Tuesday 20 June 2023

Forget Me Not

I read 'Forget me not' by Sophie Pavelle last month and it had been buried under more recent reads. It was a most engaging read, and, despite being about some of the UK's most endangered species it was pretty upbeat. While giving us the lowdown about the environmental loss she also gave the positive stories of the people working to research and improve the chances of each one. The book charts her journeys (mostly during gaps between the lockdowns) around the country to understand in person what is happening to our wild environment. She covers the more relatable subjects like the harbour porpoise, the grey long-eared bat, the mountain hare and the marsh fritillary (butterfly) but also the more unlikely ones like the dung beetle and the seagrass. Each one has its very specific needs and niche. You can almost see a theme developing because it's precisely the narrowness of the niche that makes each species so particularly vulnerable; like the marsh fritillary that becomes isolated in small pockets of suitable meadows, meaning its protectors are struggling to create corridors to connect these pockets. 

The story of the mountain hares was very striking to me. Climate change has already affected the length and temperature of the winter, meaning the snow is disappearing earlier leaving the hares with their white winter coat exposed to predators. However, the grouse 'industry' means there is extensive control of predators in many areas of Scotland, which offers them some protections. This conversely means that there is not the pressure on them to change. It is a fine balancing act, one kind of human activity has one effect, then different activity also affects them. 
"So, what's happening on grouse moors in Scotland is that we're meddling with their potential to evolve because by removing the majority of their predators, we are releasing a vital selection pressure that would, in theory, trigger an evolutionary answer to the problem of sticking out. Nature made mountain hares the right colour for each season, but our meddling has painted their fur in an unseasonal hue, and now hares are unwittingly wearing the wrong shade. Oh honey.
'It's the most likely explanation for why they have not evolved to match the 'new' shorter snow seasons,' Markets admitted. She considered how wonderful it would be if we reintroduced more golden eagles and other key predators that have been lost across much of the Highlands. But this could be bad news for the hares, as predators will find them more often. 'To restore the natural systems successfully, we must first understand all the players in the game.' Holistic with a capital H." (p.266)

The news yesterday concerning the rising sea temperature was most depressing and it often feels like time is running out. I have to balance the news with something encouraging. From the seagrass being planted by armies of volunteers to the ambitious rewilding project at Knepp Castle estate the book is full of stories of enthusiasts doing wild things and making the world a better place. It left me uplifted rather than despondent. 
Stay safe. Be kind. Try and think positive.

1 comment:

  1. It's difficult to remain positive in the face of current events, but books like this one sound as if they're getting the balance right.


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