Saturday, 11 July 2015


If I was pushed just to receive one journal out of the countless journals that I receive in a year then it would without a doubt be British Wildlife. So if you don't receive British Wildlife I would recommend that you take a look at this superb bi-monthly journal; well worth subscribing to.

A recent columnist in British Wildlife is Simon Barnes, but he is no stranger to wildlife journalism and I suspect is known to you all. In British Wildlife Volume 26, Number 5, June 2015 his column was about 'bioabundance', a word that he had to make up and it was a thought provoking piece so I have repeated it below. It's a bit lengthy but well worth reading.

We've made too much fuss about biodiversity and it;s been a tactical disaster. Not that I'm actually opposed to biodiversity. The problem is that out natural - our naturalist - fascination with the subject has blinded us. So, we've missed a trick. And it might be the most important trick of all.

We have established the notion that biodiversity is a wonderful thing. We have also managed to spread the idea that biodiversity is a good thing. It's widely accepted, albeit grudgingly, that biodiversity plays some kind of role in keeping the planet functioning.

The idea of losing a species is almost universally seen as a bad thing. Bad PR at the very least. Extinction is not something that anyone can laugh off these days. And that's a good point well made, but is has come at a price. That price is bioabundance.

See? There isn't even a word for it. I had to invent one. Take it on, use it, I make no charge. Tell your spellchecker to accept it. Tell everyone to accept it. Make it part of the debate, because its high time that the concept of bioabundance played a central part in the way we think about conservation.

By harping on about diversity we have given the impression that conservation is about tokenism. So long as we've still got a token number of Pandas, a token number of Californian Condors, a token number of White-tailed Eagles, everything is all right.

When it isn't.

Last year I visited a fish farm in Armenia (travelling with the World Land Trust) and it was like 50 Minsmeres all thrown together. Above the water was a swarm - flock is too puny a term - of Sand Martins: Sand Martins in thousands and thousands and thousands. They were feeding on aerial insects in invisible trillions.

That is what we've lost. That is what we are continuing to lose. The environmental crisis is not just about the extinction of species: it is also about the crashing numbers of ordinary everyday creatures. We are losing bioabundance and most people aren't worrying. Most people aren't even noticing.

Partly this is a matter of expectation. A young person has no memory of childhood journeys when you stopped the car every hour or so to clean the insects off the windscreen. No memories of seeing hundreds of Lapwings in a field scarcely bothering to turn your head. 

The fall in numbers is not seen as a matter of urgent, desperate concern. The plight of creatures on the edge of extinction grabs our attention with much more vividness. It's a better story: and stories are the way we understand the world. 

I'm not blaming twitchers; I'm blaming the twitching tendency within us all. Birding information sites never tell us that there are 10,000 Black-headed Gulls at a landfill, and, if they did, most birders would go there to pick out a Med Gull.

It;s in us all. It's part of the way we think. We relate to individual species. We love rarity. Above all, we take delight in the special. It's part of being human, part of loving the wild world - and we need to get that feeling under better control. We need to be less snobbish. We need to speak up for the common bird, for the working insect, for rights of the masses.

Our horror-stories should be connected with the shocking declines in our most visible groups, as recorded by the BTO and Butterfly Conservation. Our most celebrated wildlife events shouldn't be a whale in the Thames but a murmuration. We shouldn't be satisfied with a few token Corn Buntings: we need the hedges of Britain rattling with them, the sky singing with Skylarks, Lapwings back in the company of the dirt-common.

I thought about writing a book celebrating bioabundance: Wildebeest on the Serengeti, butterflies in the Chaco, Banded Demoiselles on the Waveney, Spinner Dolphins off Sri Lanka, Straw-coloured Fruit Bats in Zambia, Carmine Bee-eaters on the Luangwa River.

But I didn't, because what do I say? God, I tell you there were millions of the bloody things. Millions. Then I went somewhere else and there were millions of something quite different... It doesn't stack up as a story does it? It doesn't capture the imagination like a single Blue Whale or a night-hunting Leopard. But that's our Failing. We need to work on it. Now would be good.

Let's start bringing the world bioabundance into our debates and our reports and our stories and our pub conversations. Let's boast about vast clouds of midges, endless skeins of geese, uncountable flocks of House Sparrows (if you can still find them). Let's take up the cause of ordinary species and turn it into something special. Let's make bioabundance sexy.

And then try to get it back. 

Food for thought indeed! 


Warren Baker said...

I do take that Magazine, and did read that thought provoking article :-)

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Somewhat bizarrely and probably by a million to one chance coincidence the word bioabundance also occurs in the Meres & Mosses article in the 'Better' section



The Hairy Birder said...

I read that article as well Dave and didn't notice! I must be suffering from some sort of reading too many papers and articles fatigue!