Declining Wildlife and Christmas: a tenuous connection


The conservation world is beginning to wake up to the fact that wildlife is in a much worse state than the majority of people realise.

For many years I have been blogging and writing about not only the loss of species, the loss of biodiversity, but also the loss of quantity of wildlife. I have been watching wildlife in the UK for over 50 years, and travelling for over 40 years, and everywhere I go I see tremendous declines. And my base line is almost certainly a depopulated one in the first place.  When I first visited the Mediterranean in the early 1960s, most street lights were surrounded by clouds of insects at night, and often a toad would be sat at the base gobbling up the fallen bugs, with a gecko or two running up and down snapping at the moths and flies.  Mozzies were annoyingly common. But now, visit a  Greek coastal resort and it is pretty sterile. In the 1940s and 1950s of my childhood, houses in London normally had net curtains, not for privacy, but to keep flies out during the day and moths out at night. You are now hard pushed to see a fly in London let alone a moth. A walk in the fields of suburban London in spring would guarantee seeing nesting lapwings – despite the fact their  abundance had already plummeted, due the massive trade in ‘plover eggs’ during Victorian times which was eventually slowed down, but not halted in the 1920s when closed seasons were introduced ( Even the 1954 Protection of Birds Act allowed for lapwing eggs to be taken up to the 15th  April. I can only imagine the scale of lapwing flocks in the early 19th century And that is just one species that have shown massive declines in the last couple of decades . The BTO Breeding Bird Survey has shown that since the 1990s (when arguably virtually all the species recorded were already massively reduced in numbers, there have been even more rapid declines :

Turtle Dove -80%
Willow Tit -79%
Wood Warbler -65%
Whinchat -57%
Grey Partridge -55%
Nightingale -52%
Yellow Wagtail -50%
Pied Flycatcher -50%
Spotted Flycatcher -50%
Starling -50%

Bird declines are more readily noticed than most other species, but the picture is complicated by the fact that a few species have increased – and those species are often large and charismatic: Avocet, osprey, marsh harrier red kite are among them. But we should not be fooled. The underlying trend for all species of wildlife, from ants, to fish, from frogs to finches, is a massive and, at present, irreversible decline. It is only reversible if there are huge structural changes in how the landscape is farmed, all over the world. And that is not going to happen. It is only going to change if there is not only universal recognition of the damage that greenhouse gases are causing to climate, but also serious actions take to reverse it. And that is not going to happen. It will only change when the massive quantities of refuse and waste are stopped being dumped in rivers and seas, and when over fishing is halted. And that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future either. There is one thing that could happen in the foreseeable future, and that is a catastrophic event that wipes out a large part of the human, and human related biomass.  This is not predictable, but it is possible. As I write, a volcano (Agung) is erupting in Bali, and for weeks gone by Trump has been blustering about annihilating North Korea. Neither good for humans, but both possible saviour of wildlife, in a world where humans have already been largely replaced by robots of one form or another and overpopulation of one species and its dependents, is already demonstrably unsustainable.

And what has all this to do with Christmas you might well ask?  Christmas is not only a period of mind-boggling triumph of belief over reason, but also of a massive waste of resources, when a large part of the consumerist world, consumes even more and wastes even more. Something else I don’t see changing in my lifetime. Christmas waste, to me, epitomises the problems of the world, and the impacts we have on the natural world.


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