I’ve recently been finding it difficult to stay motivated in the fight for a healthy environment. Perhaps it’s the thought of four more years under a Conservative government that drains me of zest; four more years of badger culls, neonicotinoids, fracking plans, raptor persecution and de-subsidising renewables. I’m usually an optimistic kind of lady but some days I cannot understand how little society appreciates our planet; and how can we be so ignorant in thinking that our actions will not come back to haunt us?
So I turned to my lovely pals from A Focus on Nature, the young conservationists network where I’ve discovered my greatest nature allies. Of all the positive replies I received to my predicament, one of the most powerful was the reminder to think of how different our landscapes would be without conservationists. From rainforests to marine protection zones, the conservation movement has achieved so much since we started to realise the damage caused by human expansion.
This was just the ticket to jumpstart my eco-passion once more, so here are five British conservation success stories that have helped me remain focused on keeping our planet vibrant and healthy, for the sake of human survival as well as the homeless polar bears..
European Otter (Lutra lutra)
Since nearing extinction in the 1970s due to pesticides and persecution, the happy otter has now returned to every county in England. When conservationists lobbied to change water quality laws and vastly improved freshwater habitats, otters slowly started paddling back to our waterways, and just five days ago a young otter was spotted on a trailcam in the River Rother, very near my home! However, as otters are slow to reproduce and freshwater can be a very changeable habitat, it’s essential that we keep our waters clean and healthy to ensure their continued survival.
Short-Haired Bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus)
This little fuzzball was declared extinct in 2000 – yet it’s one of the most recent examples of how conservation efforts can bring species back from the dead. The short-haired bumblebee was once widespread throughout the UK, but loss of grassland habitats caused a major decline until the last bee was recorded in Dungeness. In 2009, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and other charities launched a reintroduction programme that proved successful in 2013; worker bees have now been found within 5km of the original nesting site.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Throughout continental Europe, the UK is the only country in which these magnificent birds of prey are on the increase. Under Stewart and Tudor reign in England, they were accused of scavenging and their persecution encouraged. Unfortunately, this persecution continued until just a handful of pairs remained in south Wales, but with conservation efforts numbers have rapidly increased and can now be found across the country. If you live in the southern half of England there’s a high chance you’ll see kites riding the thermals above rural areas, identifiable by their large size and forked tail. There are now so many pairs that the RSPB cannot survey them all!
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris)
Despite their legal protection in Britain, water voles have suffered a 94% decline over recent years. This is primarily due to predation by the American mink, which was introduced to British waters in 1929 for the fur trade. With habitat degradation and pollution also playing their parts, this little vole almost disappeared from our rivers before conservationists stepped in. Although they are still endangered, a reintroduction programme by the South Downs National Park has been incredibly successful and water voles can now be found up and down the Meon Valley.
Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)
The great booming bittern has been a reedbed resident for centuries; it is both secretive and silent as it scours wetlands for fish. But the reedbeds on which bitterns depend are disappearing rapidly due to excessive water extraction, and bitterns have suffered a huge decline as a consequence. However, thanks to habitat recreation and careful monitoring, this year saw the highest number of bitterns in England and Wales since the 1900s!
While it’s wonderful to remember every conservation success in recent years, there is still lots of work to be done. Please visit my About page to see which wildlife charities I support, and perhaps consider supporting them too. (You get good magazines.)
Note: Just after I published this, Twitter informed me that pine martens have officially been restored to Wales after a successful recovery scheme. Hoorah!