Shaftesbury residents are being encouraged to form action groups to try to mitigate climate change.
In November, over a hundred people attended a talk by eco-activists ‘Extinction Rebellion’. Spurred on by the success of that event, a group of locals has formed ‘Planet Shaftesbury’. They have invited the Chief Executive of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to address their first meeting on 17th January.
Dr Gary Mantle MBE will share his experience of climate change and offer examples of how people across the Westcountry are working together to make a difference. “There is no ‘Planet B’. We are in this together and everybody needs to be engaged with it,” said Dr Mantle.
Although Shaftesbury is in Dorset, Gary says that his organisation plays an important conservation and environmental role around our area. “The county boundary comes right into Shaftesbury itself and the Wildlife Trust has owned a nature reserve at Semley, called Oyster’s Coppice, for a long time. It’s not very far away and more recently we’ve been involved in extending all of that area of woodland,” said Gary.
And Gary is keen to point out the effects of climate change don’t stop on one side of the Wiltshire/Dorset border. “Like nature, climate change has no respect for administrative boundaries. It is literally irrelevant as to which county it is in. The issues remain the same,” he said.
Gary says his session could be considered ‘political with a small p’ because it will touch on people, policies and the use of land. And he says that his approach will be different to Extinction Rebellion, who advocated direct action and civil disobedience as a way to get their message heard. But he won’t pull any punches, either.
“The facts, I think, speak for themselves. If straight talking means being completely open and honest with people about the realities of life then I am all for that. I think we are facing an incredibly serious situation with respect to the damage that we have been causing to the environment and the more people recognise the need to take action the better, as far as I’m concerned.”
Gary is in a better position than many people to assess how climate change has affected our area. He’s been the head of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust for almost thirty years and he says that he’s noticed both negative and positive impacts.
“On the positive side, some species which were previously at the northern limits of their range have been moving further northwards as the climate has warmed. Local average temperatures have all risen. We’ve had the ten warmest summers in the last twenty years,” said Gary, adding, “That is positive for some butterfly species and some bird species.”
Gary cited the example of the Cetti’s warbler. “Thirty years ago you wouldn’t have seen or heard one,” he said. “I remember the first sightings of people hearing their remarkably loud song. They’re very difficult to see and they skulk, hidden, in the bushes. The first records of them came in from the Wylye Valley. There were none in the north of the county. Then, over a few years, we started hearing reports of Cetti’s warblers in the north of the county and now they are resident and common across Wiltshire.”
And there have been some wildlife losses. “Willow tits have moved further north and if there is an absence of suitable habitat for them to move to, they will become more of a Welsh rather than a West of England type species.”
Gary will also explain some of the secondary impacts of climate change locally. “Usually it’s an indirect effect, so it’s about the rainfall patterns and the levels of flooding. The changing weather pattern has directly impacted on the success of the flowering of the snakeshead fritillary, which is a wonderful, emblematic plant of Wiltshire.”
Gary wants attendees of his talk to understand that they can make small changes to their behaviour, which could then become significant if their friends and neighbours are encouraged to follow suit.
“Ask, ‘If I can do this can my neighbours and family do this?’ And then, ‘collectively, if we do this, then as a whole community what would the impact of us doing this be?’ You then get the scaling up, so your small actions do make a difference, not because the physical quantity of change that you personally have made but it is the influence you then have on lots of other people. Across the whole planet, change will be made up of lots of small actions of individuals.”
Gary wants to highlight how positive action can help and he promises that people won’t go home from the Town Hall event feeling despondent. “It’s a gloomy enough time of the year. I’m sure everyone would like to have a bit of hope and optimism. I hope to bring some of that. Of course, it’s about recognising the reality of the situation but there is a lot people can do. They can be involved as much or as little as they want to be and they can do things as individuals or collectively.”
Gary will talk about a successful initiative undertaken in Wiltshire. Climate friendly communities are groups of people who have worked together to get results. “Something that can be done by a community but which is hard to do as an individual is to hire an infrared camera and take night photos of people’s houses. The infrared will show very clearly where the heat is leaking out of the windows, doors or walls,” said Gary. “It is a very visual stimulus. People will release that they are spending money on heating and they are watching it disappear. They will want to do something about improving the insulation in their homes. And as a community, people can get together and become involved in the whole process and get special deals on insulation materials.”
Gary says he doesn’t mind if people attending his talk are still not entirely convinced by the climate change argument, as long as they are prepared to think about what he says. “It’s helpful to have an audience with an open mind but if there are people who are not convinced by the science, then let’s have a conversation around what evidence they would need in order to be convinced,” said Gary.
“I’m not planning to delve deep into the detailed science or statistics because that would be a talk in itself. Instead I’m going to be accepting that most of the people in the audience will recognise that there is a problem. There may be some debate about the extent that human intervention is causing a change, but at least they can recognise that change is happening. I hope they will be open to having a discussion about what we can do to try to adapt to the changes in our climate and what we can do to mitigate any further change.”
Gary hopes that his talk will inspire Shaftesbury people to form groups that will decide on a course of action. A discussion will follow his presentation. “We do need people who have already got the message and who can pick up the batten and run with it and provide community leadership and encouragement to others,” Gary said.
Gary’s free talk takes place on Thursday, 17th January at 7.30pm at Shaftesbury Town Hall.