The importance of recent reports detailing the loss of species to our planet is often assumed to involve areas where man’s destructive hand has been most evident. Whilst cliched locations like the Aral Sea and Amazon rainforest undoubtedly represent human intervention at its most egregious the loss of indigenous species is evident all around, in effect acting as local indicators to the drama unfolding on a global stage. Far from being an issue occurring somewhere else the implications of CO2 emissions and Climate Change are now being felt not only in areas responsible for the majority of pollution, but also where the actions of others are having a detrimental knock on effect.
In a society driven by wealth, status, and ego it is just as much a struggle to win the hearts and minds of those not primarily responsible for the destruction of our planet to alter their lifestyles, even in seemingly subtle ways, for the greater good, as those of the perpetrators. Attitudes range from specious to genuine ignorance, to the downright ‘it is not my fault; why therefore should I be part of the solution?’ objectors. Then of course there are the ‘deniers’, those who will not or cannot comprehend that the worst thing that happened to God’s creation was unrepentant mankind and its thoughtless ways.
If the will to confront a looming global catastrophe is lacking within both local and national government then the best intentions of the population will soon be lost. The exponential need for recycling, litter collection, and tree planting has coincided with dramatic, untenable cutbacks precipitated by the government’s attempts to dress up its desire to shrink the state as austerity. The expectation that communities will pick up the slack is unrealistic; if an average resident’s Council Tax bill shows an annual increase for far less in return from the local authority, collective wisdom will naturally rebel against in effect paying someone else to do the work yourself. As easy targets environmental departments have inevitably borne the brunt of the slashing of millions from council budgets, at a time when far greater attention needs to be given to recycling the many reclaimable items still sent to landfill. Despite the now almost fashionable cause of recycling plastic and expunging many of its one-time-only uses there are still few options for households to easily dispose of plastic bags and food wrappers in a sustainable manner. An absence of kerbside collections places the onus upon larger supermarkets, such as Asda, to offer plastic recycling although it is with no little irony that many of the Walmart-owned grocer’s products are contained or wrapped in plastic declared “not yet recyclable”.
I have though been struck in the last few months by local ecological changes compared to not only the last few decades but recent year on year comparisons, the latter highlighting an acceleration of the environment being negatively refashioned that wasn’t as evident through relatively subtle adjustments over several previous decennary. In my own humble corner of England, once predominantly rural, now at best semi-rural, the greedy, selfish zeitgeist encouraged by a near decade of Conservative Party misrule is alive and well, resulting in prime agricultural land and arboriculture being replaced by unrelieved, ugly housing and a general antipathy to an environment now seen as a hindrance to the ambitions of those who only have eyes for money. Notwithstanding the actions of those on a local level, in reality a mere microcosm of our entire once green and pleasant land, drastic changes have been witnessed in the behaviour but more especially the absence of several native species, several of which I detail below:
Swifts. An enigmatic migrant species that spends almost its entire life on the wing, the swift will often be confused with the instantly recognizable swallow. Relying on suitable nesting sites, assuming it safely negotiates the myriad perils of migrating from Sub-Saharan Africa, this mysterious visitor is being squeezed out by unsympathetic new builds and the current obsession of changing the use of barns into dwellings. Never a prolific visitor to my locale, but to this point of late springtime I have only seen one.
Hedgehogs. Essentially a nocturnal species the precipitous decline of the much-loved mammal is not a current phenomenon; espying hedgehogs during the day is never a good sign, indicating a lack of food often precipitated by drought conditions(more on this later) but usually as the most common roadkill victim on Britain’s roads. Aside from an odd example of their garden calling cards there has this year barely been a squashed hedgehog on my local roads. Whilst this of course equates to fewer victims it also suggests that there are far less hedgehogs around than ever, and not that they are becoming more road-savvy.
Butterflies. An exceptional warm period during the latter part of February awoke many insects from their hibernation slumbers long before they would be expected to take to the wing. The high temperatures inevitably ended, replaced by an exceptionally wet March and late frosts. Three months on I cannot recall seeing so few butterflies at any stage in my adult life.
Pollinators. To aid the plight of the bee, more vital to our existence than most will ever realize, instead of meeting their end in the lawnmower’s rotors I left on my lawn several beds of daisies to prosper, in the hope of encouraging bees and hoverflies of all stripes. For what was during last year’s drought a popular outlet there have been few, if any visitors this time around. Only later in the year when my apple crop has been assessed against the bumper harvest of 2018 can an accurate appraisal be(e) concluded. At this early stage it would though seem that unseasonable high temperatures in February followed by a devastating oscillation to cold and wet conditions, after what was a mild winter, has caused much harm to local pollinators.
Rainwater. The summer of 2018 was one of the hardest for farmers, gardeners, and wildlife that I can recall. Long periods without measurable rainfall coupled with extremely high temperatures parched the land, destroyed crops, and made our rapidly-being-urbanized land a hostile environment for thirsty birds and mammals. The following winter was damp but not exceptionally wet, continuing the recent trend in he UK of rain arriving in binges, and not consistently throughout the year. The hackneyed image of England being a grey, wet place is surely now a non sequitur. After an extremely wet March the following months have produced only sporadic, localized rainfall resulting in crop planting being delayed, and a lack of available water for nesting(and non-nesting) birds and mammals. With a nightmarish prospect of a dry June becoming reality, this catastrophe for both man and the environment is a shared reality. Even so, the population at large continue to exercise an opinion that they pay their water bills, and as such can use as much as they please in any manner of their choosing. Therefore, as the reservoirs run dry expect people to continue power-washing their driveways, filling inflatable pools, and taking vehicles to car washes. A counterargument will always posit that companies such as United Utilities waste more water through slow reactions to bursts than do the population, but the fact remains water is a finite resource and has to come from somewhere – predominantly the sky. Even in our age of selfishness it should not be lost on the public that if rain isn’t forthcoming, appropriate restrictions will, and should, be placed upon non-essential usage of our most precious natural resource.
It can be disheartening for those fired with a desire to make positive changes to our world, even if those are only made on a local basis. One person cannot effectuate a reversal of our many climatic and social ills, but exuding enthusiasm can spark off others to look at their own lifestyles. We are undoubtedly mired in an age where wider, not individual, problems are often viewed as the responsibility of an unnamed ‘someone else’, with a ‘I didn’t cause it; why should I solve it’ mentality again abdicating responsibility for our shared planet and embedding negative traits within our children. Capture rainwater, buy local produce, collect, bag up, and stockpile ‘kitchen’ plastic until you have sourced a local recycler, plant pollinator-friendly flowers, leave an area in gardens to ‘grow wild’ and put food and water out for birds, hedgehogs, and foxes. None of the above requires much in the way of effort or money but can positively affect your own corner of the world. Whilst the far-reaching environmental changes can only be made by governments and big business, we can do our bit for the planet; without though a firm commitment from those we elect and buy services there will never be a worldwide uprising against the stark issues faced by us all, wherever on earth we live.