The TV pre­sen­ter calls for ac­tion on loss of species


BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - CHRIS PACK­HAM is a con­ser­va­tion­ist and pre­sen­ter. Read a re­view of Mark Avery’s new book In­glo­ri­ous: Con­flict in the Uplands on p106.

Does it de­press you that the new UK gov­ern­ment felt the ur­gent need – just weeks af­ter the Gen­eral Elec­tion – to slash sup­port for clean on­shore en­ergy and try to wa­ter down the fox-hunt­ing ban in Eng­land and Wales? Our gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally seems proud to flaunt its warped view of na­ture and its ap­palling com­pla­cency about the en­vi­ron­ment crises fac­ing us.

At times like this, I can’t help won­der­ing: what will it take? What catas­tro­phe will fi­nally nudge us over the edge? What tragedy will wake us all from our lethargy and shake us into ac­tion? What will be the dire news that at last com­pels each of us to say, “Enough is enough – it stops here”?

Will it be the last male cuckoo, heard in a lonely grove and then chased by twitch­ers un­til it falls silent and fades away? Might it be the fi­nal trill of a lark drain­ing from a va­cant sky, or a glimpse of an en­dan­gered hedge­hog in some se­cret spot?

Per­haps it will be some­thing that harms us – neon­i­coti­noids in the or­gans of un­born chil­dren, drink­ing wa­ter for­ever con­tam­i­nated by frack­ing, or a home­grown nu­clear dis­as­ter – a Ch­er­nobyl in Suf­folk, a Fukushima in Som­er­set. It could be dead fields, de­void of crops be­cause of dev­as­tated soil, or a flooded cap­i­tal city…

…but let’s hope not. Let’s hope that some smaller dis­as­ter pre-empts such apoc­a­lyp­tic hor­rors and alerts us to the grave sit­u­a­tion we’re in. Sadly I can’t see any ur­gency in our gov­ern­ment (oth­ers in Europe aren’t any bet­ter).

How many politi­cians who bick­ered through this spring’s Gen­eral Elec­tion did you hear men­tion the en­vi­ron­ment? I wanted to make an in­formed de­ci­sion with my vote. But no one made clear that they ap­pre­ci­ated the crit­i­cal need to im­ple­ment so­lu­tions that would be­gin to se­cure a sus­tain­able fu­ture for our species – and all the oth­ers on which we rely.

I fear history will scowl at their ne­glect and fol­lies. I worry that your grand­chil­dren will la­ment this short-term stu­pid­ity, when read­ing about ex­tinct things that once an­nounced spring with song and flut­ter­ing flights, and with scents, colours and dis­plays that stirred hu­man hearts.

So: what will it take? Why isn’t it enough to know that since 1970 we have lost 44 mil­lion birds from our coun­try­side? (This sad statis­tic is from the re­port The State of the UK’s Birds 2012, but things have got a whole lot worse since then.)

Forty-four mil­lion. Lost since we landed on the Moon and Gor­don Banks pulled off “that save”, since I crept into a holly hedge, found my first dun­nock’s nest and crouched in awe of those eggs, of a won­drous blue hue that lit a star in me for birds.

Forty-four mil­lion. Can you con­ceive of that many birds van­ished? I try – I pic­ture fields smoth­ered in ghostly plovers, hedgerows bow­ing un­der the weight of tonnes of zom­bie finches, thrushes, spar­rows, wag­tails and buntings… a sky choked with the wraiths of fall­ing doves, waders, swal­lows and martins. Then I think of stand­ing in Lan­cashire’s For­est of Bow­land, its heather bruised by the iron sky, rain ham­mer­ing down on its hellish empti­ness. And I pic­ture the ghosts of hen har­ri­ers.

For still the loss goes on. This spring, five of the last hen har­ri­ers breed­ing in Eng­land mys­te­ri­ously ‘dis­ap­peared’. We could up­date the death toll to forty-four mil­lion and five – but will that be enough?

On Satur­day 8 Au­gust, Bri­tain’s sec­ond na­tional Hen Har­rier Day will have united thou­sands to demon­strate peace­fully that the crim­i­nal de­struc­tion of a rap­tor is un­ac­cept­able. That, yes, they have reached the crit­i­cal point of “enough is enough”. That, for them, it’s time to say “no” and they sim­ply won’t tol­er­ate any more loss.

What will it take for you?


Chris joins Mark Avery and fel­low supporters at Hen Har­rier Day 2014.

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