This is my 200 column and I am grateful to the Post for giving nature conservation this platform for the last eight years. I hope that you have enjoyed my commentary on wildlife and its politics. What has happened in those eight years?
The picture is mixed: progress and local successes here and there mask a continuing and worrying decline in the variety and abundance of plants, animals and birds, a reduction in the extent of wild places, and increasing political marginalisation of nature. In Britain for example red kites, polecats and some butterflies have increased their numbers and ranges, but farmland birds, pollinating insects and hedgehogs have suffered declines. We also have what was proclaimed as ‘the greenest Government ever’ turning out to be anything but, and atmospheric carbon reaching 400ppm last year.
The relationship of people to wildlife though seems to be improving. Thanks to new technology citizen science projects are catching the imagination of more and more people. You can record, amongst other things, moths, earthworms, hedgehogs, the timing of seasonal events and the birds in your garden. (The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is the biggest such project in the world). ‘National weeks’ abound, this week for example is National Dragonfly Week.
Politically the news is not so good. There has been some new protective legislation, but resistance from other interests means fighting over every line. In any case new laws are only a start: without adequate enforcement and sanctions to ensure compliance nothing is protected. Things are not helped by constant spending and personnel cuts affecting regulatory bodies like Natural England and the Environment Agency or, more locally, the management of parks and open spaces.
Here in Birmingham and the Black Country we do have one of only 12 Nature Improvement Areas (and the only urban one) funded by the Government. A partnership led by the Wildlife Trust is doing sterling work helping local communities to understand and enjoy the nature on their doorstep. The problem is that the money funding the Areas is much less than that cut from other nature conservation activities.
So, some good things are happening, but the overall trend for wildlife is poor. As we depend on the natural world for our health and wellbeing we should be concerned.