“What’s the point of wildlife?


C
ountryfile Magazine recently asked
online readers if otters were on
their “wildlife bucket list” and
hopefully, from hilltop to
shoreline, you have enjoyed a bucket’s worth
of wildlife this summer across Britain.
But rather than just ticking it off your list,
let’s take a moment to appraise the point of
wildlife in our lives today. Do we really need
it everyday? Are we spending too much on
iconic species at the expense of the less
charismatic? What it has got to do with our
groceries – and what would our lives be like
without it?
Human lifestyles certainly have a
detrimental impact on wildlife. The
Government has become increasingly aware
of the danger to – and value of – the
environment, perhaps triggered by popular
mood. In 2011, the Government received
the highest-ever responses to a white paper:
the consultation for the ‘Natural Choice’,
a paper setting out the government’s vision
for the natural environment over the next
50 years, received over 15,000 replies.
However, while admirable feedback, that is
just a tiny fraction out of our 64 million
population, the majority of whom perhaps
still miss the point of wildlife.
Wildlife at bay
It seems we want wildlife to be there –
but not necessarily to get too close to it.
Television fits that bill admirably in sating our
requirement, but when the time comes to
partake in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch,
we are affronted by red-in-tooth-and-claw
nature, as a sparrowhawk devours a blackbird.
Or we are repelled by acts that reflect our own
needs, such as the author Jeanette Winterson
killing and eating a wild rabbit.
As predominantly urban dwellers today,
the more urban we’ve become, the less we
see the point of wildlife – when, in fact, the
more we need it. We should all have an
interest in protecting wildlife on our
country views
doorstep or in our backyard, but despite the
fact that it’s recognised as contributing to our
well-being, lifting our soul, pollinating our
crops and turning the soil, many of us
survive from day-to-day without any contact
with wildlife, and ignore its shrinking state.
From park to garden, moorland to farmland,
ditch to river, our increasingly squeezed
wildlife shares its home with the same habitat
that we use for farming, leisure and houses.
We spend millions every year on wildlife-
friendly schemes on agricultural land to
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We spend a fortune conserving nature yet most of us don’t
understand its importance to our everyday lives, says Rob Yorke
offset the impact of food production and
stump up cash to prevent rare species from
sliding into extinction. As we spend less of
our income on groceries now, we compensate
by setting up legacies to conservation
organisations to hang onto wildlife later.
These organisations set the agenda on our
behalf, and tell us they need our cash to do it.
Earlier this year, the RSPB tweeted that it had
1.1 million members – yet, some argue that
even with fine intentions wrapped in an
otter-printed teatowel, there has been
precious little benefit to wildlife.
Responsible choices
Where’s the personal responsibility? Can we
afford to just look at wildlife, enshrine it, yet
refuse to understand how much we must
participate in its – and ultimately our own –
survival? Perhaps the white paper should have
been named ‘Food Choices’ to connect us
with wildlife via our own consumption.
For this inextricable link – between food,
flora and fauna – undoubtedly creates
tensions. We want wildlife, we love wildlife,
we have an inherent need to connect to it
– but we are eating its habitat. Not quite
literally, but pretty close. We eat breakfast
before we go bird-watching. The growing of
our porridge oats (organic or not) erodes the
habitat in which wildlife survives.
The more we understand wildlife, the
more we realise its value to us, either as
insects and moths acting as pollinators, as
worms conditioning topsoil or as sea eagles
and red grouse contributing to rural
economies. More than a spade-full of wildlife
is required to fill up our everyday bucket, as
not only are our lives enriched by wildlife,
but it pointedly enables us to thrive.
CF
We want wildlife,
we love wildlife,
but we are eating
its habitat
Rob Yorke is a rural commentator and surveyor
based in the Black Mountains, South Wales. As a
hunter-naturalist, he is passionate about informed
countryside debate – even if he has to take a
contrary view. Follow him on Twitter @blackgull
16 BBC COUNTRYFILE October 2014