Monday, 7 July 2003

Modern farming and the future of British wildlife

I drive some 6 miles to the office of the WLT most days and it always makes me pause and think about modern farming. There are hedges and copses, but there are also expanses of wheat, barley sugar beet and peas stretching a hundred acres or more, and rarely less than 40 acres. These are sterile expanses, that 50 years ago would have been criss-crossed with hedges. There would have been large areas of old permanent pasture, rich with wild flowers, and with a diverse selection of insects and other invertebrates. The fields of arable crops would have a healthy selection of weeds.

Even in the 1970s I remember corn marigolds and other weeds mixed in the wheat. But now no longer. It is a miracle that so many species of birds and other wildlife survive at all, though I am very concious of a slow inexcorable decline in a huge number of species. From Lapwings to Tree Sparrows, from Swallows to Yellow Wagtails, many species now seem to be doomed to extinction in Britain. Or if they survive, it will be in isolated populations on nature reserves. And then there the 'island effect' -- when small populations are isolated they become increasingly vulnerable to local extinctions, and recolonisation is more difficult.

Despite all the valiant efforts of UK conservation organisations, I find it increasingly difficult to be optimistic about the future of British wildlife. The changes in the European Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) perhaps give some glimmer of hope. But meanwhile, saving what's left of the unspoiled parts of the planet is to me a really high priority. There is probably no part of the British Isles where the hand of man is not easily observed. No 'natural' ecosystem. But in Ecuador and other parts of the world near pristine forests do exist, but for how long? We have a duty to try and save as much as possible, by what ever means we have at our disposal.

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