New Networks for Nature

This Thursday to Saturday saw the ninth annual New Networks for Nature symposium, and the sixth to be held at the Arts Centre in Stamford, Lincolnshire. I went, as is customary, with my fellow haiku poets John Barlow and Simon Chard. I’ve been to all of the previous symposia except last year’s and been privileged to perform at two of them – alongside John, and then with Martin Lucas too – but mainly I go to listen, to be informed and come away knowing that there are some incredible things to raise awareness of nature and its perilous state.

This year’s symposium felt the most relaxed one yet. The gallery at the Arts Centre was hung with the marvellous exhibition of Carry Akroyd’s lithographs and linocuts which incorporate and respond to poems by John Clare, who knew Stamford well. Unfortunately, thanks to work, I missed the opening event on Thursday evening, an apparently lively discussion between splendid Patrick Barkham and Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project. But I was up and at ’em on Friday to see the day kicked off with a fabulous session in which Doug Allan, Helen Scales and ever-wonderful Philip Hoare gave us three different views of the oceans, highlighting, respectively, the depletion of the ice mass which forms the ‘terra firma’ of the Arctic, the travails of the humphead (or Napoleon) wrasse, and close encounters with a variety of cetaceans, including sperm whales and orcas. All three are natural, engaging performers who are passionate about their interests.

The annual debate, this time between two dairy farmers (Micky Astor and Robert Craig) and Davy McCracken, Professor of Agricultural Ecology, was, disappointingly, more of a general agreement than a debate and certainly didn’t match the ferocious and intellectually thrilling duel between George Monbiot and Tony Juniper in 2015.

My highlight of Friday afternoon was the showing of two short films by Emily Richardson, including one, entitled Cobra Mist, filmed among the eerie shingle of Orford Ness, accompanied by a tremendous pounding industrial soundscape by Benedict Drew.

Saturday’s programme was as richly varied and surprising as Friday’s, and started with the entertaining performance by members of Stamford Arts Centre resident Shoestring Theatre troupe of an extract from a play by Steve Waters, who introduced the piece and was very eloquent on the issue of how to produce drama addressing ‘environmental issues’ without being didactic and/or dull.

What of poetry in all this, I hear you ask? There was some actual poetry – Katrina Porteous reciting, for the fourth time at New Networks, a few of her Northumbria poems, and in Derek Niemann’s reading of his poetic prose – but there was arguably more, and better, poetry to be had in some of the presentations and film, including Jack Perks’s amazing footage of grayling sex (as you do), and musical performance from Mike Edwards on Didgeridoo and Sam Lee singing folk songs. And I had a good chat with Matt Howard, my Eyewear stablemate, whose 2015 pamphlet The Organ Box is excellent.

In all, it was great fun, as it invariably is, and no doubt we’ll return for the 10th symposium next year.

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