A very sustainable Fellow

Environmental campaigner Craig Bennett joined Homerton this month as an Associate Fellow.

By Laura Kenworthy 3min read

When Craig Bennett was 16, his careers advisor asked him whether he had any idea what he wanted to do with his life. Unusually for a teenager, he was absolutely clear.

“I told him I wanted to be an environmental campaigner. But that didn’t appear on his list, so he put down the code for school career advisor instead.”

That clarity of focus, which had developed over a 1980s adolescence filled with concern about CFCs and setting up a Green Group at school, has never faded. He studied Geography at Reading University before completing an MSc in Conservation at UCL and began his career by volunteering for an environmental NGO. After eight years as a Campaigner at Friends of the Earth and three as Deputy Director at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership, he went back to Friends of the Earth, first as Director of Policy and Campaigns, and then as Chief Executive, before taking up his current role running The Wildlife Trusts last year.

“The Wildlife Trusts felt like the perfect next step,” he says. “I’m frustrated by the way that climate change and biodiversity get talked about so separately – you can’t solve one without the other. They’re both part of the same problem, which is that humanity needs to learn to live fairly within environmental limits.”

The Wildlife Trusts brings together 46 local trusts dedicated to restoring nature and bringing people closer to the natural world. Craig sees this grassroots approach as a crucial factor in encouraging wider participation.

“If you want to bring about big change it has to happen at a local level, within local communities. It’s a very powerful model for achieving scale.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ headline ambition is to return one third of the UK’s land and sea to nature by 2030, an aim which Craig describes as “completely achievable.”

“We have more nature reserves in this country than branches of McDonald’s – by more than a thousand! We’re brilliantly placed to mobilise change. That means connecting existing reserves by creating wildlife corridors, but it also means making sure that we make more space for nature when new development happens, like at the Trumpington Meadows site in Cambridge, where new housing development was coupled with the creation of a brand new nature reserve. It also means that, if agriculture is going to be subsidised, it should be supported to protect nature. Over the past 50 years 41% of British species have declined. We need to not just halt that trend, but completely reverse it. Our vision is to see an increase in all those species by 2030.”

As the human impact on the environment becomes ever more disturbingly apparent, it’s easy for people to feel powerless in responding to it. But Craig sees The Wildlife Trusts as a way for people to connect, tangibly and locally, with a powerful collective effort.  He is championing the concept of ‘Team Wilder’, supporting groups of people to take action which makes sense to them, and also plans to build up the organisation’s youth movement, including creating youth positions on its board.

“Solutions need different perspectives,” he says. “To have conversations about the future of the planet without involving young people would be a bit odd.”

He recognises that the scale of the sustainability challenge can be overwhelming, but emphasises the impact of small changes.

“The important thing is to take action and do something. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Try to reduce your meat consumption, don’t fly so often, etc. I don’t think we should be flying domestically within the UK, but actually I’m not sure high-speed rail is the answer either. We should be investing in high speed broadband, and rethinking how much domestic work travel is needed. And we should be thinking about comfort rather than speed when it comes to trains. A long train journey with decent WiFi and a comfy seat is a wonderful thing.”

Follow Craig on Twitter: @craigbennett3