I was quite surprised to realise today is five years since my first post on this blog. It’s been an interesting journey.
In that time I’ve written more than 450 posts that have been seen by more than 15,000 different people in 109 countries (apparently).
I’ve had weird moments such as in late 2013 when, after barely more than a few hundred views, I suddenly had thousands in a few days after writing about dreadful media coverage of False Widow spiders. In a funny way that seemed to stop me writing and I really slowed up through the entire of 2014.
But I’ve picked back up now and have tried to grow the audience, even though it’s tiny by comparison to many. I try to write for myself, what I find interesting, when I want, and about things I want to remember and record. I’m not looking for media stardom or a book deal (although the latter would be lovely…)
What’s interesting if I conduct a quinquennial review is to consider the successes and failures of conservation more broadly.
We’ve had the ongoing horror of the badger cull, something I’ve written about regularly. I’d honestly thought this would collapse by now, but instead it just keeps getting expanded. There is no evidence it is working, and plenty of evidence to suggest it could make things worse. It doesn’t help any of the victims; not farmers, cattle or badgers.
Sadly it’s a fight where the battle lines continue to be drawn emotively. Too many anti-cull protestors make it about class, and paint all farmers as anti-wildlife. Meanwhile pro-cull advocates have all protestors as anti-farmer, blinded by the badger looking cute and cuddly. Neither are true, but we have moved into an age where nuance and discussion have become marginalised in favour of polarised polemic.
A reflection of that change comes in two things I would never have predicted five years ago: Brexit or Trump. Both are a threat to conservation.
In the case of Trump it is obvious – he is a 20th Century mind addressing 21st Century problems. He is a climate change denier and a nationalist, in addition to all the other horrible things we could say that don’t fit this theme. His border wall would disrupt critical migration routes. His approach to the environment will cause extinctions.
Brexit is a threat too, as the economic damage that seems likely will force the British government to deregulate in the name of growth, leading to poorer quality imports of food, removal of environmental protections, a presumption in favour of use for pesticides and other chemicals that may prove damaging, and so on.
But both could also be seen as opportunities. Trump has in many ways united the world against him as other politicians have said they will not collapse their own commitments as a result of one man. And in America many State and City heads have said they will honour commitments regardless of Trump taking the country out of these. In other words, the weak and cowardly actions of one have inspired genuine leadership in others. This is a source of optimism to be celebrated.
Brexit too presents opportunities if we apply pressure. In the last five years we saw the UK government try to weaken key EU legislation, the Birds and Habitats Directives. Yet faced with overwhelming support for this legislation they ultimately had to support retention. These laws will initially pass unchanged into UK legislation, and we must ensure they stay there.
The EU farming subsidies have been a disaster too, seeing money go to rich landowners to engage in damaging practices while doing little or nothing for nature. Brexit is an opportunity to create a system that rewards good practice and sees more money going to smaller farmers exemplifying the best principles.
Recently there has been much media coverage of sexism, misogyny and abuse in Hollywood, and we have all queued to condemn this. Yet there is not a sector of society where this doesn’t take place, and female naturalists still encounter abuse and prejudice from men who believe nature is their possession. We must all ensure we oppose this. Silent condemnation is no condemnation at all, and where we encounter any unacceptable treatment of others we must be brave and say so. Anyone who wants to take an interest must be encouraged, because there are real enemies out there and they are not people of different gender/age/ethnicity/sexuality to you being in the hide at the same time.
I don’t want to end on a negative, as important as the above points are, so here are some cheerier thoughts.
We will continue to see the flora and fauna of the UK change and evolve as new species colonise and breed naturally. Conservation bodies will create and expand reserves that give more land over to nature. I honestly believe more people will engage with the natural world here at home, and more young people will get the chance to learn and exercise outdoors. Hopefully not just young people. Green exercise is good for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing so we must all find time.
I will try and keep blogging for another five years. I will try hit post 500 before the end of the year. I will try write more posts that go back to the original stated aims of this blog, not just posts that are an excuse to share photos, as enjoyable as that is.
We will face challenges, but we will win some battles and, maybe, ultimately, we will win the war.