Tuesday, 29 October 2019

State of Nature - Is there a disconnect in nature conservation?


This week saw the start of another one of the BBC Natural History departments flagship programmes helmed by our national treasure, Sir David Attenborough. ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ looks at the planet’s natural resources continent by continent with the BBCs usual blended of stunning cinematography, ecological measures and dramatic storytelling. These programmes are something we in this country do well and Sir David himself has done so much to spread the word of what is happening to our planet.

Common Darter
Here at home however things are not as rosy as they seem. Earlier this month the annual State of Nature Report was published. This yearly stocktake of our own natural capital paints a mixed picture and raises an interesting question, why are things still so bad in this country.
The report highlights some staggering results, species abundance has fallen by 13%, 41% of terrestrial and freshwater species show decreases. Of species classified as critically endangered 111 vertebrates, 440 fish, 232 fungi and lichens and 405 invertebrates are at risk of extinction. Our protected spaces do not all have favourable conditions, and many are not managed exclusively for nature. Whilst pollution has declined the effects of climate change are not being mitigated. Woodland cover is increasing but management is not keeping track. We have lost 1000 hectares of wetland between 2006 and 2012 although some there has been some great post-mineral extraction remediation. As for invasive species 10-12 non-native species are establishing in the UK each year of which 10-20% cause serious adverse impacts.
If we look at the Aichi Targets, the measures we have committed to on the international level and should meet by 2020 however the UK government has assessed that as a country we are only on track to meet 5 of the 20 targets.

These are gloomy statistics many of which most conservationists are more than aware of. Day to day those on the frontline see the changes in fortune for all our species, and there are a lot of conservationists out there. The UK has a strong tradition of voluntary support for nature conservation and the public invest large amounts in conservation charities. The RSPB has 18,000 volunteers and more than a million members, the National Trust has 5.6 million members and the Wildlife Trusts have a combined membership of over 800,000. There may be a degree of overlap between the organisation, but this is a substantial voting and lobbying block. The report shows that volunteering has increased by 46% since 2000 which is also reflected in the rise in entries to the National Biodiversity Network. Financially the public sector has seen a decline in spending in the UK but over the same period spending on international biodiversity has increased by 111%.

What does this all say? To me it says there is a fundamental disconnect in the way we view nature in this country. The BBC flagship programmes give us a vital understanding of the nature of the world and their spectacular sights force us to address the problems that we see. Perhaps we view those problems a little imperialistically, many of the countries with the richest biodiversity and most in need are the poorest and our donations ‘help’ them make the right decision, whereas we as a rich country have nothing to fear from our perhaps less eye catching wildlife. Its easier to sell a majestic lion or magnificent elephant than the elusive pine marten or humble hedgehog. I am not saying supporting world biodiversity is wrong nor that the BBC has the wrong focus, just that our ability to translate this into local action. Volunteering is increasing and membership is blossoming, but nature is still declining. We need to use this State of Nature report as a wake-up call, cull out the dry statistics and try and convert it into a call for action. Saving the rain forests is important but so are lowland wetlands in the UK. This is not an either-or situation, local and international need to work in tandem. The challenge for all conservationists is to convert this public culture of involvement and support into actual action, action at the ground level and at the governmental level. Balanced with this we need to extol the positives to avoid the negative becoming too overwhelming and promoting green fatigue.

The State of Natures is sombre reading and Seven Planets, One world is a marvel lets use both to inspire and motivate all to turn things around.

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