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

Frogs And Snails And Puppy Dogs’ Tails

I’ve always been puzzled by where the lovely donkeys come from that end up at looking at us reproachfully from adverts for sanctuaries in the UK. Why are there apparently so many – do we import them? I’m also pleasantly surprised by how big birds are here; all power to the RSPB for raising their “million voices for nature” (I’m not sure how big the brilliant BTO is – much smaller but still relatively big – and when I googled it to find out I found a sponsored link to…the RSPB). We don’t eat our donkeys and we don’t shoot our thrushes. We are indeed a nation of nature lovers.
Our interests are formed by culturally based preconceptions, however; there are no pig sanctuaries for distressed sows, I haven’t heard of any significant funding for efforts to neuter feral cats, and as for little boys… one of the charities we work with is the excellent and innovative Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, the sole specialist charity working for amphibia and reptiles across the UK. Membership 600.

Ponds

Hazlegrove wildlife pond
Hazlegrove wildlife pond
I’ve just started work on our next illustration project, a wildife pond at our youngest’s school. This should be a cracker; it is a good sized site and there are amphibia and reptiles around the grounds already. What a great thing to have at a school; they plan to have al fresco science lessons around the pond, which has a viewing area and will have cut paths for the children to wander. The heavy moving work and lining have been done already, so now I’m preparing for the planting. Needless to say, all native plugs and seed mixes, which should look gorgeous by next summer. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation offer lots of practical advice if you’re thinking of doing the same for your school, which you should be; ponds suppport some of our most threatened and most interesting animals, which children love – even though some think they won’t!