It hit me like a punch in the face, one little sentence, one little number, that’s all it was. What is this sentence you ask? It was this headline: ‘World Wildlife falls by 58% in 40 years’. I’m not sure what got to me more, the staggering number and the sad loss of biodiversity it represents, or the fact that I wasn’t that surprised to read it (shocked yes but surprised no). Let’s face it; it’s no big secret that the world’s wildlife is in trouble.
You only have to speak to anyone over the age of fifty to realise that there is a lot less wildlife than there was a few decades ago. Less Lions, less Yellowhammers, less Cod pretty much less of everything. But what are conservationists doing about it? The answer seems to be about a million different things all at once.
So often the conflict in conservation is portrayed as a tug-of-war between conservationists and non-conservationists (big business, corrupt governments etc). But the actual conflict is so often between conservationists themselves. Rather than a tug-of-war it can sometimes seems like there are a hundred different conservation organisations all pulling in one hundred different directions. Many special organisations promote the conservation and interests of the species they look-out for, this maybe different to another species needs. Some organisations look at whole habitats and some seem to just chase the funds wherever they are with no clear long-term objectives.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important we have organisations and interest groups looking out for all species and habitats at local, national and international levels. Whether it’s the Bumblebee Trust or the RSPB they all have a part to play. But it often leads to problems allocating limited funds and deciding what is best to conserve and how. Who has the power to decide what gets conserved and what doesn’t, what criteria can you use? Often it has to be done on a case by case basis.
This can even lead to a more basic question, what is natural for an area? Re-wilding is a big topic in conservation at the moment; aiming to restore landscapes to as close to their natural untouched state. Many conservation organisations feed into this to a greater or lesser extent. But what about species that have declined but maybe were not naturally that common? A good example of this is farmland birds in the U.K (Yellowhammers, Linnets, Tree Sparrows etc). These are essentially birds of open grassland. However, in pre-agricultural Britain most of the land was woodland, so these species were probably rare and localised. As agriculture spread so did they, unfortunately as agriculture intensified they got left behind. The subsequent declines have earned them a place on the Red list. But should we conserve them as they are essentially a ‘cultural community’ created by the landscapes we made for our own ends.
Well my answer to this is a resounding yes, we should. We have lost 58% of out wildlife but we still have 42%. That’s 42% we can, if we are smart, protect, conserve and restore. Let’s protect what we have left, because it’s all we’ve got.
So, although this 58% figure paints a bleak picture it doesn’t have to be a cause to give up hope and go home. Let’s use it as a low point, a line in the sand. Conservation needs to take a step back, survey the damage and then unite to work out what can be done.
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