Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Possibly the worst habitat management in the world

In early April I went to look at the Wild Tulips in Wiltshire. Unfortunately they were only in bud (and were still in bud two weeks later) but further down the lane I saw a new plant in the form of Asarabacca. There seems to be debate as to whether this is native or not but I did like the comment in one of my plant books 'a plant so dull that one wonders why it was ever planted'!

The following weekend I visited Woolbeding Common in West Sussex. Things started well with my first Cuckoo flying over soon after I left the car, lots of Linnets around and a Tree Pipit in song. But as I got down to the part of the common which was grazed last year I was just gobsmacked.

Last summer when I was there, an area had been electric fenced and cattle were grazing. There was hardly a scrap of edible vegetation left and I was tempted to phone the RSPCA out of concern for the cattles welfare. The only thing stopping me was that an adjacent area had been fenced and I assumed that the cattle were soon going to be moved into that area. The photograph below shows the area at that time.

The next photo shows the condition this spring of the adjacent area into which the cattle were moved.

On what planet is this appropriate habitat management? Can anyone guess why there are no Stonechats or Dartford Warblers around this year? The site is 'managed' by the National Trust so I could be accused of National Trust bashing - an increasingly popular sport in conservation circles. But it isn't that - they just happened to have provided a sufficiently extreme example that shows up reasonably well in photo's; I could provide examples of mis-management by virtually every other 'conservation' organisation.

Why is this happening (and, I believe, getting worse)? I believe it is because there are very few wardens these days who have an interest in, and therefore a knowledge of, wildlife. Universities don't teach students how to identify species and even if they did, the time available still wouldn't give students a comprehensive grounding - they need to want to look at wildlife in their own time. The trouble is that there is no incentive for them to do so because all employers are interested in is bits of paper and such nonsense as 'customer care skills'. I'm not kidding, a friend was interested in a job with Natural England last year and showed me their requirements. There were no questions about technical skills or knowledge but they did give you lots of room to describe your customer care skills. Luckily she either was intelligent enough not to apply or lucky enough not to get the job!

So what needs to be done? Well it will never happen but a solution would be for the person specifications for all jobs in conservation to be torn up and the following criteria applied:

1. For any role in nature conservation, the applicant must have a pan-species list of more than 1000, no more than 80% being in any one taxanomic group.
2. For a role having responsibility for the management of a SSSI, the applicant must have a pan-species list exceeding 2500, with no more than 50% being in any one taxanomic group.

I would like to set the targets higher but then there would be virtually no-one who could apply!

Why? Not because listing per se has any value whatsoever but if people have to see that many species they will actually have to spend time in the field and if they do that, they might actually learn something about what wildlife needs and then end up not trashing the reserves that they are the guardians of. One can but dream.......

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