I'm still on holiday but in my absence, I've asked Richard Gregory to share an insight into his world with you. Richard is Head of Species Monitoring and Research here at the RSPB.
When you think about nature and what is important, it’s natural to think about blue whales, tigers and pandas, the rarest and the most threatened anywhere on earth, but we have our share of rare and threatened animals and plants in miniature in the UK.
They are important to us and we at the RSPB would argue that we have a moral responsibility to look after them. Some of them don’t live anywhere else in the world, most have been in long-term decline, others are known from a tiny number of sites or just a few individuals and for others, we hold a significant part of their total European population.
They are precious, weird and wonderful and many are suitably named. Some sound regal like the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, the Noble Chafer or the Royal Splinter Cranefly, whilst others conjure more sinister images like the Black Night-runner, the Wart-biter or the English Assassin Fly – but they’re all worth saving! So, in different ways and for different reasons they are vulnerable to being lost and we need to do our bit make sure they are safe. They are our ‘crown jewels’ when it comes to nature.
A whole range of people and organisations from individual experts to NGOs and governmental agencies work terribly hard to catalogue, count and protect them and the places they live - we do this for birds and other wildlife ourselves - but you might be surprised to learn that overall there is no system to track their fate.
We could lose the lot and we would not know. We could have lost the lot and we would not have known. I exaggerate for effect but this is almost true.
The last assessment of the status of our rare and threatened animals and plants in the UK was in 2008 and this looked at less than half the relevant species, and since then there has been nothing……radio silence.
The reasons for this are complicated, linked both to changes in government, devolution and changes in strategies. I have attended two workshops in the space of two weeks recently to talk about how we fix this problem.
The good news is that there is a real appetite to do so from both NGOs and government agencies as well as a willingness to work together. We need to check on the status of our priority animals and plants and track their fate. By doing this we will be able to assess how we are doing on an annual or near annual basis and act accordingly. We know a huge amount about some of these species, like some of the butterflies, birds, mammals and plants but hardly anything about others and expertise is thin on the ground. Part of what we want to do is to fill these gaps in knowledge. We don’t want to be responsible for losing some of our rarest wildlife on our watch.
What can you do? Visit your local nature reserve and learn about the special wildlife that lives there. Why not help out with their local recording efforts? It is a great way to help and learn at the same time. There are a wide variety of recording schemes for wildlife, from birds to mosses. Some need a high level of expertise to contribute, but for others complete novices can make valuable contributions – the more that contribute, the better.
The RSPB sees this as a real priority for nature conservation in the UK, do you share our view?
I absolutely share your views on this. Preserving species is the key stone of conservation. However finding the detailed and specific reason, or reasons, for a species decline can sometimes need a fair amount of expensive investigation work. Setting up a coordinated network within the Government and NGO conservation organisations to monitor and allocate investigative work to species of concern and so spread the costs seems to me an excellent idea. To be really effective, however, the system will need a fair amount of coodination and it probably won't be that simple to manage.
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