The Curious Case Of The Pine Marten And The Wood Finch

The pine marten. Or, perhaps my most favourite latin name, Martes martes. It is known as one of our rarest native mammals and, as we all know, for many decades, he has been teetering on the brink of extinction in the UK. Recently, things seem to be looking up for the pine marten, with a possible sighting of this secretive little creature occurring in England for the first time in over 100 years! But hang on, as I write about the pine marten, I have already made a few mistakes in my writing. No, for once not the grammar, but the use of words such as ‘know’ and even phrases such as ‘as we all know.’ Because, on reflection, do we all know? Do we assume as wildlife lovers that everyone should know just as much as we do? Recently, I once again fell into this particular trap. A couple of days ago I went down to my rowing club, as I go out with the coach, and as we watched the rowers, our conversation took the usual odd twists and turns, until eventually we found ourselves discussing the pine marten (I use the word ‘discussing’ in its loosest form). A break in the conversation as he coached the rowers, before he turned back to me and said:

‘What were you saying? Something about the wood finch?’

Wood finch? How curious. In my amusement, I laughed at the term ‘wood finch’ and reminded him that it was a pine marten. He nodded (pretending to care) and continued with:

‘What is it? A bird right?’

Curiouser and curiouser. Right? No, wrong! Us wildlife buffs all throw our heads back and laugh, holding onto each other for support in our hysteria and shaking our heads at this amazing lack of knowledge. Making jibes like:

‘David Attenborough doesn’t have to worry about his job eh?’ or

‘Chris Packham watch out! Here comes the new Charles Darwin!’

And then collapse once again at our outstanding wit. For a moment I considered him, was he pretending he had no idea what I was on about just to wind me up? Apparently not. Now, this might have made you laugh as much as it did me, but I realised that it was unfair of me to find his apparent ‘silly’ mistake amusing. After all, if you are perhaps not as clued up about something as someone else, does it make you ‘stupid’ or laughable? Of course not. He pointed this out and told me that ‘we can’t all be interested in pine martens or whatever they are.’ And he has a point. But is this a problem? Is it a worry that so many people are not aware of such a struggling and iconic species in our country? Or even that he could dream up his own species of bird and have no idea what it was?

According to a piece of writing that I recently read online, this is a problem. In fact, it was almost implied that those in the general public who are unaware, or dare I say it are not ‘interested’ in conservation issues are actually making them worse. He further continued that we needed to educate these people immediately and although it was coming from a good place, it almost suggested that we should tie these people up and force feed them information until they could take no more.

Now, of course education on conservation and wildlife is important and it is in fact an area that I am very passionate about. Working with young people and children to inform them about wildlife is something I always jump at, but it takes two to teach and to learn. After all, if you try to force someone to be interested in a subject, particularly a child, they will likely go the other way. I know this because as a child, that was me. Anything that my parents tried to impose on me, I immediately decided was the worst and most miserable thing in the entire world. However, my childhood sunday evenings were dominated by David Attenborough, who was always on the television. In this case, I decided to plonk myself in front of the program and watch, with no coercion involved. Though the fact that it was always left on may have been some clever play from my parents, but alas, my love for wildlife was born.

Now, nature and conservation issues are important and they need to be tackled, but we cannot force it down peoples throats. But surely, our world is important! Everyone should be aware of the problems our environment faces! Well quite and for the most part I agree, but then I was faced with another situation. Later on in the day after our pine marten, wood finch fiasco of a conversation, it was my turn to learn something. I was being told (in great detail) about the tensions between the USA and China over two uninhabited island chains. Now, ask me for more information and I’m afraid I draw a great big blank, that’s right, that’s all you’re getting from me on that subject. Not because I wasn’t listening, but because I do not share his fascinated interest. After a while he trailed off and said ‘you really don’t care do you?’ I disputed that point of course, but I think we both knew the truth. Now, following the reasoning of this article I read, because I know little of this particular issue, it is therefore my fault that these political problems are occurring. Ridiculous surely? But it is in fact the same concept. I am not saying now that because you are not overly interested in wildlife you can disregard it and mistreat it, but to blame or accuse others of being negligent because they do not have the same interests as us is a little unfair.

When it comes to education on conservation, even the smallest slices of information can be important and can stick with people. To educate people on wildlife and conservation issues we have to adapt the way we inform people of these problems. It is not a simple case of one size fits all, everyone has their own interests and unfortunately, wildlife is not an interest applicable to everyone. If we want to involve and encourage people to care about their environment, we have to bring it to them in a way that sparks their interest and makes them want to help, not accuse them of being negligent and foolish. After all, there is now one person in this world who knows of the existence of the pine marten and the apparent lack of the wood finch.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Kristina Larson says:

    Love these furry cuties! (Both here in the US and across the pond! 🙂 )

    One easy way to remember the names “Martin” (the bird) and “Marten” (the mammal):
    The “i” in “martin”= the “i” in “bird”, the “e” in “marten” = the “e”s in “weasel” (the marten’s cousin.)

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