Last week I had a very jolly day in London at the Invertebrate Conservation Conference. The presentations were generally high quality and surprisingly accessible to a non-specialist like me. The speakers and audience were enthusiastic (which I was expecting) and pretty youthful (which I wasn’t).
They need that enthusiasm. By definition I suppose conservation is a pretty depressing business. You’re dealing with a series of compromises and setbacks as humans barge their way into the largely unknown and unprotected natural world. These get worse when money is tight, particularly in a Cinderella area like invertebrate conservation. As the Earl of Selborne pointed out, we need to dramatically revalue our natural capital. The destruction of peat moors in South Yorkshire offered a shocking and graphic illustration of what has been going wrong.
I was prepared for some frustration and anger, but not for the good humour and entertainment value most of the speakers offered by way of contrast. And what great bizarre facts! I bet you wouldn’t guess there are 5 tonnes of animals in the soil of an average hectare in Europe? That’s half a kg per square metre. A lot of worms and, as I learnt, Collembola.
My take-aways from the conference? There are some really good pragmatic and effective projects going on, bring together local initiatives into bigger schemes. These include Buglife’s B-Lines, Butterfly Conservation’s citizen surveys and the Environment Agency’s work with sea walls in Essex and East Anglia, for example. Invertebrate charities are tiny, but they are among my favourites in the conservation world in terms of their aspirations.
Our continuing lack of knowledge about what’s going on in our own environment is as astonishing as it is potentially damaging. Generally, though, the dual threats of climate change and habitat loss are wreaking terrible damage on our invertebrate populations. So far as we can tell. These charts are, unfortunately, typical of the current situation. They show the distribution of the Wall butterfly Lasiommata megera in 1970-1980 and over the last 4 years. They’re courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network, another great organization we support and whose conference will be another jolly day in London.