Andy Jowitt interviews Mark Prina, Reserve Manager of Foxearth Meadows
I guess it’s a long story, but could you tell us a bit about how you came to: (i) love nature?
My Dad was a Londoner who contracted ‘TB hip’ and, after years in hospital, ended up in rural Rutland during the war at a school for the disabled. His eyes were suddenly opened to the beauty of nature which he would never have discovered without his early misfortunes. In the mid-1960s he would take me and my brothers walking in the countryside near our home in Dartford and on the downs above Eastbourne where we holidayed every year. His love of nature was thus embedded permanently in my heart too.
… (ii) became an environmental practitioner?
After parking my love for nature as a young man the passion returned with a vengeance in my late twenties. I started studying, reading and teaching myself plant, bird and insect identification. I became interested in how man has influenced landscapes, especially after studying the wildlife of coal mine spoil heaps and relict farmland where I lived, with Gill my wife, in Stoke-on-Trent. I was involved with the Potteries local group of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and later served on the trust’s governing council. After training in Great Crested Newt surveying and becoming licenced I actually got paid to survey newts so felt I was finally becoming an ecologist. On seeing the scale of habitat destruction in England –unwarranted and avoidable in my opinion – I became a conservationist.
I gather you are a member of an All-Party Parliamentary Group. How do you find that?
I was unexpectedly approached to join the new APPG for Biodiversity, expecting to learn more about conservation and influencing government policy in that field, but was surprised instead that I learned about broken global economics and UK planning guidance. The original group was discontinued and has now been re-born as the APPG for Nature. Apparently, most people know what nature is but biodiversity is a term understood by only a few.
How did faith become a part of your life?
Finding Jesus is an ongoing process first kindled in my thirties. I was not easily convinced at first but am thankful to some tub-thumping preachers on the Methodist circuits of Stoke who through their passion, their love for Christ, their solid Biblical teaching and not a little humour, gradually drew me in. Without my faith and the hope it brings I don’t know if I could cope with what I see around me now.
How did you integrate your faith with your concern for nature?
Easy. I read Psalm 104:24. Never mind nature being recast as ‘Natural Capital’ and forced to earn its keep through its provision of ‘ecosystem services’; the words “in wisdom hast thou made them all” were and are enough for me. Who would dare to question God’s creative purposes? Not me.
You and Gill have two talented daughters. What are they doing these days?
Gill came out of teaching and re-trained in order to counsel the troubled children she had been unable to help as a class teacher. Our eldest daughter Josie, a trained dancer, works in children’s ministry at C3 Church, Cambridge and her husband Josh works alongside her with the youth. Our youngest daughter Rachael, who qualified as a children’s nurse, is now working for Manchester Diocese with husband Pete on a project to revive a declining parish church. One result of our move from Stoke to Cambridge was that both girls found their husbands there! Pete and Rach are musicians and you can hear their first album ‘Silver’ at https://www.peteandrach.net/ plus more recordings at https://soundcloud.com/rachaelellen and https://soundcloud.com/pete-harris
I’ve enjoyed hearing your clarinet on occasions. What do you enjoy playing and how do you like to relax?
Music is and always has been a passion. I get excited by many genres of music. The clarinet playing started in a spell of teenage unemployment and even though playing it gets side-lined by life too often lately the urge to open the case and blow is always nagging away. In fact if the devil had offered me two routes: to become a virtuoso clarinettist or a consummate ecologist I may well have chosen the former. I remain a limited musician but I still love it.
I know you sometimes have early starts to the day, so tell me ‘what gets you up in the morning’ (as they say)?
I love encountering, studying and conserving nature and, although I had to wait until I was 59 until I started leaping out of bed with enthusiasm for work, I now never want to stop!
What gives you job satisfaction in your role as manager of the reserve?
Working with people who love nature and engaging those who haven’t appreciated its wonders yet. I am also increasingly hopeful about really seeing nature recovery in England and determined that A Rocha UK plays its part in that grand vision.
What are your hopes and dreams (and concerns) for the future?
My hopes I have stated but my concerns are that ‘powers and principalities’ are still holding sway and blocking the reforms desperately needed to restore nature at local, national and international levels. We are all now surely aware of the dangers we and the Lord’s creation face. As the Apostle Paul reminds us: we are without excuse (Romans 1:20).