If you live in the UK and have an interest in wildlife you’ve probably heard about the event that takes place in London this coming Saturday: The People’s Walk for Wildlife. If you follow that link you’ll find a video of Chris Packham explaining what the walk is all about and why he’s organised it, plus logistical information, timings, etc.
Karin and I are going to join the walk and I thought I’d give a brief summary of why I think it’s important for people to take part.
If you watch the video you’ll see that Chris does a great job of laying out the issue of wildlife loss, a loss not just of species but of abundance. There are species that still can be found in Britain but which have declined in numbers by 90% or more over my lifetime. Such species can be found in all of the major groups of biodiversity in this country: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians, insects and other invertebrates, fungi, and plants. Many, many millions of individuals gone from our countryside.
Why has this happened? Well, the causes are complex and inter-related. Agricultural intensification over the last century has been a major issue as I’ve previously discussed on this blog in relation to pollinator extinctions. But that’s only part of it. Another big problem that we have in the UK is an unwillingness to let nature just get on with itself. We feel that we have to manage everything: Too many ravens? Cull them. Hedgerows or road verges looking a bit untidy? Cut them. Old tree infected with a fungus? Chop it down.
In part this mindset is linked to an idea of what natural heritage should look like, an idea of order within a landscape, of making the countryside look pretty, and of doing things simply because that’s what our predecessors did. A good example was recently tweeted by Dave Goulson who had found mole traps on a Natural Trust property that he visited; as Dave rightly said: “When will we stop slaughtering harmless wildlife that causes us the tiniest inconvenience?” There is no reason in this day and age to kill moles – what conceivable harm do they do? In fact, as ecosystem engineers, they are an important part of the ecology of the British countryside.
One of the reasons why this is happening largely unnoticed by the government agencies responsible for the environment is that our landscapes change at a very slow rate. Indeed places like the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands or the Chiltern Hills look much the same as they have done for hundreds of years. Visually they are still stunning places to visit and that’s why they attract millions of tourists every year, and also why people enjoy living there. But they have lost much of their wildlife and, with it, some of the ecological function that makes them work as ecosystems. If this continues then natural processes such as dispersal of seeds by birds and mammals, and the subsequent maintenance of tree populations, will cease.
But that’s okay isn’t it? Trees and shrubs not establishing themselves: go out and plant them by hand. Is this really what we want? If it is then we will end up turning our countryside into a museum. And not even a very good museum at that: not a museum with dynamic interactive displays, rather a static, dull set of exhibits that you can only peer at through dusty glass.
So that’s why we are joining the People’s Walk for Wildlife next Saturday: this is an important issue and people need to show government that they are concerned. I hope you agree and I hope you will join us.
Dave G. has promised to come dressed as a bumblebee; I’ve seen his costume and he’s a man of his word, so it’ll be worth looking out for him. I can’t promise anything so flamboyant but I may well take a placard that says something like: “Save ALL of our pollinators, not just bees!” If you spot it, do some over and say hello.