Last night the Wildlife Trusts were kind enough to award me the Charles Rothschild and Miriam Rothschild Medal for services to conservation. I am a little overwhelmed, it has to be said – I’m just a writer, after all. Anyway. here’s what i said at at the do in the Mall Galleries last night
Many thanks for all this. I am deeply grateful, deeply honoured – and above all deeply humbled. Because obviously, I really don’t deserve this medal. Let me explain why.
I also work as a sportswriter, and I have covered six Super Bowls – that’s the big final in American football – that’s the one they play in helmets and shoulder pads. And after every Super Bowl they give an award to the MVP – to the Most Valuable Player. It generally goes to the winning quarterback, sometimes to a wide receiver or a running back.
But I’m not any of those things. I’m not even a tight end or free safety or a punt returner. In conservation terms I’m more of a cheerleader. And it’s as if the Wildlife Trusts have given the MVP award to one of the Oakland Raiderettes or the Chicago Honey Bears or the New Orleans Saint-sations. Never mind the players, let’s celebrate the people with the pompoms.
But if the Wildlife Trusts really do want to honour a cheer-leader, then I would like to say that I have always felt honoured and privileged to be one of the people out there with the pompoms cheering the team on. When it comes to all that rah-rah stuff, I’m your man – and I always will be.
I am out there cheering for all the real conservationists, all the people who deserve this award far more than I do.
They are the people working with brush-cutters and chroming dykes. They are the people counting birds.
They are the people conducting biological audits.
They are the people who spend far too long staring at the screen when they would sooner be out in the wild world looking at wild life.
They are the people who willingly sit in windowless rooms full of the greatest bores in this history of the planet because they know how important it is for conservation to be part of the decision-making process.
They are the people who accept being marginalised and trivialised and wilfully misunderstood.
They are the people who are constantly seen as sentimentalists trying to save nice fluffy animals when in fact, as the great Gerald Durrell said, what we’re actually trying to do is stop the human race committing suicide.
They are the people who are trying constantly to boost the wild world up the political agenda: knowing all along that the people who inhabit the world of power and money and politics have far more urgent and pressing and important things on their minds than the future of the planet.
But even these people I cheer for so lustily are comparatively low down my list of priorities when it comes to cheering. What I’m cheering for loudest of all is —
the sound of the curlews over the autumn marsh,
the flash of the kingfisher along the dyke,
the harrier that cruises over the landscape with such airy nonchalance,
the badger whose civilisation is founded on the phrase “I dig therefore I am”
the crowded clouded yellow butterflies on the cliff in Cornwall,
the grass snake swimming across the river,
the hoverfly that perches on solid air,
the whiskered face of an otter,
the white flash of a mountain hare,
the impossible appearance of a dolphin, rising magically from the sea like a magician’s rabbit leaping from a horizon-filling hat –
all that and the landscapes and seascapes that sustain them: oh brave old world that has such creatures in it!
These are things I cheer for, and if I deserve a medal for that, then so does every one else in this room, and so does every one out there paying the subs for the local county wildlife trust and for all the other conservation organisations. It’s because of real conservationists, and it’s because of the thousands and millions who support conservation, that the work of the conservation will go on. And one thing I can promise: I shall never give up cheering.