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The case for optimism (Tales of a Reserves Assistant)

Posted: Friday 9th June 2017 by AssistantReservesOfficerERC

Chris Reed

We hear a lot of negativity, especially about the environment and conservation. Here, I put forward the case for changing the narrative.

The case for optimism (Tales of a Reserves Assistant)

For many of you who know me, the title of this blog will come as a shock. I am not particularly known for optimism, but rather wallowing in a swamp of negativity. However, after some reading and questioning, I have decided to try and find some positives. Negativity is like a vortex, which sucks you in and makes you feel useless. You feel trapped and say “well, it is ultimately pointless”. It is not hard to fall into this vortex when you listen to the mainstream media. Bad news sells newspapers and attracts viewers; this is particularly true when it comes to conservation and the environment – a climate change sceptic is currently in the White House, uncertainty around our departure from the European Union, the ‘State of Nature’ report and many more. It can be very easy to fall into ‘environmental depression’ when the only news you hear about the environment is negative; your brain cannot easily find positive examples and therefore you come to the conclusion that we are all doomed – it is called ‘cognitive ease’ and it is perfectly human. However, I want to make the case for promoting more environmental success stories, here are just some I have come across.

Marine conservation

Hands up, marine conservation is not a strength of mine, but I understand enough to know that the marine environment is coming into focus throughout the world and people are waking up to the importance of protecting it. One great example is, the Pitcairn islands, an isolated British territory in the middle of Pacific Ocean which has, within the last year, established a massive environmental protection zone around the islands, securing the future of some of the most remarkable coral reefs in the world. As another example, Barack Obama, in his last days in office, expanded the area (more than twice the size of Texas) of marine protection around the islands of Hawaii. Controlling plastic pollution in the seas is becoming a massive social media movement and awareness is increasing. I would say that things are moving in the right direction.

Renewable energy

Climate change and energy generation have massive implications for wildlife and the environment. If we can tackle climate change through more sustainable energy production, we can make a dent in climate change. This week, the UK produced 50% of its energy from renewables – yes, okay so the term renewable is debatable and yes, some renewables aren’t as great as they are made out to be. However, they are so much better than finite fossil fuels. If you include nuclear, then it was around 70% non-fossil fuel generated energy. When you look at the global picture there are many countries actively pushing to go 100% renewable (Sweden and Uruguay for example). Costa Rica is almost at 100%, a country which is situated in one of the most historically unstable parts of the world; they are using their natural resources sustainably. There seems to be a global shift away from fossil fuels and countries are investing in renewables. A happy thought.

Species conservation

You may be asking “if you read the state of nature of report aren’t species declining?”. Well, yes, overall they are. But if we want to help challenge this conclusion and reverse the trend, we should look at some of the success stories of species conservation. Firstly, the Large Blue became extinct in the UK in 1979. However, after using detailed science research and understanding, motivation and pure determination, this magnificent butterfly was reintroduced back in the 1983 and has done well ever since. We can learn from this – invest in scientific research, bring in many stakeholders and work together. Think about Polecats, which are expanding their range across Europe and are deemed as a conservation success by many. Further afield, Tigers in India are starting to show growth in populations, the first time for many years. Furthermore, the fight to get the Saiga antelope protected has prevented it from becoming extinct in the wild. Look to Mexico, where conservationists and farmers are working in partnership to help the Black Bear, which has borne the brunt of climate change; cooperation and understanding is working.


We can also look closer to home for conservation success. On the Levels, the water vole reintroduction has been a big success and they are spreading across the reens and ditches. In Monmouthshire we are protecting wildflower meadows and restoring agricultural land back to wildlife habitat. In the Valleys we are managing more areas of land for wildlife than ever before and we are taking local people along with us. 

Conservation can be doom and gloom. But we must not dwell or give up hope. Which I confess, I fall into what feels like a never-ending downward spiral from time to time, especially when you are confronted with the M4, the Circuit of Wales and the dismantling of funding for the environment. Nevertheless, we must take control of our own destinies; if the environment is destined for disaster and there is nothing you can do, then taking no action will ensure that this will absolutely happen. However, if we try and fight it out, we might achieve something and say that we at least tried. Positive action, co-operation and risk taking is what we must do. We should build and learn from our successes and failures and promote our good work more often. I’m not saying that we should be naïve and ignore the negatives, but we should not lose hope – if it was not for the conservation movement, wildlife and environment would be far worse off.

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