The natural world seems to contain a strange combination of resilience and fragility. In and around cities like Birmingham we see many species of plants, animals and birds doing well, including some at the top of the food chain such as peregrine falcons, herons and otters. Squirrels and deer too continue to increase. On the other hand we know that on a wider scale many others are declining, such as water voles, bees and farmland birds. The State of Nature report published in 2013 highlighted a worrying overall trend of declining wildlife.
The reasons for the declines are many, but include damage to habitats from our activities, such as mining, energy production and agriculture, climate change, and chemical and other pollution. The successes are also partly due to our activities - nature conservation is now a sophisticated and extensive modern industry. I suspect that the problem is that no matter how well the nature conservationists are doing the resources available to them, and the political and economic forces ranged against them, are completely out of balance.
Take the problem of neonicotinoid insecticides linked to damage to bee populations. In 2013, after intensive lobbying, the European Union agreed on some restrictions on their use. The democratic and political system seemed to have worked in this case. The result though is that Bayer and Sygenta, two of the major suppliers of the chemicals, are taking the EU to court to overturn the restrictions. What chance do hard pressed conservation bodies have to fight corporate might that can, effectively, take a whole continent to court?
Things may get worse in 2014 if the planned 'gagging bill' going through Parliament becomes law. The proposed regulations will make informing and influencing politicians much more difficult for voluntary groups, whilst the corporate world will continue to have an open door to policy and law makers. At a local and more practical level threatened reductions in parks and open spaces management will not help.
In 2014 current conservation skills, diligence and vigilance may not be enough. Nature's welfare, and ultimately our welfare, will demand that new mechanisms for its protection and enhancement must be found. I'm not sure what these may be, but another year of species' declines, political ineptitude and corporate bullying will not be welcome.