As a follow-up to the Oxford Green Belt Way last year, this year my 7-year-old son and I will complete the even longer Oxford Canal Walk. Last year's walk raised £485 for the World Wildlife Fund, and like last time, we'll again be raising money for the WWF, to help protect our natural environment.
The walk connects Oxford and Coventry using the towpath along the Oxford Canal. The distance is about 150 kms (the actual route is 133 kms but there are lots of extra bits at the start and finish of each walk, so we won't know the exact distance until we've finished and added it all up).
As of June, we're about two-thirds of the way through and are doing it in single-day stretches of about 10 kms (usually involving intricate journeys combining bicycles, trains, buses and, where unavoidable, taxis. Sometimes, we have to stay out for the night).
The challenge for my son is not so much physical but is in terms of perseverance. I have to get him out walking, along the same canal, with more or less the same scenery, day after day. I've managed to keep him motivated by the idea of completing the entire route and the thought that he'll be able to donate a sum of money to help animals around the world, something he really cares about (especially tigers and pangolins!).
Thankfully, we do see quite a bit of wildlife on the walk (we keep a list). Star sights so far have been a fieldfare, a curlew, an otter (which could have been a mink), a fox family with cubs, and skylarks. In fact, everything looks so green and full of life that it's hard to believe we're at a point of environmental crisis. The countryside is traditionally the reserve of wildlife. If it's there, the countryside is where we'd expect find it. But for anyone who’s been on this planet for some time (in human terms, at least), such as myself, things seem a little quieter, a little emptier, than they should. There's not as much birdsong as their used to be. In particular, swallows, swifts and skylarks are notable by their absence. There aren't as many insects. The graceful ash trees which line the canal and surrounding fields in such numbers are nearly all dying of an invasive fungus, accidentally introduced by humans, that is predicted to kill 99% of them.
The threat to our natural environment is unprecedented. It's been widely reported in the press that Earth's 6th mass extinction of plants and animals is underway, caused by human activity. Up to half of all individual animals have been lost in just the last few decades. The IUCN Red List now includes 27% of all the species that have been assessed. The UN have recently released a report revealing the environment emergency we're now facing. This study underlines how much humanity relies on the natural world, at the most basic level, for its food and clean water. Put bluntly, if it dies, we will all follow.
The WWF do lots of fantastic work in this area. It's a cause that I feel as passionate about as my son does. We'd be most grateful if you could donate whatever you can afford. I promise not to spend the money we raise in the pub (there are quite a few along the canal).
We plan to finish the walk by the end of 2019. Many thanks for your support.