My self contradictions/realisations of hypocrisy as a wildlife enthusiast/naturalist

For as long as my memory lets me remember, I have enjoyed the great outdoors. My mind is full of recollections of peaceful times being spent rummaging around deadwood in search for bugs, running through woodland, or even getting stuck in the tree tops playing hide and seek.

I remember my first time being given a pot with an attached magnifying glass, used for inspecting “creepy crawlies” up close, with the chance to see exoskeletons and transparent wings so vividly. I was in awe, trying to count the legs on a centipede or just gazing at the forceps protruding the abdomen of an earwig.

At the age of 25, I still get the exact same feeling, nostalgia in a way, of when I enter this environment. The smells, my obscured perception of the range of colours (I’m colourblind, by the way), the feel of the grass on the palm of my hands; they all bring me back to better times, times of innocence, easier times.

The vast majority of my teenage years were spent watching the cliche documentaries that a certain Mr Attenborough kept appearing in or narrating (hats off to the Naturalist). With this fuelling my passion for nature and A levels under my belt, at the age of 18, I went on study Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University.

The experiences I had whilst studying this course changed me. At this age, my brain was like a sponge. I found that the vast majority of it was intensely interesting and it really captured my attention, as if my eyes were fixated on something peculiar, I just couldn’t look away. It’s true what they say about studying and gaining a university degree, that the majority of it will be through independent learning. And what I found out through my further reading on the topic of ecology and the natural environment is that I, along with a large population, are hypocrites, plain and simple.

I eat meat. I drive a car. I vacate via aeroplanes. I enjoy grassland landscapes. I’d also like to think that I’m not the only one sailing this boat, either.

The first 3 examples of myself unveiling the hypocrisies above, are self explanatory. The farming of livestock for the meat industry is the single largest producer of greenhouse gases. Forests are deforested at an alarming rate in order to make room for these farms, yet I, along with plenty others, create the market for this. The 2 which follow on, again, damage the environment via carbon emissions. The final one however, is a little more complex.

The grassland and woodland that I enjoyed to revel in so much as a youngster, has been shaped so drastically by our ancestors, it’s practically fraudulent to consider it natural. Take the Lake District for example. The largest of the National Parks in the UK, it attracts 16.4 million visitors per year (STEAM 2014- Cumbria Tourism.) The vast majority of these 16 million are here to enjoy the landscape unknowing that this isn’t what it should look like. The biodiversity of the Lake District is extremely poor. The area should be filled with a whole range of ecosystems! Constant grazing and land use management has shaped it to suit a select group of people (farmers and landowners), and this is what so many people see and enjoy each year unbeknown to them of the changes constantly being made.

I’ve found myself battling with this hypocrisy for some time now. Even my own recent trip to the Lake District was spent wondering “what if?” What if this extraordinarily sized national park was allowed to be as it should? What would we see or hear roaming the forests? What species would benefit and what would be so different? Of course, there are plenty of people who would have a thing or two to say before any of this were to even happen.

A recent episode of Countryfile stirred my anxiety even further. The episode exhibited the presenter burning heather in Northumberland National Park in the name of conservation. Although this time, it was not myself as the persecuted hypocrite in my head, but the head of conservation for Northumberland National Park, Andrew Miller. He even went on to say how it “protects the Moorland”. Incorrect Andrew, incorrect. How can an unnatural process, be necessary to protect the moorland?

Let me start by stating that burning heather moorland does not “protect it”, it’s destructive. Yes, it burns away old heather, but how about letting succession take place? It’s common knowledge in the Ecology world that farmers and landowners continue with this practice of burning heather because it creates ideal conditions for upland birds such as grouse. The grouse is subject to frequently being shot in the uplands for large sums of cash paid by many “countryside lovers”. The hypocrisy continues.

Following on, he went on to say that trees are for the lowlands and that they weren’t wanted on the hills in the uplands. Hmmm. This hypocrisy made my stomach turn. The Head of Conservation for a National Park, playing a direct part in shaping the landscape. Incredible. You couldn’t write it.

Capitalism and consumerism have gotten hold of humanity with its glutton grip, it has riddled everybody like a parasite. Ironic to say the least as humans, in their own way, are parasites to the earth. Parasite: an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense. From trophy hunting, shooting and red meat consumption, greed always springs to mind.The vast majority of the Earth’s population are unsustainably using resources with no thought to how the Earth will react. It’s a “do and take now, think about the consequences later”. Everyone is guilty of this. As someone who takes pleasure in the natural environment, this is where I struggle to have piece of mind as I’m guilty too, to a certain extent.

The western world has been a large consumer of red meat, ever since large scale agriculture became such a fundamental part of the developed world. The developing areas of the world have spent the last few decades looking from the outside and has seen red meat as a delicacy and now that’s changing. In this day and age, there’s knowledge that is widely available that red meat production scars the landscape and pollutes the atmosphere, yet here they are, ready to put the knife in the planet and twist. Consumerism especially, has become a way of life for many, including myself.

It hasn’t helped that for the past few years I have been working in a role that doesn’t include ecology. I’ve never been able to assist with these matters on a large scale. I have been a helpless bystander. Guilty of watching on as the world burns.

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Jake Parsons

Jake Parsons

Hi, I'm Jake. I'm 25 years old and I have a fascination for ecology and the great outdoors. BSc (Hons) Ecology and Wildlife Conservation.
Jake Parsons

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