Saving the natural world: Why we need more conservationists
It’s been nearly three months since wildlife conservation in the UK was told ‘it wasn’t really working’. If I had a pound for every time I’ve read the depressing statistic in the State of Nature report, that ”60 per cent of Britain’s wildlife is in decline, with 32 per cent dramatically so” I’d probably have enough money to resolve all of our country’s biodiversity declines at once.
The fact is, no matter how hard we try, ancient woodlands, freshwater wetlands and hay meadows are being lost simply as a result of sheer carelessness from the people who, if they really tried, could make difference.
At home our Government doesn’t really care about nature. George Osborne sees it as a nuisance, describing ecological barriers to planning as “placing ridiculous costs on British businesses”. Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, and Richard Benyon, the Wildlife Minister, seem more concerned with preserving rural sports than the rural environment.
Globally, wildlife depletion is allowed to happen because of sheer carelessness. The carelessness of the multi-billion dollar food, cosmetics, and bio-fuel companies, unconcerned that their demand for palm oil is destroying the equivalent of 300 football fields of Indonesian rainforest an hour; the carelessness of the fishing industry, which could totally deplete the sea of fish by 2050 if it continues at current levels; the sheer carelessness of thousands of consumers in Asia, dooming animals such as rhinos, elephants and pangolins to extinction from poaching, in order to fill an insatiable demand for dubious and untested ‘medical’ cures.
We are not just destroying rainforests or driving polar bears to extinction – we are draining the Earth’s resources at an irrecoverable rate. Natural processes are altering at a speed never seen before. Our collective finger is on our own self-destruct button and we are dragging the rest of the natural world with us – and very few governments, very few corporations, very few governments seem to care.
It’s easy to see why. In our urbanised society, the natural world is alien. Technology, not trees, are idolised and the way things are going, every new generation will be less interested in saving ecosystems, especially when the great unknown that is the natural world defies their button-pushing lifestyle.
But can we stem this apathy towards nature? If we are to do so, we will need all the dedicated people working in the conservation field today to step into the mainstream public eye and become very visible, very vocal champions for nature. It has happened before: the late 20th century saw the great conservation movement, and the likes of Sir Peter Scott, David Attenborough, Gerald Durrell, Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau ensuring their work to save species and ecosystems was firmly in the public eye.
They inspired so many who continue their work today. Yet ask a person in the street to name famous naturalists and they are unlikely to think of anyone other than Attenborough. He is 87. We need others to reach across the globe with the same force.
If we are to develop a society sympathetic to nature, where progress works sustainably alongside nature rather than depletes it, we need more than just one voice – we need a whole new movement in a similar vein to that of Attenborough, Scott, Durrell et al – but so much bigger than before. In the same way that anyone can name a variety of different actors and musicians who have shaped our artistic culture, so we need conservationists – lots of them – to become household names.
It could be done – nature can leave the public awestruck when it is presented in a powerful way. Just look at the response to programmes like Attenborough’s Planet Earth and Frozen Planet. If that is what one man can do, imagine a whole movement of conservationists in the public eye. Not everyone can become a naturalist, but we need to inspire more of them among our current ‘nature-deficient’ youth.
With conservationists becoming celebrities, governments would be under more pressure to change and we would all have an enhanced appreciation of nature and a much better understanding of how important it is for our survival.
A hugely ambitious dream? Certainly. An unlikely one? Possibly. But without the dream, nature hasn’t got much of a chance. Sengalese conservationist Baba Dioum said something way back in 1968 which I think illustrates perfectly why we need so many more Attenboroughs within our culture: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
So to all those working in conservation, or planning or going along that path in the future: make your voice heard, and make it heard by everyone.Tagged in: conservation, David Attenborough, Gerald Durrell, Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, nature, Sir Peter Scott
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