It’s a small thing, and once I’ve told you about it, I will move on. Probably.
I keep hearing people saying that 41% of UK species have declined in abundance since 1970. And they have (probably, at least of the species we know about)! No (major) quibbles there.
But is this bad? If the world were a stable place then over that period of time I’d expect 50% of species to have declined in abundance (some a little bit, some quite a lot) and I’d expect the other 50% to have increased (some a bit, some quite a lot). So every time I hear that figure I think ‘Not too bad then, a bit better perhaps than expected’ although I know that isn’t the message it is supposed to convey.
Now I am perfectly willing to concede that I am not entirely typical, and one area of difference is that I am a little bit more numerate than many. So I willingly concede that many people who hear the same thing think ‘41%, that’s a lot. Crikey, we must do something about that. I’ll vote Labour and send the RSPB £1000’. And that will be a good thing.
It’s a good thing, not because these people have been tricked into that thought, but because despite the fact that the fact doesn’t quite lead to the conclusion reached, if all the facts were on the table then they would.
So, as the report says, 41% of species have declined quite a lot in abundance, 33% have stayed more or less constant and 26% have increased quite a lot. So it is true that quite strong declines well outnumber quite strong increases.
I feel better for getting that off my chest.
But it leaves me wondering whether the people I hear quoting the first version realise what they are doing and are deliberately simplifying a more complex picture or whether they just have grabbed a number without thinking about it. And I’m not sure which explanation would irritate me the more.