Living in modern society is so hectic that the environmental processes that underpin our very existence are often forgotten, undervalued or quite simply ignored. And if this situation continues for much longer, it will not end well for any of us.
If you switch on the news, what do you see? Stories highlighting the devastation caused by human conflict, tales of political incompetence or some load of tosh about the latest celebs to get married/divorced/etc is my guess! When was the last time you saw a feature on the hardships faced by species which are almost always as a result (direct or indirectly) of our intervention?
The 90-99% decline (since the mid-1990s) of Vulture species in India, Nepal and Pakistan has mainly been linked to the use of Diclofenac, a cheap veterinary drug used on cattle to treat inflammation, fever and pain resulting from disease or injury. And guess what? This disastrous drug became widely available across Asia in the early 1990s...coincidence? I think not.
Vultures play a key role in any ecosystem in which they are present - they are nature's bin men. Their exceptionally corrosive stomach acid allows them to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with Botulinum toxin, hog cholera and anthrax bacteria that would be lethal to other scavengers. But they are not invincible. The birds were eating the carcasses of animals that had recently been treated with Diclofenac and were then dying of kidney failure.
It has been shown that even if less that 1% of animal carcasses contained lethal levels of the drug, this would have been enough to cause the collapse of vulture numbers. Thankfully, the manufacture of the veterinary diclofenac was outlawed in India in 2006 and this was followed by bans in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Due to the swift action taken by these proactive and clued-up governments, the latest evidence shows that diclofenac levels are beginning to come down and this can only be a good thing for the vulture populations.
Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are another example of the devastating impact human action can have upon the environment when we play the hand of God and upset the natural balance.
I think that's the rant part of this blog over and done with, but I'm not promising anything.
My Vision for Nature
In an ideal world the environment would be valued so highly by everyone that there would be no need to purposefully protect it, and its importance for both our mental and physical wellbeing would be more than enough for it to be respected and revered in the greatest possible sense without fear of it being put under pressure from developers, loggers, frackers, drillers or otherwise. Unfortunately this is not the case and this needs to change. This is our only planet, and to paraphrase 'The Voice of the Beehive' "We walk the Earth, this is our home". There is no planet B.
I believe that young people are the way forwards in nature conservation and that the key to making a difference is ensuring that the environment is something they care about. Because if they don't care about it, they won't stand up for it - I mean why should they, what has nature ever done for us?! (I jest of course)...
Children have an innate sense of wonder and curiosity for all things natural, whether it's watching butterflies, digging up worms, racing snails or something else. It is this unconscious connection that we should endeavour to nurture, throughout their childhood and teenage years, in hope that this small spark ignites a life long passion for the natural world!
There are numerous ways in which kids can engage with nature but I think there are 3 main points to remember:
1. Get 'em when they're young. This is the time in their lives when the first seeds of interest are planted.
2. Don't neglect them in their teenage years. It's a tough time and they need all the help they can get. Nature can sometimes act as an outlet for feelings - i know from personal experience that going for a long walk around my local nature reserve can help relieve nerves, anger & stress!!
3. Let them get stuck in. Allow them to climb trees, fall out of trees, jump in puddles, touch nature, run through long grass, roll down a hill, build a den etc...
I would like to focus on point number 3 in particular because I feel that in modern society there is the increased thought that nature is dirty, shouldn't be touched, played with or interacted with in any way other than observing. This is wrong and exactly what washing machines were invented for!
Nature's tough. An ecosystem won't collapse if you dig up a few worms or catch a couple of crabs to hold and touch. So go do it! Please take your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to your local park, nature reserve or green space. See if there are any local events being run such as pond dipping, bug hunting, den building or orienteering.
Other events to keep an eye out for are bird ringing demonstrations. These are a fantastic way of allowing people, particularly those of a young age, to fully interact with nature because quite often the ringers will let you release a bird once it has been processed. Being given the opportunity to study a wild bird at such close quarters is second to none - and that's based on my own experiences.
After almost 3 years of training to become a qualified ringer I still feel immensely privileged and humbled each and every time I extract, ring or process a bird. This is because to me, it is not just another bird...each one is an individual and I find it absolutely mind blowing that the little Reed Warbler I'm holding that has a wing length of 64mm and weighs just 10.6g will migrate all the way to Subsaharan Africa in a ridiculously short amount of time, only to sit out the winter, moult its feathers and then migrate all the way back again next spring...simply amazing!!
Anyway, to sum up what has been a phenomenally long post (congratulations for making it this far), we need passion and emotion with regards to nature, for without that, it is doomed. Any passionate and dedicated naturalists/conservationists with a backbone want to go into politics - I'm sure it wouldn't hurt given the current situation...
Please do what you can to support and encourage any young people you know in interacting with nature because for all you know, your enthusiasm could be just the thing needed to inspire the next Charles Darwin or David Attenborough.
Many thanks for reading and I would really welcome any and all comments/suggestions/feedback on this post or about what your #VisionforNature is.
(Oh and apologies for the really long post - I felt what I've written really needed to be said!)