Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Species Survival Commission Chairman visits WLT

9 March, 2011 - 14:02 -- John Burton

Last Friday Simon Stuart, the current Chairman of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of IUCN, visited the World land Trust.

The main purpose of his visit was to discuss with me what to do with conservation archives. Currently there is no central depository for archives relating to conservation, and in particular those of the SSC This is of concern since the personnel involved change very regularly, and as anyone who has experience of archives knows, whenever there is change, there is usually loss.

Why keep Archives?

An obvious question is 'why keep archives?', and there are many answers to this. One of course, is to make sure that accurate and reliable history can be written in the future. And from a conservationists point of view, also to help prevent wheels being reinvented, as well as learning from past mistakes.

Unfortunately archiving is a relatively expensive operation, particularly if the archives are going to be available for use, and the last thing I want to do is divert funding that could be used for conservation into this project. But if any of the inhabitants of cyberspace reading this know of a philanthropic individual who is interested in this area, please let me know.

I would love to help set up the XYZ Conservation Archive -- and have already promised to donate my collection of Red Data Books -- one of the largest in existence, which would cost of £25,000 to purchase now (and which also includes several unique items). I created this collection, but it is increasingly of historical rather than current conservation interest, and consequently my efforts are now prioritised towards World Land Trust activities.

While driving from the station with Simon Stuart, we had a conversation about the decline in so many species. Although it is written about regularly, we think that most of the public, and indeed many younger conservationists have very little appreciation as to how dramatic this decline has been.  Once teeming colonies of seabirds are reduced to handfuls or have disappeared (see the current issue of British Birds' article on Lundy Island).

I recall huge numbers of bats over ponds in the outer suburbs of London in the early 1960s, now just a handful fly there on a summers' evening. Not so long ago, moths and other insects fluttered around windows and streetlight, whereas now, they are absent almost everywhere in Europe.  I could go on (and Simon and I did). Not only is the loss depressing, but even more depressing is is how little is being done about it, particularly at the highest level.

Simon Stuart's particular interest is currently with the massive decline in amphibians, but this is actually the tip of an iceberg, with massive declines in almost all migratory birds, huge declines in large insects and so on. By definition, as Chairman of the SSC, Simon Stuart is focused on endangered species.

Those species the Commission is trying to save are ultimately dependent on large areas of habitat being saved -- and that is our target: save land. It isn't being made any more.


Submitted by John Burton on

The day after this blog was published I read an article about the decline of bats in North America due to the spread of ‘white nose’ fungus. This decline is on an absolutely catastrophic scale, with colonies which numbered tens of thousands reduced to a couple of hundred. The slow breed ing rate of most species of bat means the numbers of some species will not recover by the end of the 21st century, if ever. Extinctions are almost certain for some species. And this is on top of major declines of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is time that we woke up to the fact that we humans are only animals, and that we are part of a global ecosystem that is in total collapse. Believing that some god or other is going to save us all is not going to help, and there are limits to what technology can do. But we all seem to be in denial. It is imperative that what is left of the natural and semi-natural world is preserved, nott just for the sake of the wildlife, but for us, it’s our ecosystem.

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