Conservation is an issue at all levels. Although on a day to day level I am usually working on project areas of 10,000 acres or more (up to 2.5 million acres — the size of the whole of east Anglia) I actually live in a small rural community, where fields are mostly under 100 acres. But some of the issues are very similar to those encountered with local communities in our project areas. For example, conflicts between local people, over how land should be managed.
However, there are also very significant differences. Whereas in the middle of the Paraguayan Chaco or Miombo forests of Africa, it might be that the local community wants to go and chop down wood for subsistence, in rural Suffolk it is sometimes the reverse: people with too much time on their hands, who want to ‘tidy everything up’ to look like a golf course. Among the banes of my life are ‘men with machines’ — and I have to be careful, because I am one — because give a man a mower, and he will mow. With a mower a man can create a lawn, or a golf course, even where a flower-rich meadow has existed for several centuries.
I have had first hand experience recently just 20 metres away from my own home in our local churchyard. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that modern mowing machines, can be (and often are) lethal to wildlife. The churchyard adjacent to my house has healthy populations of grass snakes, slow worms and harvest mice – but mechanical mowers can, and do, kill wildlife. Often the people doing the mowing are well-meaning volunteers who probably don’t know the damage that they are causing to wildlife as they strive to ‘keep things tidy’.
In the ‘olden days’ mowing was traditionally done after the flowers have set seed, by hand, but men with mowers find it easier to cut the grass when it gets to 2 cms high because it is ‘easier to maintain’. The underlying problems are the same. Ignorance. In Suffolk, a large proportion of the villagers are now people who have moved (retired) from the towns, and have no idea about the traditional rhythms of the countryside, but do have time on their hands. In Africa, it is fighting for survival. Too much time and money can be just as big a problem for wildlife as too little.