The state we’re in?


Red kite

The report State of Nature  published this week by twenty five  conservation bodies paints a worrying picture of the decline of wildlife in the UK over the past 40-50 years. While there have been great individual success stories such as the reintroduction of the red kite and the large blue  butterfly, the news that many birds, butterflies, mammals and  molluscs have had a bumpy ride makes for uncomfortable reading.

It pulls together and presents in a readable way, yet again, the evidence, if any more were needed, that our countryside and our  seas are becoming more impoverished places than ever. Where declining populations of fewer species fail to thrive against a backdrop of  inexorable pressures from climate change, habitat fragmentation,  urbanisation, agriculture and pollution.

But the report  begs the question that if we want more red squirrels, capercaillie, stag beetles or speckled woods in future, where do we start? Continue with a  myriad of individual interventions or develop some more radical new approach to conserving the countryside? Only the latter will do, in my view.

Image: Toivo Toivanen & Tiina Toppila

Red squirrel

Of course we have come a long way in recent years in articulating a new way of conserving nature. The Lawton Review talks about creating resilient networks of habitats in the future across the wider countryside which requires habitat expansion as well as protection of special sites, connected rather than fragmented habitats. A more resilient landscape will be good for a whole host of individual species, the habitats that they depend on and the valuable functions which nature offers to society ‘free of charge’.

What we now need is a an extended coalition of conservation interests to agree not just on the evidence and not just on the new paradigm of landscape scale action, but on the specific tools and mechanisms to create a landscape and seascape richer in wildlife for all of us. Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships are part of the toolkit, but we need other novel ways of engaging a wide range of landowning and managing interests. The  real challenge is  how to build the kind of collaborative action which must involve  us all and how to  harness that evidence, knowledge and concern to drive real and concerted action  for all our wildlife for the future.

Hilary Allison, Policy Director


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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10 Responses to The state we’re in?

  1. I think our hope lies in educating the young to love and respect nature and natural habitats. I was head of a school and tried to foster my love of nature and the natural world among the children in my care.

    At one open day a rather upmarket father accosted me with, ‘Aah, so you’re the famous Mrs —— my son keeps quoting when he tells me not to do something………….’.

    I should point out that this was a man who saw nothing wrong with taking his five-year old son out on a Sunday to show him how to shoot wild animals with a modern crossbow and arrows, so I felt justified in showing him, through his son, the error of his ways.

  2. Julie Taylor says:

    My son would say, “Rip down the cities and bring back the bears and wolves!” Ecology is totally out of kilter. Having said that, on a practical level, I do feel that there is some point to seeking to expand landscape-scale habitat restoration.

    We have seen locally to us how ‘PAWS’ woodlands can so quickly benefit from effective management. After winter felling of an area of close-planted timber-trade conifers we already have increased primroses, dog violets and many green shoots of hope.

    More communication and co-operation between conservation groups and communities can only help. A government that gives a damn about anything other than themselves would help enormously but that is something we don’t presently have. I believe we must fight on regardless -because for me hedgehogs matter.

  3. ash says:

    I echo Peter Kyte’s comments above, in fact I would go further & say that the only things that will survive our attack on the planet will be the bugs & viruses & diseases that are killing everything! However, on the other hand I want to be positive, to encourage a different view & way of living that gives hope for the future. But how can this be done, by more than me on my own. I could go off & live in a commune on an island & be happy there I suppose but it’s not going to save the planet!

    • edithkl says:

      I too echo Peter Kyte’s comments, but I think it is a good sign that more and more humans are feeling able to say that WE are the problem.

      Just by admitting this, we are at least facing in the right direction, towards the truth. So something might develop which we cannot predict at the moment, just because there has been a “paradigm shift” in the way we see our own selves.

      Two DVD documentaries which show how humans are becoming sceptical about the entire concept of Progress in some very unexpected places are “Surviving Progress” produced by Martin Scorsese, and “Trashed” narrated by Jeremy Irons (about the mountains of waste produced all over the planet, and the folly of trying to burn it or bury it). Some travel journalists are also starting to film some of the horrors of Development in the formerly pristine Third World.

      Individual actions all help to turn the tide – but only if they can be seen and/or heard! That is why you need to make the odd comment on blogs, at least – even that much is useful because every little grain of truth goes to join all the other grains heading in the same direction. So please do not go to a commune, unless you really really want to do this anyway.

  4. Jim Clark says:

    Conservation organisations must take some of the blame, rare this rare that found on our nature reserve, to push membership and encourage not just twitchers but others to travel miles to a reseve where of course they have to visit the caf’e and gift shop. There are plenty of common birds, butterfles or plants etc. to be found in their local area even close to or in cities. If it’s common it doesn’t count we must have rare, you see “rare” all the time in memebership magazines. Many members of popular conservation organisations live in new builds, fly regularly, have a bigger car than they need and use it too often.
    Likewise most people don’t care about the state of wildlife, after all they can see it much better on television between East Enders and Match of the Day. Again conservation organisations must take some of the blame for this with the attitude of wildlife is there for our entertainment.
    These organisations should look to themselves first

      • edithkl says:

        Yes, I think it is becoming almost misleading to focus ONLY on the “Red List” or threatened species – because in fact most species are now threatened, and we need all of them whether they are on the rather short “Red LIst” or not.

        The only naturalist I know of who has tried to make this point, is Chris Packham. Of course it is a highly seditious point to make!

  5. Sadly I agree with Michael McCarthy of the Independent our downward slope is unstoppable, we want more houses even on greenfield sites, more roads, a new Dartford crossing with feeder motorways and we have a government “the greenest yet” what a hope, a chancellor whose austerity has caused us to stall and sees the way out by tearing up legislation to protect the countryside…….more and more people, more cars, lorries, aircraft, airports I could go on but what is the point?

  6. Peter Steward says:

    Chemical manufacturers like Monsato have the ear of government, pesticides are wiping out our wild life.

  7. Peter Kyte says:

    As the human population grows, it will mirror the decline of other species. We cannot keep on having new developments without a negative effect on biodiversity. The only species that will thrive will be rats and cockroaches.

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