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Racing Extinction preview screening: #Startwith1thing

Stepping under the blue lights of the entrance, a rising excitement that just a corridor away would be the preview of Racing Extinction; Discovery Network’s biggest global event.

This was a special one for me, having worked on the school resources that supplement the event as part of my role as a sub editor at Discovery Education — plus, it would bring together two of my biggest passions: my job and my campaign work for Born Free Foundation.

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Born Free Foundation were one of the partners of the film, along with familiar faces such as Tusk Trust and Save Me.

Coincidently, one of the first people I bumped into at the top of a staircase adjorned with beautiful photographs of endangered species (complemented by their population facts and figures for us all to reflect upon); was Born Free’s Policy Advisor (and head of the Badger Trust) Dom Dyer: a face I have come to be familiar with thanks to demonstrations against Taji Cove, fox hunting, canned lion hunting, and most recently; the Lion Aid event in memory of Cecil the lion.

A deep breath and on through the double doors to the main buzz of the evening; a room of invited guests, Discovery employees and various animal activists, charities and campaigners. There among the crowd stood my dear friend Will Travers (below), whose presence made arriving at such a prestigious event alone slightly less daunting. I’ve said it before, but the close-nit camaraderie among Born Free’s founders, patrons and supporters really is second to none.image

With little time to spare (my ill-prepared decision to walk to the venue from Baker Street Station — a near-on half an hour walk as it turn out — had seen to that); it was on to the main event. The screening of this highly-anticipated, four-years-in-the-making docufilm by director Louie Psihoyos whose work includes the Academy Award Winning documentary The Cove, which I’ve previously written about here.

I hadn’t realised before arrival, that journalist and Born Free supporter Kate Silverton would be hosting the event, which immediately took me back to last year’s Wild Night at the Movies: hosted by a then very pregnant Kate Silverton: this was the event that my subsequent blog post about had earned me an invitation to meet Will Travers for the first time — a serendipitous detail to this evening indeed!image

I don’t know how to possibly put into words the power of the film that Louie Psihoyos has created. It’s a must watch… a must act upon… call to arms kind of film.

I almost feel like we have a duty as part of the human race — or more accurately still, as part of planet Earth — to hear the message that this movie speaks.

With a bigger budget and a cable network’s backing behind him, former National Geographic journalist Psihoyos has taken all the dramatic journalistic investigating; emotional narrative and strong, intelligent ethos of The Cove and mixed in some brilliant visionary talent (in the form of well-documented Empire State Building illuminator and Obscura Digital Founder,Travis Threlkel, and eco-warrior Race Car Driver Leilani Münter) to create something pretty spectacular.

For those interested in joining in the Global Premiere of the film, save the date: 2nd December, where Discovery Channel will be screening the documentary across the globe in a special worldwide event!

After watching the film (which received a standing ovation from its audience), the night concluded with a special panel discussion with a panel that included director Louie Psihoyos himself, and Born Free Patron Dr Brian May.

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The resounding sentiments from this segment of the evening were Psihoyos’ promotion of the statement: It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness; taken directly from the film, and Brian May’s admission that Racing Extinction had done more than ignite a candle: it had flipped a switch within him.

“The message of hope is what’s important here” May concluded — and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

“We have to change us before we can change the policy makers,” Psihoyos closed with, and I think that’s where Discovery’s initative #Startwith1thing really comes in.image

All present fundraising champions and ‘wildlife royalty’ made their #Startwith1thing pledge during the course of the evening, including former Springwatch favourite Bill Oddie (who I had the pleasure of meeting at an Angels for the Innocent fundraiser earlier in the year) — and I’ve already made mine (see below).

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What will yours be? If we all start with 1 thing, we could be the candles that light up the darkness!

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Fox hunting: Holding on to hope

In the four years that I’ve been keeping this blog, I haven’t once written about fox hunting. Not once.

Which is particularly surprising when I consider that the first ever piece of ‘conservation-themed’ writing I ever did was a persuasive letter to the then Prime Minister, John Major, asking him to put an end to the cruel practice. Circa 1996.

IMG_7926The main aim of my keeping a blog is merely an extension of that persuasive writing exercise. To encourage compassion and persuade others that things don’t have to stay the same. That they can be made better. That they should be made better.

IMG_7932Perhaps that’s why I’ve avoided writing about matters related to fox hunting: shrouded in class-based politics, it’s minefield of negativity. I want to inspire hope and positivity on this blog: positive action and progressive thinking.

IMG_7956I joined the #Keeptheban protests near Parliament Square yesterday, and outside Downing Street today; standing alongside the likes of Born Free Patron Dr Brian May, Badger Trust CEO and Born Free Foundation’s Policy Advisor, Dominic Dyer, and my good friend and fellow blogger Anneka Svenska, against a relaxing of the long and hard fought fox hunting ban.

IMG_7931The ban is not an all-encompassing, total solution, but it’s better that it’s in place, than not.

The outcome of the last two days was not the one that conservationists were hoping for, but it wasn’t an absolute disaster, either. The SNP pledged their allegiance with those wanting to keep the ban. David Cameron postponed today’s vote; a delay tactic that has many implications, but the ban is in place — for now.

IMG_7927As I say though, my aim is to inspire hope, not promote hopelessness.

The last time I met Dr Brian May, it was at a Votes for Animals protest, ahead of the General Election, and he was promoting his campaign; Common Decency. Common Decency was about voting for MPs ‘colourblind’; paying attention to their policies and not their party.

IMG_7930Shortly after meeting him this time, I received the following response from my St Albans MP, Conservative party’s Anne Main, in response to my lobbying email:

Dear Miss Snowdon,
Thank you for your email regarding the Hunting Act. I apologise for the standard nature of this email – as I am sure you understand, I have received a very large volume of emails in a short space of time from constituents asking me for my views on this important issue and I was keen to ensure that you received a full and informative response. I would like to thank those who included a personal message in your email; I did read all of the emails which were sent to me and I was grateful to hear all of your views.
It is now my understanding that the vote which was due on 15th July has been postponed and will not take place tomorrow. This was a Statutory Instrument to make amendments to the exempt provisions included in the Hunting Act 2004, as opposed to a vote on repealing the Act itself. Prior to the withdrawal I was going to vote against the Statutory Instrument as I feel it would weaken the ban.
Currently, as part of the Hunting Act pest control exemptions, farmers and gamekeepers can use up to two dogs to flush foxes from cover to be shot. I understand that upland farmers have argued that the two-dog limit can be impractical on their terrain, which can be vast, difficult and covered by woodland. The new Statutory Instrument intended to give land owners in England and Wales the opportunity to use more than two dogs to flush out foxes. However, I believe that the changes proposed would make prosecution of those who participate in illegal hunting more difficult which is why I would have voted against this measure.
Many of the constituents who contacted me have asked for my views on the Hunting Act more generally, following the commitment in the Conservative Manifesto that MPs would have the opportunity to repeal the Act on a free vote. I would not like to see the Hunting Act repealed and I would not wish to see hunting returned as a sport.
I hope that I have been able to reassure you of my commitment to ensuring animal welfare. Animal welfare is an issue that I have been raising in Parliament for some time. I am the leading Conservative campaigner against the badger cull, and I have done significant work in opposing the culls. I have also campaigned to the Government against the use of pinch collars on dogs with the help of the Dogs Trust, and have supported a variety of animal rights campaigns including those relating to wild animals in circuses, backstreet breeding and strengthening protection for racing greyhounds. I have worked with a number of animal welfare charities and I am determined to continue the fight against animal cruelty.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes,
Mrs Anne Main

A damn sight better than the lack of response that 6-year-old me got from John Major!

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Talking Animal Matters with Born Free Patron Brian May

What an absolute honour it was to meet staunch animal rights campaigner, leader of the Common Decency political movement, legendary Queen guitarist and Born Free supporter Brian May as he joined London’s Votes for Animals march to Trafalgar Square.imageI’ve written about Brian May before, back in 2012, when he was fresh from recording a new version of the world-famous Born Free theme song with Kerry Ellis (music video including footage from none other than Shamwari Game Reserve, as shown below – the place of my gap year travels!), after launching of the Pride of Cape Town art campaign. Brian’s own work with his Save-Me campaign – which is dedicated to the pursuit of humane treatment of all animals – is what brought him to the opening of Oxford Street’s new flagship Lush Store. Lush is already synonymous with animal rights, and wears its ‘no animal testing’ policy proudly on it’s paper bags; enforcing this message through a variety of publicity stunts, including live performance art in it’s shop windows. Lush-Animal-Testing_6-620x453 The store has also put it’s money where it’s mouth is, so to speak, launching it’s brand new Animals Matter badger bath bomb with proceeds going towards Animal Aid, The League Against Cruel Sports, and May’s Save Me charity: the groups behind the Votes for Animals campaign. image Mr May was only too happy to praise the store’s dedication to the cause, endorsing the May Day badger bath bomb and the efforts of the new Oxford store and the company at large. image Topically, given that the General Election is just around the corner and May has already caused a stir with his debate with Russell Brand, Lush’s new product has put his Save Me campaign back in the spotlight. Save Me arrived on the scene during the run up to the 2010 elections, when it was evident that if David Cameron were to become elected as prime minister, he would try to bring back Fox Hunting by repealing the act against it. It was an issue firmly in his manifesto and clearly important to him.

Image courtesy of Anneka Svenska

Image courtesy of Anneka Svenska

This time around, May has lent his voice to Votes for Animals; speaking up for the rights of animals this election. Votes for Animals encourages voters to be vocal on behalf of animals and urge their political representatives to support animal-friendly policies. Their website lists the political parties’ manifestos on animal issues and can be viewed here.