The length and breadth of England, Back from the Brink project teams are busy at over 50 sites, surveying, planting, scrub-clearing, ride-cutting, seed-sowing, trans-locating and even fungus inoculating. They will also be giving talks, leading walks, training people, finding volunteers, writing, blogging and tweeting.
Some of us have more behind-the-scenes roles: mine is described grandly as “securing the legacy”. This is all about recognising that Back from the Brink is ground-breaking in many ways, but there’s no point in breaking new ground if you don’t cultivate it long-term. It may be the first time that eight organisations have come together to collaborate on species across the plant, fungus and animal kingdoms - but does that actually make us more effective?
Some of the reasons for working closely across organisational boundaries are obvious – applying different kinds of expertise to the same piece of land; making sure the needs of say, reptiles, don’t conflict with those of plants; or if they do, finding the best way to resolve the problem. Others are more to do with collective impact, whether it’s pooling volunteers or giving more social media profile to the species recovery cause. And a really important aspect is the ability to highlight the plight of less well-known species to audiences who might first be attracted to charismatic ones like the Pine Marten or the Lesser Butterfly Orchid.
The legacy is about not just doing all this once, for the lifetime of the project. It is about making it a more normal way of working. And about learning how to do it better and better each time. My work involves trying to understand what works well and why; and what isn’t going as smoothly, and why. Learning lessons as we go, making adjustments, all helps to build a picture of how conservation can be more effective in the future. So monitoring and evaluating our impact, both on the species we are working for, and the people and communities whose support and understanding we need, is crucial.
I am also working at a strategic level with the partner organisations – government agency Natural England and the charities Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, the RSPB. Collaboration at this level takes many forms, from developing more joint projects (such as the Species Champions scheme whereby MPs, MSPs, AMs and MLAs become parliamentary champions for certain threatened species) to addressing strategic collaboration on things like nature reserve management or biological data handling.
The legacy is also about our relationships with the organisations who can support more of this work in the future. This is partly to ensure that work for these species can continue, and new species can be brought on board. It is also about using the Back from the Brink framework as a basis for extending species recovery efforts to, for example, the marine realm. And not forgetting that Back from the Brink is currently confined to England. We want to see similar levels of joint activity and external support working across the UK.
Change Manager, Back from the Brink.