An interesting event – of some significance?

Those readers of this blog who are also signed up to my monthly newsblast will have read that I have quite kind thoughts about the content of the England Biodiversity Strategy – except that there may be too little money to implement it.

But I noticed that a group of wildlife NGOs – the RSPB, Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and Buglife – made a joint statement criticising the strategy for its lack of action for species.  And I understand that this NGO tetchiness wasn’t received too well in Defra.  Watch out! government – nobody will want to look more reasonable than the National Trust.

The joint NGO statement is completely correct but might need a bit of unpacking for Defra and others.

Whenever anybody talks about species someone will pop up and say ‘it’s habitats we should be worrying about’ and this can lead to a pointless discussion about the species approach versus the habitat approach.  Let’s not get into that because it isn’t helpful or relevant.  I believe that there are two main points to be made.

First, species are fundamental elements of nature, wildlife, biodiversity.  Their fate, both of common species and of rare species, is therefore an extremely useful measure of success of conservation measures.  If species decline, and in extremis, go extinct, we are not winning the war against biodiversity loss.  Therefore, a focus on the fate of species is, in my view, an essential element of measuring success or failure of our efforts.  I could go on about this, but I won’t.

Second, that focus on species does not mean that all of our efforts should be directed species by species, one at a time.  Many species are affected by widespread pressures such as agricultural intensification.  Thus, if we address that one factor (a very complicated one, and difficult to address)  we may solve the problems for many different species at once.  Overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, climate change are all examples of threats that affect many species at once.  However, just because it’s often a good idea to fix those widespread issues through, for example, influencing policy, creating new habitat etc that doesn’t mean that those measures will address the needs of all species.  There may be some species whose needs are so specific or geographically limited that they are best addressed species by species.  A beetle that lives on a handful of trees needs those trees protected not global forestry policy influenced.  And therefore some of our conservation effort must be delivered species by species because the policy/habitat approach doesn’t always work and even when it does work, it usually doesn’t work for all species.

I feel a lot better for having got that off my chest – but it’s a discussion I’ve had too many times with nature conservationists over many years.

But the significant thing about the joint statement by these four NGOs is that these four NGOs understand this stuff much better than most others.  They are of a mind, they share the same philosophy and they know their onions.

Joint working by these four NGOs is very much to be welcomed, in my view, and the further that joint working goes the better, as birds, bugs, butterflies and plants of a feather should stick together.


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3 Replies to “An interesting event – of some significance?”

  1. It may be complicated but its also really important and I think the 4 NGOs have got a vital point. Whilst it may be habitat, watching species is vital to 'sharpening' our approach: its hardly surprising Butterfly Conservation are concerned because good, generic woodland management has often failed to benefit the more demanding woodland butterflies - amongst the most fragile (and visible) parts of the ecosystem. Watching butterflies has, in particular, highlighted the problem of deer grazing which a rather general view of habitat could have missed. Its been the same for reedbeds - apparently good generic management didn't do it for Bitterns until RSPB sharpened its management - and look at the results.

    Theres an interesting spat going on in British Wildlife at the moment which shows how badly things can go wrong. Paul Dolman and colleagues have pointed out that generic management for the conventional view of a heather dominated heathland habitat isn't working for many special Breckland species - and the current catchall, grazing, isn't doing it either - many need disturbed land, ungrazed, with a lot of bare ground. An expert has suggested that producing the habitat these species need would involve 'destroying' the conventional heathland habitat which is entirely a manmade concept - so which is right - our view of what good heathland looks like or what the species think of it ? Forget the species at your (and their) peril !

    1. Roderick - I think you have put it very well (if I may say so!). The butterfly examples are very good - and there are earlier examples of butterflies and grassland management that reinforce this. I must read British Wildlife more often.


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