Northern People Power!



Wednesday 12th July 2017

@ Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, Yorkshire

James Walsh, Ecologist and Author

You’re in Doncaster, relax, be bold, be creative and let’s do it together!

Several events during recent years have attempted to get Northern people together to discuss how we move forward as a region, Friends of the Earth host annual North-west & North-east regional Conferences, Felicity Goodey hosted the Northern Citizens’ Convention in Huddersfield in June 2015, IPPR North host regular conferences and, of course, there are the “Northern Powerhouse” events at Manchester Central, aka G-Mex to old-skool Mancunians! There was even, briefly, the formation of a Northern Party, a political party formed to represent the North, that stood 5 candidates in Lancashire constituencies at the General Election in 2015

However, this event was particularly important as it brought together all these different, slightly disparate elements in a unifying, very positive, inspirational gathering – in scientific terms this was a successful formula

As a Northerner with Salford docker heritage, my reaction when I first heard the phrase the “Northern Powerhouse” was, immediately, that this phrase described a by-gone era, it evokes memories of a time when the North really was a Powerhouse, with Salford Docks, an inland port, as the main engine room for importing and exporting goods from all over the world ! However, that image also includes scenes of abject poverty, and relentless pollution, those were different times when little was known about the effects of the industrial pollution – people were tough, and no-one really knew about things like climate change or the health effects of drinking 5 pints and smoking 30 wood-bines per day

Of course, these are different times and we are in a different era, but I still work on Salford Docks, not lifting cargo on and off ships, but recording and photographing the birds that utilise the “wildlife corridors” of the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Irwell

People Power is a phrase that most would perhaps generally associate with the social revolutions of the 1960’s or 1970’s – indeed, one of the Norths’ most famous sons’, John Lennon, sang in 1971 “Power To The People” – but it is a phrase that is in fashion again! Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader, recently launched the “People Powered Politics” project on The Lowry Theatre stage on Salfords’ Docklands during the summer of 2016 alongside Northern politicians such as Rebecca Long-Bailey, reflecting the rise in grassroots community action that is happening throughout the UK, and in the North especially !

“Grass Roots Growth” was the workshop I found to be most relevant with speeches from representatives of Groundwork and the Fabian Society, looking deep into the big question of “How do we get people to care about the environment ?”

The general answer is “Volunteering has its’ place but on a larger scale we need to create a green economy and make the unionised, properly paid green jobs of the future”

However, getting there is very complex and it needs a lot more work, the first step, in my opinion is for people to really look at their surroundings every day and think about ecosystems, eg we all see trees on a daily basis, but do we actually understand the ecological function they are performing ?

In some ways, ecologists are the modern day dockers – we are highly skilled and work hard, however, unless you work full-time for one organisation, we generally have fairly casual, low paid employment and there are parallels between todays’ ecologist and the dockers before the formation of unions and the formation of the National Dock Labour Board

For some reason, our society has got into thinking that working in the environment is more of a volunteering thing rather than “proper work” yet the jobs of the future need to be environmentally sound

For some reason, the environment seems to be very low down the list of politicians’ priorities, yet it is the very essence of life, the facts are we all eat food, drink water and breathe air !

In terms of the environment, as a scientist, when I first heard the phrase the “Northern Powerhouse” my first reaction was “Ok! Let’s do some research and see what’s happening here”

My initial research was of the some of the industries that were being mooted for the North such as fracking and Undergound Coal Gasification, and I have to say, that I could not, as a scientist, support many of these industries and I began to research the other ways that we could build the new industries and jobs of the future

One industry on the rise is EcoTourism, an industry that can work practically anywhere, each location has it’s own unique ecosystem, even in urban locations such as Doncaster

On the lake adjacent to the stadium, just a casual glance reveals a large flock of Mute Swans, breeding Little Grebes & Great Crested Grebes with cute fluffy chicks and an assortment of ducks, geese and gulls

Just up the road from the stadium is the magnificent Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve of Potteric Carr, famous for hosting the first ever UK breeding Little Bitterns, and now home to Eurasian Bitterns and Marsh Harriers

Urban wildlife such as this has a big part to play in the future of the North, and how we care for the environment is perhaps the biggest challenge that everyone present at the Conference, and humanity as a whole, faces – it is up to us to become the Future Makers of the North

James Walsh is an Ecologist and the Author of the books, “The Northern Greenhouse – A New Vision of the North, Volume 1”, “Fruitful Futures – Imagining Pomona” and “The Birds of Salford Docklands”

James stood in Blackpool North at General Election 2015 for the Northern Party and writes on the blogs, Mancunian Birder and The Northern Spring


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