For Nature’s sake, stop arguing
Kind-hearted volunteers count barn owls and relocate water voles, gardeners grow buddleja for butterflies and slope pond sides so hedgehogs can drink safely; others are paid to research insect health, protect groundnesting birds from predators, sow cover crops, create reserves and lobby politicians. artists, MPS, writers, celebrities and bloggers can all do good things, too—nature conservation is performed under many guises, often unsung (Voices for Nature, page 46).
all are pursuing a common good, yet too often become bitterly divided en route; prejudice seems insurmountable and social media is vicious and quick to judge. What they more or less agree on, however, is that conservation success is hard fought—it tends to come, chiefly, through small, often one-man, regional, single-species projects—and that bad news is relentless.
this month, a new writer brings a startlingly upbeat perspective. Chris thomas, an academic, acknowledges in his book, Inheritors of the World, that there are more species losers than winners, but he presents the case that change is inevitable, that nature adapts to change and that much of it— the wildflowers, birds and insects on a field margin, even one with a factory on the horizon—is present because of, not in spite of, human activity.
Prof thomas’s views will not please everyone, notably his suggestion that we should embrace joyfully the Chinese mitten crab and the parakeet—he points out that even the house sparrow, a relatively modern species in evolutionary terms, was once an alien— but he’s a pragmatist: today’s pasture may have been, in ages past, a glacier, then a sand dune, a forest and then ploughed field. ‘We shouldn’t have a romanticised view of nature as it is now or as it was some recent time in the past,’ he says. ‘We should accept that species will survive where they can, regardless of where they historically used to be.’
it’ll be something to think about at this weekend’s Game Fair (Town & Country, page 20), when diverse strands of the conservation world collide, the RSPB and Wildlife trusts sharing space with Gamekeepers’ row and the Countryside alliance. the atmosphere is traditionally respectful and, annually, offers hope of constructive dialogue and common ground.
it’s an opportunity for hunters, fishermen and farmers to show what they do for copse, hedgerow, field and river and especially for some shooters and landowners to prove that they’re serious about ending the hen-harrier conflict. and it’s a chance for the vociferous environmental twitterers to grasp the fact that many people who live and work in the countryside know what they’re doing.
‘We shouldn’t have a romanticised view of Nature as it is now or as it was in the past ’