Now I know that lots of you just think of tree hugging hippies when you hear the word conservation and just zone out; however, the natural world – our environment , whether we pay much attention to it or not, is not just important to us, it’s essential for our survival. We’re a part of the natural world, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. As a part of it, we need it to survive.
Nature provides all the amazing things we take for granted: air, water, food, even medicine. But many of us are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world, not appreciating that it needs to be in good shape to provide us with all of these things. This is because many of us have stopped thinking about where our air, food and water comes from. All the things that nature does for us we can think of as having use or utilitarian value – this is the value that comes from our ability to make use of natural resources.
As well as being vital to our survival, nature also provides us with wonder, with awe-inspiring natural beauty. How many of us have heard of, seen on TV, or perhaps been lucky enough to see in real life, natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Mount Everest in the Himalayas, or the Amazon Rain-forest in South America? Imagine if these places no longer existed; if we lived in a barren concrete jungle?
And what about some of the amazing wildlife that we share our planet with? Tigers, elephants, whales, parrots plus all of the other species that have yet to be discovered, which, astonishingly, is estimated to be around 86% of all plants and 91% of land animals. What if, like the dodo, we only knew about these animals from drawings, from old photos and documentaries?
It’s not just these far out exotic places that need our help. Scotland too. All would agree that it’s got some breathtaking natural beauty? Well, 400 years ago Scotland was largely forest, but today only 2% of the original Caledonian forest remains.
Wildlife should be preserved and protected because we want to leave these gifts for future generations. We must think of these moral and ethical values; ultimately, that’s what conservation is all about. Preserving the natural world, focusing on the life around us, animals, plants and their natural habitats because we place value on them.
But while we need nature to survive, we’re destroying the world around us. We’re cutting down trees, clearing forests, driving species to extinction and producing so much pollution we’re changing the global climate. Our impact has become so catastrophic that we’re in the midst of an extinction event happening right now that is on the same scale as the one which wiped out the dinosaurs. Unless we take a stand to ensure the continued existence of all species including humanity, we’re writing our own downfall. We need to be thinking about sustainable development and stable economies because we just don’t have enough planet to carry on the way we are now. We’re already beginning to run out of fossil fuels and mineral resources; armed conflicts in the Middle East have already been described as the first of this century’s “resource wars” and these are predicted to increase in the future. I know that a number of RHS readers have close links with the armed forces; can you imagine having to fight over such basics as food and water? These problems are only going to grow as the world’s population continues to increase (it is predicted that by 2100 there will 11 billion living on our planet) and the divide between rich and poor will become even more pronounced.
However, conservation activities are uniquely able to help us try to tackle some of these fundamental problems – the conflicts that arise when you have a clash of values and cultures over the environment. Conservation can’t be about dictating to others or the better-off telling those who are poorer how they should be living. Conservation can help us to work together and be inspired together so we can think about new ways to face these problems.
Protected areas can benefit both people and wildlife – did you know that 15% of the world’s land area is now protected? Conservationists have developed innovative ways to address conflicts between people over wildlife such as turning traditional hunters and poachers into protectors and guards. With the support of consumers, people like you and me, we can help business to ensure their products are more sustainable. We need to do something before it’s too late and we can all do our bit. Even if it’s just as little as recycling or taking public transport instead of driving.
Another way is through citizen science which is when the general public colaborate with professional scientists and big organisations to gather scientific information. Some of you may be planning a gap year or planning on traveling and a great way to do so is through one of hundreds of organisations that exist which run conservational citizen science projects all around the world. So you can go out to some stunning, wild corners of the world, see some really amazing wildlife, have a bit of adventure and at the same time help to protect that environment so that people way into the future can also enjoy it.
There have been some amazing conservation success stories and we’ve even been able to bring species such as the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction. Oryx were once extinct in the wild but the reintroduction of a captively-bred population has resulted in the establishment of a wild population of over a thousand animals. But taking action isn’t restricted to conservationists; find out more and be part of the change.
I’m going to concluded this article with a quote from the big man himself, Sir David Attenborough. He once said “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”