Here’s a shocking figure: In the last seventy years, the population of British hedgehogs has declined by 96.6 percent. Think about that for a minute.
That’s an almost ‘extinction level’ reduction in numbers.
Just last month the State of Nature report reinforced what those of us who work at the sharp end of conservation in the UK have long known. British wildlife is in a parlous state and, while not yet in terminal decline, is reaching a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to reverse the damage already done.
The report concluded that more than one in 10 of the 4,000 British species surveyed face extinction in the wild in the UK. Embarrassingly for a ‘green and pleasant land’ the UK was revealed to be among the most “nature-depleted countries in the world”. We lag behind most of our European neighbours where it comes to looking after our natural environment. 56 percent of
the species monitored over the last 46 years have declines. This is where we are as a nation of animal lovers; we are standing on the cusp of a national disaster. The finger is pointing at several culprits. Modern farming practices, which rely on damaging pesticides and insecticides and favour monoculture over diversity, have created bio deserts. Climate change is sending the natural patterns, which govern wildlife, haywire. There’s no denying that weather patterns are changing. This year, particularly, I’ve noticed some of the impacts of our longer, warmer summer. Animals are having more young, which means rescue centres such as ours stay busier for longer. While this might sound like good news for wildlife numbers, it means that the late born young have much more of a struggle to survive and resources are fewer. Many end up in centres like WAF. This year’s orphan season was one of our most demanding yet and we almost reached a point where all our pens and cages were full. Wildlife is held in a delicate balance and if the balance is upset, things start to go awry. They already are.
One of the most important aspects of the State of Nature report and the headlines it generated was that, for a time, it diverted headlines away
from conservation messages around the bigger, more high profile endangered species and reminded people that smaller, lesser known species, such as the large blue butterfly and the short haired bumble bee, are also in peril. This is important because the natural world exists in a complex, holistic web of interlocking systems and when the ones at the bottom get knocked out of kilter, everything above suffers. I still remember my first science lesson in secondary school; it was an explanation of how the food chain works and how everything at the top relies on everything at the bottom. The subtext was clear; ignore the small stuff at your peril.
It’s long been my concern that if the chain breaks then everything will topple, including mankind. It is so easy to get excited about the big iconic species, such as elephants and lions, and forget that they all rely on an intact food chain. So, all species, right down to the invertebrates, are equally as important.
Over the past decade we have seen a gradual erosion of polices and measures designed to protect the planet and reverse some of the damage man has done to the environment. The climate change agreement made in Paris in December 2015 was commendable, but there is still far to go. Sadly, the clock is now ticking ever louder and time is running out. The planet is saying enough is enough and you can find the evidence at all levels; local as well as global. Which is why people who care about the planet, wildlife, the robustness of the food chain and climate change need to make their voices heard and need to take action, no matter how small. The Wildlife Aid Foundation has launched an awareness campaign and action plan… ‘iDot’ (I Do One Thing) is a call to arms for everyone who cares about the world. It is a very simple message. If we all do one thing a day to help wildlife and the natural world around us, our combined efforts will add up to something huge.
If we lose the planet, we lose the very basis of our existence and nothing else will matter. There is no plan B and, indeed, no planet B. Now is the time to act positively and to start reversing the damage.