What is happening to our hedgehogs?

What is happening to our hedgehogs?

Fortunately hedgehogs continue to visit my own garden… difficult to estimate as I have not perhaps been there as much after dark compared to last year, but certainly a presence. A decline from 36 million odd to 1 million odd seems enormous…testimony to the often nearly hidden declines of wildlife populations that proceed apace in our supposedly more environmentally conscious age.

James Common

It has been over a year since a hedgehog last visited my garden, and longer still since my last chance encounter in the rural surroundings of my hometown. Sadly, it seems that for me at least, the days of hungry hogs sharing supper on the patio or gobbling up slugs on the lawn, have well and truly passed. The glaring decline of hedgehogs here, in my own suburban garden, mirroring a woeful trend observed nationwide. As this much-loved, familiar and endearing species teeters on the brink of extinction in all corners of Britain.


The decline of hedgehogs in British gardens was recently confirmed by a survey conducted by the RSPB. Here, 139,000 properties were surveyed across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, revealing that one quarter of gardens (some 34,000 or so) recorded no sightings of hedgehogs throughout the entire year. With this figure rising to thirty-percent in Scotland…

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10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

I have posted before about #OceanOptimism. This post is an interesting summary (in handy listicle format) of some learnings from the movement and the wider conservation optimism philosophy. This is an ethic which is far from being blandly reassuring about very wicked problems but is also not falsely wallowing in a rather ostentatious virtue-signalling misery.

A View To Sea

  1. ‘Conservation optimism is about planning for the future, not just holding the line’ – Elizabeth Bennett. Conservation optimists are focused on making positive change and taking real steps forward for recovery, turning passion into practice.
  1. It’s a powerful movement that’s growing fast, thanks to the drive of hundreds of motivated and inspirational conservationists.
  1. We need to widen who can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. As Heather Koldewey spoke about at the Summit, anyone can be a conservationist. You don’t have to have a science degree – this is for anyone from any discipline, with concern for our environment and the drive to work to protect it for future generations. No lab coat required.
  1. The passion showed by young people is the engine of the movement. School children’s voices have been seen to have strong weight in political decision-making, and the skills and optimism shown by young conservation professionals entering the field…

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“Of swallows, hares and horrors” – Simon Barnes on nature in the Age of Terror

Original here:

Wild June moves into Day 5 and I’m spoiled for choice again. Shall I write about the swallows above the meadow? Or the hare in the garden? We saw each other at the same time and we both froze, holding a 15 yard stand-off for a full minute. Or perhaps I’ll turn to the butterflies that –

Tell me: is it wicked to enjoy such things in a time of devastation, after the horrors of Manchester have been followed by the horrors of London Bridge? Of if not wicked, is it not infinitely trivial, lacking in all seriousness, to bother with nature at times of random urban murder?

I did a piece for The World at One the other day, on the drastic decline of lesser sported woodpeckers. They put it on right at the end, cheerily describing it as “light relief”. I was a little surprised that extinction is now light relief, but I said nothing; I was glad to say something I thought worth saying on a damn good programme.

All the same, I really don’t think that the future of the planet is light relief. And I don’t think that it’s trivial to discuss that subject, even when we’re preoccupied with more immediate horrors. The environment is something that we all have to live in: our health, our happiness and our future are tied up in it, and so are those of our great-grandchildren.

The environment doesn’t become irrelevant, no matter how disturbing recent events have been. Swallows are useful indicators of the health and long-term viability of the planet we live on, being good monitors of pollution. The future of swallows is inextricably linked with our own. Swallows mattered before the events of the weekend, they matter today and they’ll matter even more tomorrow.

And then there’s the matter of consolation. Nature, the wild world, the non-human world, greenness, birdsong, running water, wildness and wilderness and weeds under swallow-filled skies: these things make life better, not just for bird-spotters but for everyone. They’re part of good times. But just as important — perhaps even more important – nature can also make life less bad.

Nature helps us to endure the terrible things in life just a little more easily. Nature makes life better on our good days; nature stops life being worse on our bad days.

Nature is not a pat solution to horror, grief, loss, terror and hopelessness. But we need nature to make us happy, we need nature to keep us safe and we need nature to console us. We need nature because life is wonderful and we need nature because life is terrible.

We need nature.

Maren Meinhardt on an urban tree

From the TLS, June 2nd:

Outside my window, there is a tree. Even without it, the view is not at all unpleasant: a row of Victorian houses, cars, a skew-whiff estate agent’s sign, a lamp post. But it is the tree that transforms the scene into something more than just an accumulation of things. The movement, the colour, the presence of something living – together, they create harmony, and beauty. The occasional bird flies from the tree’s branches, leaves move gently in the wind, and the eye is naturally drawn to it. The scene calls to mind, for me, the way Humboldt talks about plants. There is “dead, motionless rock”, and then “the animate plant cover, which puts, as it were, gentle flesh on the skeleton”.

I am writing all this because the tree is scheduled for removal. “Removal” has a calming, sensible ring to it – prompting an image of a tree being gently lifted from its plot and, perhaps, reinserted somewhere else. The reality, of course, is quite different: it will involve tree surgeons – who, not entirely pursuing the vision of the medical practitioners implied in their name – will spend the best part of a day sitting in the tree with chainsaws, cutting it down branch by branch.

I know this, and can picture the result, as this is exactly what has taken place in the street next to mine. I don’t know what the reasons were for cutting down the tree in that case, but I think it’s safe to say that the effect is not desirable, or pleasing.

In the case of the tree on my road, a sign tied around its trunk with council tape informs residents that the tree has been “implicated in damage to an adjacent property”. It seems a rather vague, and at the same time damning, accusation. “Works”, therefore, the sign goes on, will “commence shortly”.

….

And seen like this, trees, particularly mature ones, probably are quite an irresponsible proposition: there they stand, making houses harder to insure, causing cost by needing to be pruned, and dropping sticky leaves on to people’s cars. But it’s hard not to feel that to view them like that is to miss the point. Not only because, in a world of climate change and air pollution in our cities, it would be absurd to say that a tree causes greater damage than, say, a car. But also because we must ask ourselves where all this is going, and how we want to live.  Do we want the bits of nature that surround us subdued and manageable, in the form of those little “architect trees”, the ones Ian Jack wrote about so eloquently in the Guardian last month, pointing out that they “represent the new orthodoxy in planting: small trees for the short term, easily replaced”?

More info on the tree (and the campaign to save it!) here

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

20170605_095717-1The Glamour of the West seems to be part of a series by D L Kelleher, following on from The Glamour of Dublin and The Glamour of Cork. Kelleher is an obscure figure now. Here is his bio from The Concise Oxford Companion to Irish Literature:

Kelleher, D[aniel] L[aurence] (1883–1958),

playwright and man of letters. Born in Cork and educated at UCC, he was associated in his early career with the group of dramatists known as the ‘Cork Realists’ [see Abbey Theatre]. Stephen Grey (1910) was produced at the Abbey in 1910, and thereafter he wrote A Contrary Election (1910). His travel sketches reflect his varied career, and include Paris, Its Glamour and Life (1914), Lake Geneva (1914), The Glamour of Dublin (1918, as ‘D. L. Kay’), The Glamour of Cork (1919), Round Italy (1923), and Great Days with O’Connell (1929). His poetry includes Cork’s Own Town (1920), Poems Twelve a Penny (1911) and Twelve Poems (1923).

The Glamour of the West doesn’t even make this concise list. It is a collection of very brief sketches, the longest a couple of pages. The subtitle, “Bantry Bay to Lough Foyle”, gives a sense of the geographic range, although at times Kelleher veers quite far east (to Anthony Trollope in Banagher and Maria Edgesworth in Edgesworthstown).

20170605_095726I quite liked the Talbot Press symbol (“logo” seems a bit anachronistic) Talbot Press seems to have gone the way of all flesh:

 

Kelleher’s tone is set from the outset, in a “Prelude”:

“The West’s Awake!” – Awake to what? To its own infinitely small knowledge of itself? That  is as much as one can say in answer.

He ends the Prelude thus:

So, in 1928, this brief book of resentment and hope, coloured with a little love, takes up a few of the threads, and as tenderly, cynically, or dispassionately as may be, for a moment resumes an old story.

Kelleher references “cynicism” quite a bit throughout. The tone of the book is often bantering, scathing  – but in a somewhat indirect way. It put in my mind of a fictional character, Sarah Devlin from J G Farrell’s wonderful novel Troubles  There is a sort of habit of mind that could no doubt be called post colonial in a later age; mindful of the the atrocities but also the slights inflicted on the Irish nation over the years, and complaining of these in a what could be called a passive aggressive tone. Perhaps most suggestively, there is little on the events of the prior decade which led to Irish independence (in part).

Some extracts may demonstrate this comparison – the reader can judge if it is apt or not.

“The 1847 Famine In Mayo” is perhaps a little more emotionally direct than other pieces. It begins with a consideration I have wondered about myself

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

“Long duresse” is in the original. I did wonder originally was it a reference to the longue durée  concept of historians of the French Annales School, but this was many years before. “Duresse” must be related to “duress” and mean suffering.

Here is another characteristic extract –  about a man from my father’s part of the country:

A very old man, eighty-five, perhaps more, came into the town of Dunflin, Co. Sligo, one day in 1670 on his way to Dublin. The jolting of the rude two wheeled car, with only a layer of straw thrown down in it to soften the corner where you could sit, had tired him out. So he went to the tavern where he was known (for he had often passed that way) and asked for a bed for the night. He was given his old bed in the room above, and then he settled down by the fire in the kitchen to take a little drop of whiskey to revive him and to rest for a short while. There was a very nice girl serving drink to any that would come into the bar outside. But there was little custom and she came into the kitchen and stayed a long time talking to the old man, for she was a really nice girl and could appreciate him. They were pleasantly conversing when a loud clatter of feet was heard from the shop and a voice calling, “Come on here and fetch it out!

Hurrying from the kitchen the girl recognised the intruder as a well-known loyalist from near Dunflin. As soon as he saw the comely girl he put his hand around her, but she pulled herself away and stepped back into the kitchen where the old man had risen from his chair on hearing the confusion. The intruder followed her in and again trying to lay hold of the girl, said “Come on! Give me a kiss and you, you old —–, turn away!”

But the old man put himself between the girl and the soldier and defied him to touch her, for, as old as he was, he would strike “a foul fellow the like of you.’ The drunken soldier, blazing with insolence and disappointed passion, caught up a knife that was lying on the table and drove it into the old man’s heart and killed him with that blow.

That old man was Duald MacFirbis, once a rich scholar, who had spent his whole life compiling histories and genealogies. He was one of the true lovers of Ireland, keeping a hope for posterity by writing down the story of the heroic past. He did it in poverty and homelessness and now he had murder for his crown.

Here are some photos of the pages this story is recounted in:

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It is easy to mock this kind of thing, with references to comely girls and so on. Of course, as I often think, some day our prose will no doubt seem laughable. And the book is an at times nearly Borgesian in its laconic capturing of a person, a society, a nation through moments.

One more extract, and this one is actually in some ways the most characteristic:

PRIMROSES BY THE SEA

This is a personal chapter. It need not lose by that. It is about a trip we took by road from Sligo to Bundoran. It is really about a stop we made on the way when we ran past a desolate-looking harbour of refuge that the Congested Districts Board had made for fishermen, since gone to America. We were able to pass around the empty harbour to the edge of a cliff almost as unreclaimed as nature left it.

It was a day in mid-June when primroses rambled over the grass, and sea-pinks with them. Under the cliff the rocks cut into a smooth sea. The view extended almost to Donegal. There was no ship or boat or any sign of life except ourselves.

“Where are we now?” said I.

“I don’t know,” said the man who owned the car. “I came here once before and don’t know whether it is Leitrim or Sligo.”

“Is Leitrim on the coast?”

“It is – a couple of miles of it. But I think we are in Sligo. Leitrim is further on.”

We made tea on the sloping cliff side and watched the perfect solitude.

“Nothing ever happened here,” said my friend. “There is no glamour to write about.”

Nothing only primroses in mid-June, gold sands shining up through blue water, the smell of sea-wrack from the caves, the caress of soft aqueous air.

Glamour enough! Go there and see!

 

“Reciprocity”, John Drinkwater

From the ever wonderful First Known When Lost blog, a meditative post which features the poet John Drinkwater. All I knew of Drinkwater before this was a school text which lumped John Masefield and he as mediocrities notable only for indicating the depth of amiable banality poetry had sunk to before the genius of Eliot swept it all away.  As Stephen Pentz often writes, it is the individual poem that matters, not the poet.

Reciprocity

I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

John Drinkwater, Tides.

#OceanOptimism & the psychology of powerlessness and hope from current BBC Wildlife Magazine

The current issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine has a fascinating cover story by Elin Kelsey on hope and optimism versus despair in how we think and act about the environment. Essentially, much media discourse on the environment tends to be gloomy, doom, and generally despairing. Kelsey cites a wide range of research on how this negativity effects how we think about the environment and our beliefs about what can be done – and therefore what is done – to improve things. The BBC Wildlife article is not available online.  This article from Smithsonian Magazine is briefer and has fewer references to specific researchers, but the ideas are the same:

Things are far more resilient than I ever imagined. Me, green sea turtles, coral reefs blown to bits by atomic bombs. In a twist of fate that even surprised scientists, Bikini Atoll, site of one of the world’s biggest nuclear explosions, is now a scuba diver’s paradise. Bikini Atoll located in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands didn’t just inspire the famous bathing suit; the US Army detonated the first hydrogen bomb there. Between 1946 and 1958, 23 nuclear explosions were carried out, at an incalculable cost to the people and the marine environment. Fifty years later, scientists record a thriving coral reef habitat that includes large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks the diameter of dinner plates. “It’s made a brilliant recovery,” says Zoe Richards, a scientist at the Australian Museum.

I’ve been awash in uplifting news about the ocean lately. Each day, tweets from #OceanOptimism alert me to marine conservation successes happening all over the world: a new marine sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands to protect the world’s highest concentrations of sharks; green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico no longer listed as endangered thanks to successful conservation efforts; a major fishing deal offers protection to Arctic waters.

Kelsey founded the Ocean Optimism project to highlight the resilience of ocean ecosystems, and the progress already made in preservation and restoration. This was inspired by her own experience of how children in particular react to environmentalist nihilism:

For me, the impact of doom and gloom on kids, in particular, came as a shock. For years, I had worked with aquariums, museums, and international environmental organizations, creating strategies to engage people with marine issues. As an academic, I understood the national statistics about what people in many different countries knew and what their attitudes were toward climate change, overfishing, and other problems. But how all that “knowing” felt was nowhere to be found in that vast pool of information.

I realized that omission when I was invited to speak with young people attending a United Nations children’s conference on the environment in 2008 in Stavanger, Norway. The participants, who ranged in age from 10 to14 years old, came from more than 90 countries and a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. “How do you feel when you think about the environment?” I asked. I don’t remember what I expected them to say, but so many of them expressed such a chilling sense of dread that I felt powerless to comfort them. I knew exactly what they meant. I, too, often felt despair about the state of the world. I just never imagined such feelings were shared among children living in vastly varied circumstances.

Global dread, eco-anxiety, environmental grief—despair about the future of the planet has garnered many labels in recent years. In our noble zeal to emphasize the urgency and enormity of environmental issues, we may inadvertently be raising a generation that feels hopeless about the future of the planet. Studies within the past decade from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States find a quarter to a half of children surveyed are so troubled about the state of the world, they honestly believe it will come to an end before they get older.

Kelsey describes the legitimate reasons ecologist and environmentalists have for trading more in bad news than good – particular not wishing to play into the hands of denialists of various stripes (digression – AutoCorrect changed “denialist” to “dentists” just now) However, in so doing, they man be undermining the very efforts they are advocating for:

Hopelessness undermines the very engagement with marine issues we seek to create. According to researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, there are limits to the amount of concerns we can deal with at one time. They call it the “finite pool of worry.” Overburdening people’s capacity for worry with too much doom and gloom leads to emotional numbing. When we believe our actions are too small to make a difference, we tend to behave in ways that create the conditions in which those expectations are realized. By bombarding people with bad news about the oceans at scales that feel too large to surmount, we cause them to downplay, tune out, or shut down. Hopelessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The rest of the article is worth reading for its insights into how #OceanOptimism can move people from this position of hopelessness to one of hope and therefore potential action. I had not come across the “finite pool of worry” concept before. In the BBC Wildlife article Kelsey cites Elke Weber of Columbia University as the originator of it. The BBC Wildlife article also has a good quote from Nancy Knowlton  of the Smithsonian Institution that gets to the heart of the matter;

“I look at marine conservation biologists as akin to doctors of the ocean,” Knowlton explains, “and doctors don’t train just to write obituaries. They fill medical journals with stories of advances and successes”

The article is thought-provoking (and hopefully hope inspiring and action provoking in many ways, some of which I will explore on my more medical blog… but one link to a recent post here came to me – Marie Thompson on noise, “the conservative politics of silence”, and soundscapes. Thompson writes:

To my mind, the conservative politics of silence informs a number of assumptions that are frequently made about what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sonic environments; it relates to a preference for the simple over the complex, sameness over difference, past over present, predictability over unpredictability, the ‘synthetic’ over the ‘natural’ (whatever that might mean) and, ultimately, quietude over noise. This ideological framework underlines much ‘common sense’ about auditory experience, however it frequently remains unacknowledged.

Perhaps what Thompson omits is that the “conservative” politics of silence is often really a discourse of decline and loss. Silence and natural (or “natural”, if you prefer) soundscapes are defined by their absence, by their loss. This kind of cultural pessimism can be very seductive. And of course, it is rooted in a reality . Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence  is a good example of a hopeful project, almost archetypal of the better-light-a-candle-than-curse-the-darkness philosophy, and naturally enough having to fight against threats near constantly .