2:30pm, outside Nottingham Railway Station. I knew Extinction Rebellion had planned a march in aid of wildlife, or rather its recent decline.
Unsure of what to expect, I arrived on time, the weather was good.
After a relatively disappointing late spring, summer seemed to finally be here. As I crossed the city centre on the way to the protest, I passed countless pubs overflowing with punters – sunglasses, shorts and salmon red faces seemed to be the order of the day.
Arriving at the station I was surprised by the amount of people that had begun to gather. About 60 when I arrived, but this soon swelled to over 100 by the time the pilgrims began their march.
The Extinction Rebellion website had declared this a family friendly event so the whole affair was much more fancy dress than furious unrest. Fancy dress was optional thankfully.
I decided to opt out on the grounds of maintaining impartiality, however some sort of animal themed headwear seemed to be the most popular choice. A particular favourite of mine was a lady sporting a prawn hat. Personally, I believe prawns are much better suited as a crucial element of a seafood linguini but I must admit the long dangly legs certainly made an interesting head piece.
Royal Ascot Ladies Day take note, fascinators are so last year.
One of my key takeaways from the afternoon was how organised Extinction Rebellion were. When I arrived tea and coffee was available, sausage rolls and samosas were also being distributed. Vegan, of course. It would be a bit weird to march for wildlife while clutching onto a pork pie.
As the march snaked through the city centre it was flanked on both sides by individuals who wore hi-vis jackets that said “Steward” on the back. Teams of cyclists would go ahead of the main pack and block off roads a bit like the Queen having a police escort. This march had better crowd control than some stages of the Tour de France.
At one point I spoke to Etienne Stott MBE 41, an ex-Team GB canoeist who won gold at the 2012 Olympics and has since turned his hand to becoming a key member of the Nottingham branch of Extinction Rebellion. In 2019 he was arrested at several protests in London however this time his role was as police liaison officer.
“Today we are marching in aid of wildlife, a quarter of Britain’s native mammals are at risk of extinction and we are here to raise awareness,” he explained.
The march began at 2:45pm as a group of seven or so drummers began to play. Due to the mixture of beards, face paint and floral garlands this scene reminded me of some sort of pagan ritual.
The lead drummer who kept everyone in time used a samba whistle to coordinate the players which also added a bit of Latin rhythm. Every five minutes or so the drummers would all shout “Extinction Rebellion,” and with a blow of the whistle the loop would begin again.
Hardly Eleanor Rigby I will admit, but it served a purpose.
The route was pre-planned and coordinated with the police who kept their distance but always had at least two officers following the mob. At the front of the procession was a large contraption that resembled Noah’s Ark which was propelled by two cyclists. This unlucky pairing who chose to bear the weight of the ark no doubt had the worst job of the day. After a few hours the afternoon sun had baked the ark and must have brought the temperature inside well into the high 30s.
Bus drivers were regularly bemused when a lady in a hi-vis would block the road with her bicycle and refuse to back down no matter how many horns were sounded. This modern tale of David vs Goliath continued throughout the city, some impeded commuters showed their support, others their frustration.
At one point an ambulance turned the corner only to realise the road was totally blocked by protestors carrying papier-mâché sharks. This brought with it the darker side of civil disobedience. While the protestors did their utmost to quickly clear the road, the ambulance was no doubt impeded and with that so was the vital response time.
While the protestors were clearly marching for an honourable cause this incident definitely brought the question of whether if this style of action is proportionate for the crisis. “In the past 100 years the barn owl population has decreased by 70%,” Extinction Rebellion’s mobile Tannoy regularly informed onlookers. While important, is this comparable to risking human life by slowing emergency response time?
The protest reached its zenith as the activists made their way into the market square. Extinction Rebellion’s drum troop quickly overwhelmed a group of Palestinian independence supporters who had been in the square since lunch time. The moral grounds of wildlife campaigners drowning out humanitarian crisis protestors remains a grey area.
The large group certainly turned some heads and were more than happy to bathe in the gaze of onlookers who quickly pulled out their smartphones to take a quick snap. Prawn hat lady received plenty of attention and quickly transformed into part Kardashian part crustacean as she was swarmed by the proto-paparazzi.
The mob snaked onwards through town before returning on a circular route to its starting point. Generally everything appeared to have gone to plan. Aside from the ambulance incident and a few curt comments from disgruntled motorists little disruption had been caused.
Etienne Stott brought proceedings to a close with a call and response style chant “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose planet? Our planet.”
While Extinction Rebellion may not have managed the metropolitan takeover they were now claiming, they had certainly turned some heads and gained some publicity, which is no doubt the purpose of this type of march.
As everyone cleared up, I found Etienne and asked him how he thought today had gone, he replied simply “Groovy.” How very 1970s.