Mark Car­war­dine

The broad­caster and cam­paigner airs his views on the UK’s bio­di­ver­sity sta­tus com­pared to other coun­tries, and in­vites your thoughts on the sub­ject.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - MY WAY OF THINK­ING MARK CAR­WAR­DINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist. WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifelet­[email protected]­me­di­

Find out how the UK’s bio­di­ver­sity stacks up against other coun­tries

W e are in cri­sis. That’s a com­ment I hear in­creas­ingly of­ten from friends and col­leagues work­ing in con­ser­va­tion. The en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment is gripped by a sense of doom like never be­fore. Be­cause, quite clearly, we are fail­ing. We are los­ing many more species and wild places than we are sav­ing.

Don’t get me wrong. No one – at least no one I know – is about to hang up their con­ser­va­tion hat just yet (even though it is quite dif­fi­cult not to be over­whelmed by a sense of grief, loss and fail­ure when your days are filled with bat­tles and bad news). But we all agree that 21st-cen­tury con­ser­va­tion has to change. If we are go­ing to turn this sorry state of af­fairs around, we need to rein­vent our­selves. We need to change tack, think out­side the box, up the ante… any­thing but do more of the same.

You’d ex­pect a coun­try like the UK, with the fifth big­gest econ­omy in the world, to be ca­pa­ble of look­ing af­ter its wildlife bet­ter than most. Wrong. The UK’s Bio­di­ver­sity In­tact­ness In­dex, which es­ti­mates the aver­age abun­dance of orig­i­nally present species, is the 29th low­est out of 218 coun­tries. In other words, we are of­fi­cially one of the most na­ture­de­pleted coun­tries in the world. How de­press­ing is that? More than one in seven of our an­i­mal and plant species are al­ready ex­tinct or threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion, and more than half are in de­cline. Yet this is de­spite hav­ing one of the old­est and largest en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ments in the world.

So what’s to be done? Top of my list is govern­ment sup­port. With­out it, we can have as many fund-rais­ing cof­fee morn­ings, re­lease as many wa­ter voles or put up as many nest­boxes as we like but we will still lose in the end. I’m not sug­gest­ing in any way that we stop all these other con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. Just that more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly govern­ment poli­cies on ev­ery­thing from scal­lop-dredg­ing and in­ten­sive farm­ing to log­ging and frack­ing is what will turn things around.

There are 650 MPs in the House of Com­mons. In a sea of econ­o­mists, fi­nanciers, lawyers and ca­reer politi­cians, no more than a cou­ple of dozen have a science back­ground. This spec­tac­u­lar lack of sci­en­tific ex­per­tise is largely why facts and ev­i­dence are cherry-picked, ig­nored or twisted for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, and con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment is dis­missed as tree­hug­ging hip­pie non­sense. Politi­cians some­times talk the talk but few have the knowl­edge, in­sight or com­mon sense to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion. And they cer­tainly don’t have a clue about how many peo­ple – po­ten­tial vot­ers – care pas­sion­ately about it.

This is where I and a group of like-minded friends and col­leagues come in. We have be­come po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists. I don’t mean we’ve started wear­ing bal­a­clavas and chain­ing our­selves to dig­gers. I mean we write to MPs. It sounds bor­ing and clichéd, but it is one of the best things we can do for con­ser­va­tion. And we don’t just write once. We write time and again. We write about any­thing and ev­ery­thing, from badger culling and the per­se­cu­tion of hen har­ri­ers to HS2 and se­vere bud­get cuts for govern­ment de­part­ments and agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for the en­vi­ron­ment. And point out if a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal party has a bet­ter pol­icy.

There are a lot of peo­ple like us. Nearly 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple – or 1 in 10 UK adults – are now mem­bers or sup­port­ers of one con­ser­va­tion group or an­other. The RSPB alone has 1.2 mil­lion mem­bers. I be­lieve we need to start throw­ing our weight around if we are to have any chance of sav­ing what’s left in this im­pov­er­ished coun­try.

We need to change tack, think out­side the box, up the ante… any­thing but do more of the same.

The nat­ter­jack toad is one of many species threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion in the UK.

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