In 1969, Elisabeth Beresford published the first iteration of The Wombles and went on to write a further five novels about Wimbledon’s noblest residents. How could she envision the importance of her creations? The burrow living, nature loving, rubbish collecting, pointy nosed fur balls soon became public favorites and eventually gained two stints on our television screens, first in 1973 and later, in 1997.
Wombles were 1970’s environmental warriors that espoused a respect and love of nature. Great Uncle Bulgaria and the gang wandered around picking up garbage and making weird shit with it.They recycled, appeared on Top of the Pops and burned their theme song into the brains of generations. Whistle that tune in a crowd and you’ll not wait long for a response, even if it is reluctant.
Today, we live in an age where the environment is often an afterthought. World leaders hammer climate change as an unproven theory. Human expansion has encroached on, and reduced, natural landscapes globally. Plant and animal species have faced rapid declines and arguments for a 6th mass extinction event are increasing. One can only assume that the Wombles would be devastated by such news.
There is hope of course! Advances in technology have allowed scientists to make huge jumps in renewable energy. David Attenborough continues to fascinate, delight and shame the human race. More areas of nature are coming under protection from governments and people can’t help but be aware of the treats facing the natural world. We understand the dangers to our home, we hear about them everyday!
But there is a disconnect there between knowledge and action. That disconnect is as prevalent in Ireland as it is anywhere else. In Ireland we tend to preserve buildings, not nature. There has rarely been any environmental policy that has the teeth to fully protect nature. Prosecutions are rare and fines small for fly tipping. The damage of illegal gorse fires is well known but regarded as routine by the public. How do we shorten this disconnect? How do you get people to put down the turf and put up the solar panel? Where the hell is a Womble when you need one?
The Wombles were endearing, industrious and arguably ahead of their time. They were quiet and bumbling creatures people fell in love with. Their woolly charm might not be as well received today, in a world of Avengers, Defenders and misadventures, but their message is more relevant then ever. Talks of a new season or a feature film for these champions of nature have stalled apparently. So if Wombles aren’t making a glorious return just yet who can step into the void between theory and reality? Who can become the Womble we need right now?
The easy answer has always been YOU. You can become a Womble with such ease it’s frightening. You may not gain a pointed nose and copious amounts of fur but becoming a Womble is easy. Taking part in Tidy Towns? You’re a Womble. Recycling everything within a five meter radius of yourself? You’re a Womble. Wandering around the house, turning off lights and shouting at your family about not being made of money? You’re a Womble. The everyday acts that benefit nature are part and parcel of wombling.
The Wombles message of respect for nature permeated through generations and resonated with the public in a way few other environmental activists have. As public spokeswombles they championed their vision to millions. With them gone from our screens who should replace them in the public eye as messengers for nature? The answer is reasonably simple. Scientists.
Being a scientist carries a large weight of authority. When a scientist says it’s real we often tip our cap to them and say “they know better”or “they must be right, their scientists”! That has worked to our detriment with the sugar, tobacco and fuel industries at times.
But for the most part scientists acknowledge this burden of authority by tempering their speech to reasonable levels. They also rarely engage in public displays of science and skirt away from the limelight, or any light for that matter, in order to pursue their research. Devoting your life to science in any category is a noble and often underpaid way of life. Not unlike the Womble way of life.
The humble Womble has had more of an effect on the public consciousness then most scientists could claim. Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking all lead the way for science in the public eye. They have embraced their inner Womble. But if 97% of scientists agree on human influenced climate changes effect on the natural world then why is there such a disconnect?
More scientists need to come to the forefront of the public debate. More scientists need to step forward and explain why the science tells us these things. More scientists need to leap into the void left by Wombles and take up the mantle of protectors of nature. More scientists need to become Wombles.
For Wombles, the preservation of nature was a way of life, not something to be considered but something to be done without thought. Under their watchful eye, Wimbledon Common was protected from harm, underground and overground. If the environmentally conscious among us and the scientific community can adopt a similar style we can protect this precious little ball of blue from ourselves.
Earth is the Wimbledon Common of the universe. Remember you’re a womble.
If you would like to get involved in some Youth Hostel style wombling you could always join our Conservation Group as they ensure that the grounds around Knockree Hostel are kept clean.