February 2016 | Issue 284
How many people in Britain would describe themselves as conservationists? It’s difficult to estimate with any accuracy, but just by combining the total memberships of the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts we are already somewhere around the two-million mark, with any duplication in memberships being more than offset by those who belong to other organisations. That’s a good illustration of the massive public support for conservation – and the movement needs all the help it can muster.
The government appears not to have noticed, but biodiversity is in a grim state in Britain, despite a manifesto commitment to “conserve and enhance our natural environment” on the part of the Conservatives (party membership just 150,000, by the way). It’s a sad indictment of the lack of effective policies and leadership, both now and in previous governments, that wildlife is in such trouble.
Conservation largely seems to have become the responsibility of non-governmental organisations and charities, and even volunteers. As evidence of this, look no further than some of the birders and activists profiled in this month’s 'Local heroes' feature in Birdwatch – ordinary people who have dedicated their time to volunteering, surveying, educating and leading on behalf of wildlife. These role models were nominated by you, our readers, in the recent Birders’ Choice Awards, often with personal and moving endorsements of their achievements. Contrast that with the dire performance of Environment Secretary Lynn Truss, who earned your votes for the Guano Award for Environmental Harm.
We certainly need more local heroes. Whether we need so many wildlife charities, however, is a point explored this month by two of our contributors, Bill Oddie and Peter Alfrey. Personally, I think one ‘mega charity’ in this area is not the answer, and specialisation rather than generalisation is probably a better strategy. But it is down to all of us, both as supporters of conservation groups and as individuals, to do our bit for birds in every way we can.