Why Nature Conservation Isn't Working: Understanding Wildlife in the Modern World
by Adrian Spalding
with a foreword by Kurt Jackson
Siri Scientific Press (2021, 31st July) 978-1-8381528-4-0, RRP £14.99
160 pp, 240 x 165 mm, soft cover
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Synopsis: Species are central to nature conservation, but we see wildlife as adjuncts to people without connection with their authentic habitats. With this limited view, we cannot save wildlife from extinction. Concentration on iconic species achieves brilliant publicity but looks after the icing whilst the cake crumbles beneath.
Atropos (2021: 69, 70-71). Snippets: "British species are the central focus, their recorded history and their relationship with human beings. Extensive and numerous examples are succinctly outlined, demonstrating the commonest, and some of the rarer, origins of species that currently inhabit the UK, and sometimes places further afield. There is frequent reference to both naturally arising means of establishment and various people-assisted pathways. … The author frequently draws on his own experiences and these elements are particularly engaging and insightful. We hear otherwise unbroadcast observations from his own work, including on the dynamic existence of the tiny Sandhill Rustic colonies; the tentative care of those reintroducing the Large blue; both mistakes, and potentially hope arising from the construction of high speed 1 (the Eurostar route through Kent); the ecological results of rat removal on the Isles of Scilly; and discoveries made while surveying Cornish mining sites. ... Those familiar with the topic of human interaction with other species will have encountered many of the issues addressed here, but they will also find much new material on which to chew. For me the sections about arrival of the Golden Jackal Canis aureus in Europe and its repercussions for the human inhabitants, and the problems of Swedish Whitebeam Sorbus intermedia being mistakenly planted in place of the very similar native Common Whitebeam S. aria and then interbreeding with that species and Rowan S. aucuparia, were satisfyingly thought provoking. ... The author, Adrian Spalding, is likely to be known to readers as a moth expert, Sandhill Rustic Luperina nickerlii conservation guru and finder of Spalding’s Dart Agrotis herzogi. This is a free-range book that traverses all wildlife but there is a preponderance of coverage in here that will excite the moth or insect enthusiast." Matt Shardlow CEO Buglife.
Adrian Spalding, like most of his professional colleagues, is a very patient man. He observes, records and interprets wildlife – he is dedicated to understanding so that he can use his knowledge to protect and sustain the ecology and diversity upon which we all rely. He is a practical scientist who spends much time in the field, either advising clients with integrity, or studying, writing and talking about the life he uses all his senses and intelligence to support.
His new book, ‘Why Nature Conservation isn’t Working’, poses a challenge to public policy and investment, to now-fundamental presumptions of what is virtuous. His sub-title is ‘Understanding wildlife in the modern world’. So, in telling a story of adaptation, of traditional demarcations breaking down, of introductions via party gimmicks, extinctions and survivals, he argues for a complete rethink of how we set about achieving what everybody wants. He speaks from considered experience but doesn’t hold back from expressing exasperation at the apparent unwillingness of institutions, individuals, charities and quangos to objectively review achievements and contemplate change.
In an early anecdote he writes:
‘Lucia Chmurova from Butterfly Conservation told me at the 2019 National Moth Conference that in her native Slovenia there was almost no one working on wildlife but she could watch wolves and bears just outside her house, whereas in the UK there were thousands of people working for wildlife but almost no wildlife!’
Adrian Spalding uses a broad spectrum of references, from Jean Paul Sartre to a ’friend living on The Lizard’ and his ability to marshal wisdom, research, literature, opinion and experience into a coherent narrative with a very strong challenge is excellent – the book never ceases to surprise and to inform. Unlike many scientific works the reader also gets to know, and to like, the author.
Having invested an entire (not yet over!) professional career in conservation, the author might be forgiven a certain degree of grumpiness – a forgiveness made easier by his twin attributes of being able to tell a good tale, and, for all the weight of challenging his own long-held professional ethos, retaining his ideals and principles. He is a very engaging author and his case is one which should be brought into the social domain.
Of course, like many others, he is calling for a fundamental shift in values, and in our relationship with wildlife – we are not proprietors or guardians. We have a vested interest as animals in ensuring that our habitat is well populated with all those things, from single cells to beavers, choughs and wolves to bees, moths and the miniscule and all that invisible subterranean and submarine life which make things work beautifully, practicably and sustainably.
If we simply rely on the investment of public money in initiatives, schemes and projects then we will be assuaging ourselves of blame for not doing the difficult thing ourselves – which is to change ourselves. After all, why should everything else adapt to us – is it not a good thing to experience the odd shiver when a bear is rubbing its fleas against the log walls of our cabin?
Bert Biscoe, ex Mayor of Truro, Cornwall Councillor, poet.
This thought-provoking new book by entomologist Adrian Spalding is an enjoyable and fascinating read. It covers many subjects of great interest to UK insect recorders, including species introductions, rewilding, migration, butterflies and roads, monitoring, use by wildlife of post-industrial landscapes, to name but a few. The index entries demonstrate this is no dry and dusty textbook, which include Mike Tyson, Theresa May, Christiano Ronaldo, Only Fools and Horses, Moby Dick, Private Eye, David Attenborough and the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (and let's not forget the Peppered Moth). A unique collection for a unique book. We recommend it.
Mark Tunmore, Atropos website
"I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly the author’s journey through the natural world and his personal experiences in footnotes and reminiscences. The book considers the unstable state of species over the planet. You are not asked to agree with his points of view on issues, which often involve compromise, but you are challenged to think about issues in a phase space between art and science, beauty and cruelty, good and evil, dominated by humans. You will find you are drawn to read it in a single sitting."
Professor R.L.H. Dennis BA, PhD, DSc, FLS, FRGS, FRSB, FRES
From the back cover
(the next year) “… must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature” – António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General.
This book attempts to put species into the context of our perception. Animals are more than their physical form. They exist within their historical setting, within their habitats, within their past and their evolutionary future, both outside and beyond man, and within man and his circle. This work discusses the movement of species since the last ice age, what is native and non-native, migration, adaptation, the role of man and species in the industrial landscape. The concept of species lies at the heart of nature conservation, but our perception is changing and losing connection with the real world. We see wildlife as adjuncts to people, such as a cure for depression and isolation. With this view, we will never save wildlife from extinction.
This book investigates the authenticity of species, compared with what are termed McDonald’s species – species without natural connection with their habitats, super-imposed by Man, eroding the umbilical cord link with history. We have lost sight of what wildlife is about and instead are just managing decline. Concentration on large iconic species achieves brilliant publicity but looks after the icing whilst the cake crumbles beneath.
This volume highlights the need for authenticity in wildlife. We need to accept where wildlife goes, minimising our interference, re-directing money towards where wildlife wants to be – in new as well as old habitats, by natural colonisation, in post-industrial landscapes, brown-field sites, railway corridors, metal-contaminated landscapes. It takes rewilding and makes it species led – where ugly animals thrive to the same extent as beautiful ones, where the minute are as important as the huge.
About the author
Adrian Spalding has run an environmental consultancy for over 20 years and has worked with wildlife charities, statutory authorities, council planners, developers, highways agencies, railway companies and renewable energy companies throughout the UK. He has travelled widely in six of the seven continents. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, a member of the Conservation Committee of the Royal Entomological Society, editor of the Entomologist’s Gazette, former President of the British Entomological and Natural History Society, former Academic Director, Cornish Biological Records Unit (University of Exeter) and past member of the Council of Butterfly Conservation. A qualified teacher, he also has degrees in history and zoology. He used to host a weekly wildlife programme on Radio Cornwall. He has written several books on wildlife and won the Holyer an Gof prize for his book Loe Bar and the Sandhill Rustic Moth. His interest in butterflies and moths dates back to when he was eight-years-old, watching an Indian Moon Moth emerge from its cocoon and expand its long tails on the living room window sill; the moth Spalding’s Dart is named after him.
Foreword by Kurt Jackson
CHAPTER 1: THE EXISTENTIAL SPECIES
Within our possession/ownership
An extension of ourselves
Representing aspects of our psyche and civilization
CHAPTER 2. SPECIES IN HISTORICAL CONTINUUM
CHAPTER 3. NATIVE OR NON-NATIVE
CHAPTER 4. THE ROLE OF MAN
Allow to live with us
Release – into the wild
Introduce – accidentally
CHAPTER 5. MIGRANT SPECIES
CHAPTER 6. SPECIES IN THE INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE
High Speed One (HS1)
Butterflies and roads
The Peppered Moth
CHAPTER 7. THE ARTIFICIALITY OF OUR UNDERSTANDING
APPENDIX: What are species?
About the author
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