June 30th marked an exciting return to the Tees Valley, the return of the Tees Valley Nature Partnership’s annual conference, held in-person for the first time since the pandemic. Operating in the Darlington Hippodrome, on a scale previously unseen for the event, the day questioned ‘What is Next For Tees Nature?’ and invited delegates to connect across all sectors to build connections and the energy required for nature recovery.
With all long-term change, environmental sector included, the initial seeds come in the form of inspiration. Action is built through the inspiration and engagement of sectors and societies – and if there is one thing that can be said about the event – it was that it placed this inspiration at the forefront.
This tone for the day was established with the keynote speech – an unconventional interview of Tristan ‘Enviro-kid’ Anderson. Aged just 10 years old, he discussed nature recovery in an accurate but grounding way, emphasising the changes that anyone, no matter how seemingly ‘little’ they are, can make. This impression and focus is something that stayed with delegates long after the conference had ended.
And this focus, one of a rallying burst of activity for nature recovery, was one that was maintained through the event – though the subject matter was truly varied. Thanks to the partnership’s 40+ partners, experts from all corners of environmental interest came to share their knowledge and expertise through speeches and two panel discussions. Highlights from these discussions came from Tees Valley Wildlife Trusts’ own Jeremy Garside, who emphasised the simple ways that modern life has impacted insects, and the ecosystem as a whole and Natural England’s Katherine Corrigan, who discussed community engagement as an imperative of nature recovery. These discussions were singled out by many in feedback of the event, as examples of clear, concise and passionate discussions in a field often dominated by technical terminology and focus, and kept that inspiration for small community change alive.
The day’s Pecha Kuchas, 7 minute bursts of energy and activity also sought to ignite the inspirational flame of the auditorium. Focusing on projects and examples of nature recovery underway – they gave the opportunity for delegates to briefly appreciate the depth of work being undertaken for nature recovery. One example came from the TVNP’s community grant scheme – a discussion highlighting community based change and progress in Tees Valley that is too often overlooked, taking a minute to congratulate those who go out and seek to change their local green space, alongside those who have dedicated careers to the sector.
This diversity of interest, voluntary community groups alongside national organisations, is perhaps one of the most inspiring elements of the day. During lunch, delegates had the opportunity to browse stalls held by a wide variety of TVNP partners – Cleveland Bat Group to the Environment Agency. This is one of the most unique and precious things about these conferences – the ability to connect two people, with different approaches and experiences, to work together for a common interest – nature recovery. It ensures that everyone who takes time to try and preserve and improve Tees Valley knows how they fit into this fantastic effort and appreciates how wide this effort spreads.
In a time of fear and righteous concern surrounding the state of nature, globally, nationally and locally – it’s important to remember that nobody is in this alone. That inspiration and connection can be found everywhere. This message can be summed up fantastically in the motto of Tristan Anderson, ‘Little people can make a big change’, and in our 2023 conference.