Teme Valley Musings, December 2020

by Stephanie Mocroft

It is customary to review the year in a December article, but what a year we’ve had. No-one could have predicted the events of 2020 – tragedy for so many and disruption to daily life for everyone. As far as wildlife is concerned, two unmistakeable facts have emerged. First, wildlife prospers in the peace and tranquillity of human absence and second, humans need the presence of the natural world to cope with distress. That they are mutually exclusive creates a huge conundrum.

The first sights and sounds of a wildlife response to fewer people, less traffic and more silence were pictures of hedge-munching goats in Llandudno and reports of birdsong suddenly assailing the ears of city-dwellers. There then followed a steady stream of positive wildlife stories. Lions in Africa were photographed lounging on empty national park roads, fragile coral reefs along Thailand’s deserted beaches were noted to be rebounding with life and health and seahorse numbers in waters off the south coast of England jumped unexpectedly.But this wasn’t all, breeding success was reportedly greater than usual both for large mammals, in Africa for chimpanzees, gorillas and elephants (lots of twins) and for large endangered birds, here in Britain for the hen harrier. It is the larger creatures which tend to be more critically endangered, so this was very encouraging news for wildlife conservationists.

On the human side of the equation many people reported their pleasure at watching wildlife in their gardens (an asset valued more than ever before) and then in parks and open spaces once restrictions were lifted. Outdoor exercise and communing with nature gained a new national importance. But going forward, how do we reconcile our needs with the needs of our fellow planet-dwellers?

I pondered whether the various wildlife organisations which act as guardians for Britain’snatural habitats should consider excluding visitors from each of their reserves for a year at a time, on a rolling basis, to allow reserve residents to recover from the attentions of their human admirers. Many of us are members of such organisations and I for one would not mind being denied access to a particular reserve if it were to benefit the creatures living there. Should we call for this?

Whilst thinking about this article I came across a recent appeal from one of Britain’s foremost Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Sir Paul Nurse, which seemed totally apt and which I’d like to share.

“All the living organisms we know are all related and clearly interacting. As far as we know, we humans are the only life forms who can see this deep connectivity and reflect on what it all means. That gives us a special responsibility for life on this planet, made up as it is by our relatives, some close, some more distant. We need to care about it and we need to care for it.”

Happy Christmas!