Ignorance Is Not Bliss

People can’t recognize the plants around them any more, which seems a bit odd. You’d think they’d be a bit inquisitive about the flowers and trees they see everyday, but most people wouldn’t be able to identify an ash (let alone one that’s diseased).

Many of our reptiles and amphibia are a complete unknown for most of us, particularly as they get rarer; I’m not sure I would have guessed that this splendid chap was in fact a native Briton – would you?* That lack of curiosity about what’s happening in our back gardens is problemmatic for the scientists. I went to a talk given by Pond Conservation’s Jeremy Biggs a couple of weeks ago, in which it became obvious that lack of funding and hence reliable data has been a real problem. As a result of PC’s work we’re only now getting sense of how polluted our ponds are, and how important garden ponds are in preserving our aquatic wildlife as a consequence.

Fill in a Record Pool Sighting Card!Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and ARG UK, whose 100% fund we support, are asking folk to record their sitings of amphibia and reptiles. You can click on the button on the left to take part, and their website carries links to helpful identification resources. This sort of citizen survey might seem a bit gimmicky, but it’s not; we’re desperately short of this kind of information. Our reptiles and amphibians seem to be in sharp decline, but the experts aren’t sure how how bad things really are, let alone the reasons why.

It’s also a good way of getting people to have a more careful and informed look at what they are seeing, which is a particular issue with anything looking remotely like an adder. Ignorance definitely isn’t bliss for the thousands of slow worms chopped up every year by gardeners who find them in their compost heaps.

*He’s a Natterjack Toad – photo from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Pond Conservation

I’ve eulogized Pond Conservation and its director Jeremy Biggs before. They’re a tiny but good charity, punching above their weight and communicating sometimes unpalatable messages based on good science. In the freshwater line of things we already give money to the excellent Amphibian and Reptile Groups’ 100% fund, so we’ve just signed up as a Pond Conservation corporate associate too.

Charities explicitly working for habitats rather than animals are to be applauded It’s a difficult ask, as the now sadly defunct Grassland Trust found out; it’s much easier to appeal to people to preserve something loveable and fluffy. The fauna associated with ponds aren’t popular either, which makes pond and amphibian and reptile charities the Cinderellas of the conservation world. People love mammals and birds, and iconic species like bees and butterflies. They don’t like snakes and toads, and newts start them sniggering.

This would be ok if all was well in the world of herpetofauna*, but it isn’t. Perhaps surprisingly, given the good news stories about rivers we often seem to hear, such ponds as do still exist after all the drainage schemes of recent history have such poor water quality they’re pretty hopeless, ecologically speaking. Their high nutrient levels also support invasive plants, which hardly help. Pond Conservation hope their million pond project might help.

The other reason we’re supporting Pond Conservation is that I really, really just like ponds and their associated flora and fauna. We’ve put in several ponds for our courses and a lovely one at our previous house, and the landscaping project at our new house will include a lot of water (somewhat ironic, given the Somme-like state of the building site currently!). To my mind it’s the first step in creating any garden ecosystem; our ponds won’t just bring the obvious animals in, but also birds and bats. Not only that but, full of native aquatic plants, they will look stunning.

*amphibians and reptiles

Ed.: Pond Conservation are now the Freshwater Habitats Trust.