  Pretty in one way but as welcome as a bad tempered triffid if you want nature to survive. Here is some at a spot in Norfolk called Primrose Corner. I guess it once had primroses but none were visible today.  A few other plants hang on there but the place is getting overwhelmed by a few rank species, including lots of cow parsley. (Ok primroses bloom earlier in the year but there is no way they’d survive in vegetation like this).

Earlier this year I took a group of Workshop Leaders from the Fairyland Trust out for a day of ‘nature training’.   We had to travel tens of miles through cow-parsely infested lanes to find a stretch of verge which still has a diverse enough ‘flora’ to show them a variety of what the books still call “common wildflowers of the hedgerow”.   And that is in the officially designated North Norfolk ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty‘.  So why don’t people notice ? Maybe some do but most have just got used to it, and now very few can distinguish one wild flower from another, so it’s ‘all good if it’s green’.

Here’s what Primrose Corner probably used to look like (another Norfolk roadside but a rare sight now):

primrose bank

Does it matter ? Only if you’d like some real nature in your world, not just photos on blogs, paintings in books and nature in old place-names.  It’s not just the flowers.  Lose them, and so too go the insects, and the birds.

Prim corner 3

Politicians are always keen on a new Big Idea.  Maybe we should re-name Great Britain as Great Blandings ?  Has a ring to it, and easy to achieve.


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Norfolk Immune from Sea Level Rise ?

Can we rely on UK journalists and the BBC to grasp even the basics of the threat posed by climate induced sea-level rise ? It seems not.

Take this exchange on BBC Radio Norfolk, yesterday evening, 13 May. (For UK listeners still at from ca 02.41hrs).

The station’s tea-time (drive-time) host Matthew Gudgin interviewed Anne Edwards the editor of the Great Yarmouth Mercury.  A very nice lady.  The discussion turned to floods and then melting ice in Antarctica and the Norfolk coast.

AE: “the river [Yare], that’s being sorted out … flood defences … millions …. the coast, I don’t know what the answer is to the coast … I heard on the radio yesterday that there is a glacier that’s melting – erm –  in the Arctic, is that in the North ?  I’m not sure which is the Arctic and the Antarctic …”

MG “I think this one was the South Pole”

AE: “was it the South Pole ? … oh  it’s not going to get us then [sic] … but if this glacier melts [half-laughs], it will mean sea level rise by two metres – well my house is going to be under water then.  But I don’t know.  I think it’s one of these things that’s going to happen; we’ll to have to live with it”

MG: “And Yarmouth is classified as an impoverished area …”

The conversation moves on to Great Yarmouth being neglected by the rest of Norfolk … and the need to defend the coastline.

If only the melting Antarctic ice-water really would stay put at the South Pole.

As one friend who used to be a senior communications director for flood defences at the Environment Agency commented to me: “this is probably repeated on every local radio station up and down the country”.

As revealing it is of both the state of knowledge about climate change and the realities of sea-level rise on behalf of both the presenter and the interviewee – herself an experienced journalist – it is all the more depressing because Great Yarmouth has already been at the centre of major debates about exactly this subject.  For example when agency Natural England managed to accidentally enrage public opinion by releasing a scenario showing it might not be possible to defend “The Broads”, against sea-level rise.  (The Broads are a low-lying freshwater marshland system near Great Yarmouth.  The town itself has the sea on one side and the river on the other.)

On top of this, UEA (University of East Anglia), a major climate research centre, is just a few miles away and has had long running ‘public outreach’ programmes intended to raise awareness of ‘climate issues’.  So this is perhaps the most vulnerable part of the UK facing climate-change-induced threats and ought to be one of the best informed.

If the consequences were not so serious, this case of “Alan Partridge* Meets Cognitive Dissonance”  would be funny.

*Alan Partridge is a fictional TV character (a Norfolk Radio Presenter) invented by actor Steve Coogan.


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Why Our Children Are Not Being Connected With Nature

A recent Fairyland Trust survey reported that 85.2% of Britons agreed “it is vital to introduce young children to nature”.

On the face of it, this seems good news for groups such as those involved with this year’s National Children’s Day   (Sunday May 11) which focuses on ‘connecting children with nature’.

Yet the overwhelming support for a very must-do proposition, cannot reflect what is actually happening, as evidence suggests British children are not very connected to nature, and nor indeed, are their parents.

The reality seems to be that parents and grandparents, and even teachers, are no longer able to ‘introduce young children to nature’ in any meaningful way, because they can’t really see nature themselves.  The old inter-generational connections that passed on the ability to tell one wild plant or creature from another, and to understand where and why they might be found, have been broken.

We need a national campaign of remedial action, and something motivational that will appeal to a population which has grown used to being ‘nature blind’.  Such a drive needs to be big and multi-facetted, social and cultural not just straightforwardly ‘educational’, and to learn the lessons of marketing and other large-scale campaigns that have influenced public priorities.

My new report Why Our Children Are Not Being Connected With Nature1 sets out evidence, some of it new, some of it from our direct experience of engaging 70,000 people with the Fairyland Trust, some cultural and some from surveys, as to why Britain is becoming blind to nature and satisfied with an environment which is ‘green’ but increasingly sterile.

Values enthusiasts will find some evidence showing that the UK ‘conservation base’ is heavily skewed to Pioneer but ‘introducing children to nature’ has a much wider appeal.  Pioneers are 20.2% more likely to respond positively to being asked to introduce young children to nature, than just to ‘care for nature’ but for Prospectors this rises to 32.5% ‘uplift’ and for Settlers and even higher 34.9%.

Here are the report’s conclusions:


  1. Britain is sliding towards national nature-blindness. Because they cannot discern nature themselves, most people are unable to introduce nature to their children, although they say it’s a good idea.  People of all ages are generally disconnected from nature, and the old links that passed on nature knowledge are broken and need repair.
  2. This undermines efforts to stem the onward decline of wild plants and animals because people do not notice it, and means that any successes will tend not to be appreciated.
  3. We need a national programme of campaigns and initiatives to reconnect people to nature by enabling them to become nature-literate. This has to involve adults, not just children.  It could include:
  • Teaching Natural History at all levels of education
  • Social and cultural initiatives to give people the skills and ability to read nature, recognize its diversity and quality, and identify species in the same way that earlier generations could.
  • Putting authentic nature back into popular culture, eg advertisements
  • Diverting some of the effort and resources put into agri-environment schemes which pay farmers to modify intensive agriculture (some £400m each year), into public engagement for nature literacy
  • 4. Such a campaign requires the sort of marketing and communications skills and methods that have been used to promote sports, anti-drunk driving and anti-smoking campaigns, equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, and commercially, the promotion of a public appetite for better cooking and wines.
  • 5. Conservation groups need to recognize that simply getting children outdoors, is no guarantee of connection with nature.  Government and voluntary-funded projects intended to connect children with nature should measure outcomes in terms of nature-literacy and ability, not simply time spent out of doors, or general attitudes to ‘nature’.
  • 6. Effective engagement beyond the narrow ‘conservation base’ (maybe 1 in 20 ?) will require activities and opportunities that appeal to the psychological groups Prospectors and Settlers as much as Pioneers.
  • 7. Such a campaign will require moments which focus attention on particular species or features of nature, for example if the BBC were to reinstate its former tradition of a live Nightingale broadcast, it could form the centre-piece of an annual ‘Nightingale Night’.
  • 8. Such a campaign would also need nature-engaging activities that match lifestages and lifestyles: for example courses for the time-rich (retired ?), and activities and opportunities which entertain children and time-poor parents.
  • 9. A nature-literate Britain must become a widely shared political objective.
  • 10. To achieve such political backing, nature ability and quality must become aspirational, for example by being attached to popular past-times like gardening, and being seen as a desirable feature in gardens and homes.

Kerrygold cow

Modern nature-free farming: just grass, no flowers, insects or birds.  Nature (or rather the lack of it) in contemporary popular culture: connection broken.

Summerflowersofthe season

An advertising poster (for London Transport) from before the connection was severed.  The wild flowers illustrated are real, recognizable British species: nature-literacy which has largely disappeared from the UK.  See report for more examples.

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