Tuesday, June 15, 2010

British animals we've made extinct

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There are plenty of reports about species made extinct and those threatened with extinction from around the globe. Here I just want to give a few examples of some animals we've made extinct from Britain (sample pictured - click to enlarge).

As Britain's human population grew and its agriculture, communities, society and then enentually the industrialised economy developed we have lost, amongst many others: the Wolf (late 1600s in England, 1743 in Scotland) due to hunting; the Brown Bear (during the 1100s, perhaps earlier) due to habitat loss and persecution by hunting; the Wild Boar (the true British Boar by the 1400s and reintroduced types by the end of the 1800s) due to hunting for sport and food as well as loss of forest habitat; the Reindeer (extinct according to some sources by 6000 BC though there are reports of Reindeer in Scotland until 1100 or 1300 depnding on which source you trust!); Aurochs (extinct in Britain perhaps 1000 or 2000 BC and lost from all of Europe during the 1600s) due mostly to habitat destruction; Beavers (mostly gone by the 1300s, may have survived in small pockets until the 1600s, perhaps later) due to heavy trapping for pelts plus loss of range and habitat; the Crane (by around the 1660s) due to taking for food as it was a great delicacy in medieval times; the Great Bustard (by around 1832) due to habitat loss and hunting; the Black Tern (by the mid/late 1800s as a breeding bird) due to draining fens; the English Large Copper butterfly (during the 1860s) due to fen drainage; the Mazarine Blue butterfly (in the early 1900s) due to loss of its habitat and food supply; the Black-veined White butterfly (during the 1920s) due to habitat disturbance and destruction...More recently losses include: the Greater mouse-eared bat in 1990; the Burbot in 1972; the Pool Frog during the 1990s; the Mining Bee in 1934; the Digger Wasp around 1950; the Essex Emerald Moth in 1991; the Vipers Bugloss Moth in 1977; the Dainty and the Norfolk Damselfly and the Orange-spotted Emerald Dragonfly all during the 1950s...

There have been attempts at reintroduction, including for some of the species I've named but the scale is generally small and success can be patchy. Britain's environment has changed a good deal since many species have gone. There are fans of the Wolf, many of whom argue for serious debate on their reintroduction in the Scottish Highlands. The Wild Boar was repeatedly reintroduced for hunting/food until the late 1800s and due to escapes from captivity there are several pretty healthy wild populations in Britain now. Reindeer reintroduction to Scotland began in the Cairngorms in the 1950s and has been successful on a small scale. There have been and are attempts at planned Beaver reintroduction and Natural England are studying the issue. An attempt to reintroduce the Great Bustard to Salisbury Plain in the 1970's was unsuccessful but recent attempts with this species has been much more fruitful, with a few years of successful breeding and increasing nesting. A tiny number of Cranes struggled to sustain itself in Norfolk in the 1980s but there are now efforts at reintroduction. The Black Tern can be seen again as summer visitor and birds have fledged here from the 1960s on. A European sub-species of the Large Copper butterfly was reintroduced in the 1920s. Stray specimens of the Black-veined White butterfly have occasionally reached southern Britain from the Continent.

Diverse and unified; different and equal; changing and constant

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Behind the idea of growth and progress is out of date, straight line, mechanistic, scientific and technical thinking based on the philosophy of breaking things down and analysing them in isolation. This stresses qualities that help us distinguish between people and things. It portrays difference and diversity as opposite, antagonistic, negating extremes: natural v social; human v animal; economy v environment; mind v matter; female v male; black v white; heterosexual v homosexual; old v young; science v art; left v right; objective v subjective; dynamic changes v stability...

This has its place and its usefulness but its very often an either/or trap that is at odds with reality. It is preventing us from acting on the fact that uniqueness, diversity and difference are vital, connected, complementary qualities. Reality is interdependence – the natural and social, human and animal, economic and environmental and so on, are both unique and part of the whole simultaneously. The social emerges from the natural. This is what we are learning from joined up thinking - systems thinking - that is a feature of the newer, fast developing branches of science such as ecology.

The value of diversity and difference can and should be emphasised to counter the trend to political, economic, social and cultural uniformity. Diversity within and between species, habitats and ecosystems brings multiple interactions, with species compensating for each other in the face of change. Avoiding confusion, ie differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical, is vital. Difference stressed at the expense of and devoid of solidarity, cooperation and connection can become magnified, resulting in: neglect; blame; anxiety; racism; sexism; abuse; and oppression.

Awareness of this issue that results in action would mean better decision making, better problem solving and better ability to take opportunities. Connections would be recognised and accounted for and complexity better managed.

For the moment though we persist with predominantly straight line thinking: the more economic growth the merrier; its the amount that counts; not much of a selective, controlled approach or much breadth or subtlety in the way we think through, measure and assess growth and progess. High growth, high energy and resource use (especially non-renewables), high waste and pollution, loss of biodiversity (such as the species we've made extinct - sample pictured) – damage to the quality, security and stability of human life.