Happy Second Birthday Wild Justice

It’s hard to believe that around this time last year I was at a social gathering (remember those?) in London celebrating Wild Justice‘s first birthday (see Happy Birthday Wild Justice). It either seems like a whole world and an impossibly long time ago, or one of those landmark dates that make you think, ‘That was a year ago? Already?’. Such – it seems to me anyway – is the time-bending effects of pandemic and multiple lockdowns, weeks marked by Marina Hyde columns in The Guardian, and news cycles dominated by Brexit and Donald Trump.

But nevertheless, a year has passed and with every month, with every crowdfunder and brilliantly argued court challenge, Wild Justice has matured from ‘You know, that’s an interesting idea‘ to ‘Wow, now that is how you get things done‘.

Exceprt, Wild Justice newsletter, 13 Feb 21

Not a bad start, indeed.

Personally I find what might loosely be called ‘conservation’ to be disappointingly staid and risk-averse. So many decisions about how our countryside should be run are being determined by a handful of environmentally-damaging industries, and conservation doesn’t seem to know how to respond. The shooting industry, for example, has normalised killing on an enormous scale and has gone virtually unchallenged for far too long. Our larger, flatter-footed organisations are reactive, determinedly neutral even when they are being scavenged on by the likes of BASC (or indeed the NFU).

It’s rare that something like Wild Justice comes along that is straight away so instantly appealing and that ‘feels’ like a new approach to old problems (rewilding is another, perhaps, which similarly seems to look at things differently and say, ‘There are better ways of doing this‘). Challenging bad wildlife and environmental law (which is what Wild Justice does, rather than, as those industries allege, take an oppositional stance just because they’re ‘antis’) is simple enough that it makes you think ‘How come that’s not been done before‘ (or even, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’), but it’s only when you actually stop to think about the detail that you understand why me, you, and most everyone else isn’t doing it as well. It takes a combination of knowledge and experience. It takes a clarity of thought and ability to ignore distractions that many of us don’t have. As a result, Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery, and Chris Packham make what they do seem easy, but it’s not.

The ‘Wild Justtice’ trio at Hen Harrier Day 2019: Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery, and Chris Packham.
Photo copyright Guy Shorrock/RSPB

There are other qualites to Wild Justice that are perhaps less obvious which (I think) explain how have they made such a difference in two short (or two long?) years…

  • First off, they’re a supergroup that actually like each other. It’s as if they’ve been heading towards each other for years, on somewhat different tracks obviously but on a course that would make it inevitable they would cross eventually. And when they did that they would fit together seamlessly. Maybe they argue like cat and dog behind the scenes, but you just can’t see any of them taking it personally. A bottle of red wine and whatever might have broken would be fixed again.
  • They don’t bring their egos to the table. That’s partly the tone set by the self-deprecatory messaging of the newsletters they send out (which are largely written by Mark), but you can just tell that Wild Justice is all about the results. The group and wildlife wins, not Mark, Ruth, or Chris. Opponents might want to isolate them, pick them off separately, but they can’t. They’re individuals in life, but in Wild Justice they’re united. It must make it frustratingly hard to take them on. Like trying to punch water.
  • They are not rigid in their thinking (unlike so many so-called ‘leaders’ in the shooting industry who seem so ossified they’d snap if they moved their position an inch). Highly intelligent and witheringly well-informed, they don’t claim to know everything (an awful lot, but not everything). You sense that they’re always learning and adapting. They listen to advice from the brilliant team of lawyers from Leigh Day they work with. They even come to us supporters to ask what we think and what they should do next. I’ve never felt talked down to by Wild Justice. We’re all included and considered. Their agenda is our agenda (even if we didn’t know that before they asked us about it!).
  • They are courageous. It takes bravery to accept that if your work upsets a deeply entrenched status quo you are going to get a shit ton of abuse dropped on you from the people who benefit from it. Many of us have courage, of course, few of us are willing to risk our jobs, our mental health, our comfortable lives to prove it (that might just be me talking, though).
  • They have (in my opinion anyway) complete integrity. I have faith in them. I trust them to do the right thing for the right reason. Not necessarily ‘the thing that I would do‘, but the thing that they 100% believe is best for wildlife and for the environment. Not what they think they might be able to get away with, what might be acceptable to a majority, or what other people might do – what they think they should do because it’s what needs to be done. And – unlike issues pushed by the shooting industry – it’s never done for them or for their benefit.
  • And, lastly, they always, always sound rational. Verbally and in print. Angry sometimes, patiently mocking at others, but always rational. Rational when explaining – again – that they’re simply making sure the law is doing what it is supposed to. Rational in the face of bile and foaming, potty-mouthed loons who misrepresent them and lie about them. The more rabid elements of the shooting industry never win new supporters, but Wild Justice reaches far beyond the pro-wildlife ‘bubble’ because they are consistently coherent. People hear them and even if they disagree they know (deep down where common sense lies buried beneath all that dogma and anger) that Wild Justice actually, indisputably, inarguably make sense.

As I said, they make all that seem simple, but it’s not. It’s really not.

So, two years eh. It seems a bit odd wishing an entity like Wild Justice a ‘Happy Birthday’, but I’m guessing that what we mean is ‘May you be around – doing what you do – for many, many more years‘. At least, that’s what I mean anyway…