From a young age, we are all taught about the world around us; the animals, the plants and their ecosystems. We have discovered over 7.5 million different animal species and over 11 million plant species. We, as humans are part of this world and coexist with these diverse living organisms, they are everywhere in our lives. In our childhood storybooks and our exotic holidays, we get just a small glimpse of the biodiversity in the world around us. From the beautiful, majestic Snow Leopards of the highest peaks in Mongolia and Russia, to the powerful Humpback whales of the great Pacific to the Green woodpeckers in our very own gardens. Nature is everywhere, continuing to surprise and amaze us at every turn. However, the world is changing rapidly. These magnificent creatures we are so inspired by are in grave danger; with the extinction rate being the highest since the loss of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We are losing biodiversity at a faster pace than we could ever have imagined.
Some of our most treasured species are heading toward extinction, yet, what are we really doing to stop it? What can you do personally? Although no one is claiming to have all the answers there are many organisations working hard to reduce biodiversity loss, pollution and deforestation. The field of species conservation is the practice of protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats; with the overall goal being to ensure nature will be around for future generations. Also to enjoy and recognise the importance of wildlife and wilderness for humans and other species alike. One of the leading organisations in the field is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
After spending a week at the IUCN headquarters, in Gland, I learnt a bit more about what they are actively doing to help. The IUCN has many different specialist branches, varying from marine life to deforestation. The branch focusing on endangered species is a foundation called Save Our Species (SOS), coordinated by Alessandro Baldalotti. SOS has one clear objective, to ensure long-term survival of threatened species by protecting their habitat and the people who depend on them. The structure of the foundation is to channel funds from donors to existing frontline conservation actors, working to protect some of the world’s most threatened species from extinction. They strategically identify and select the best frontline conservation projects for funding. This aims to educate and communicate to the global community how the projects are advancing, while ensuring grantees achieve their stated objectives and introducing people across the public and private sector to the idea of conservation. SOS participates in the running of 119 different initiatives all around the globe, ranging from tigers in Asia to lemurs in Madagascar.
The SOS foundation is helping in the fight against species extinction alongside the so many other organisations in this field. The threats to our wildlife include illegal poaching, deforestation, oil drilling, plastic pollution and the huge scale problem of climate change. Yes, this does all sound extremely depressing making you want to completely ignore it as you cannot go out into the field and fight it hands on. However, this is not a problem you can ignore and push to the side, there are ways to help.
Even the smallest change will make a difference. Reducing single use plastic ; saying ‘No!’ when you’re offered a throw away plastic bag, a straw or a spoon. The simple act of recycling on a daily basis will change a lot, as will using less paper. Also, switch the lights off when they’re not needed and eat less meat. We are not asking you to completely change your lifestyle but these are all small and easy things to do which will have a big impact.
For those of you who had never heard of the IUCN or Save Our Species, awareness plays a key part. If people don’t know, how can they help? We encourage you to raise awareness yourselves, tell your friends, tell your family, the more people who know, the more people can change their habits which affect wildlife. Even if you’re not a conservation fanatic, we all have a responsibility to help. There are 19,817 species on the IUCN red list, classified as threatened with extinction. Once these species are gone there is no bringing them back. We only have one planet, let’s not waste it.
Title: Conservation – Just do it!
Your “La chat” articles deserve comments – just like the Earth needs people commenting on its problems – especially on the one in which your article says “let’s not waste” “the only Planet we have”. Right! That means “Let’s save it”. Enough People, like you, want to help, so, that way the Earth can win once we all help each other. Here’s my offer:
Please try this idea:
Conservation means everybody learning the names of the Plants and Animals living near them. That’s all. And learning just one name at a time will do!
Yes. To win back a livable Earth, that’s all that you and everybody else needs to do – because then things get interesting. Once triggered, what follows should happen automatically. You are adding the power of names to the healing power of Nature.
Don’t worry about the number of species (1.8 million known to science), or how to identify and name them. Get outdoors to learn about them, person to person, and naming species will be no bother. At the start, stay local and if needs be, make up fun names to share with your friends. Sharing is bonding!
Getting to know ‘your’ creatures:
Learning about ‘your’ critters needs you to do three things: First, OBSERVE them. Taking time will increase the interest you’ll find in them. Nothing can be more interesting than living beings. People are interesting partly because they are a bit special, but so are other life forms once you really notice them and find out their names. Try this on all sorts of critters, and flowers and trees and weeds. Interest grows when you give a little bit of time to observing a spider, or a fly – or a spider capturing a fly on a bush – or whatever. Every species has unique survival strategies that work for it. Make sure you get this sort of information from the creatures themselves. Maybe learn to draw them: that’s powerful!
As I said, being interested needs “three things”. After observing, REMEMBER what you’ve seen and let your observations add up. Be ready to pass on your observations: talk, so as to interest your friends in what you’ve seen: swap observations. That is, learn to COMMUNICATE your observations, and with them your ideas, and theories. Hey. Was that funny little Beetle running about because it’s hungry, or because it’s got too hot? To answer that, let’s add: CONTEMPLATE what you observe. That rounds the square.
Oops! You have a problem! Don’t have problems!
You can’t remember enough of what you’ve seen, so talking about Nature’s critters is difficult. No problem! Your problem is not having names for the things you see, or you have so few names to go round that your memories get confused. Which fly? What spider? What do you recall about that Beetle?
Wouldn’t “Housefly” and “Jumping Spider”, or “Orb Spider” and “Fun Beetle” start to focus your memory and add sharpness to you conversations? Of course!
Once you have names, of any sort – Common (vernacular – local and foreign) or scientific* – you can start looking up information about any plant or animal online, in books (try libraries) and by asking around. Latin (scientific) names are special in that there should be only one “correct” name for each species. But they can be tricky (except as below). For Natural History, local Common names are the most useful. Once you can share names and talk about living things, community interest in your local wildlife will grow. Names plus talk personalize things; the things named become friendly!
* Scientific (Latin) names are important – not for you to learn or to use directly – but because the BioLists computer program (see below) uses these names to list each species next to it nearest relatives. This is biodiversity Classification; it makes managing the names predictable. Scientists keep changing names; they do this when they update ideas on how life evolved. As you learn, these evolutionary pathways become memorable: this is Taxonomy. It’s a fundamentally important yet grievously neglected and underfunded science**. BioLists, with your help, aims to make Taxonomy easy and important again.
As local information adds up, the creatures that everybody gets to know become more and more interesting and important. If science had investigated climate change science by observing the effects of the changes it was bringing to our gardens, then it would have had ideas to work on before trying to get too physically scientific (and unscientifically political). Climate science can still use your sound observations – nature’s ideas – to help everyone understand local adaptations to it.
Most instructive is to go one-on-one with a creature you can get to know as an individual. Plants are great for this – just nominate a favourite plant or two or three. Birds often have personal differences (markings or injuries): give each unique being its own name. The more you notice, especially in the wild, the more features critters share with us.
When Natural History gets personal, Conservation begins to happen; ideas surface. I figure that we need Natural History to become the dominant science for this century. Awareness of life can grow in communities, and then branch out to become regional and then global. One big effort now could mean saving the Earth NOW. Then we, and our descendants, could go on to do even more, really happy Conservation: we must help repair the Earth! The sooner we start, the fewer millennia it will take to do everything reasonably possible.
Now do you see how to save endangered species?
Good. But nobody else does. Globally they see one huge “problem” – too big! As in your report*, “IUCN – What we are doing to save threatened species” the UN’s IUCN SOS has 119 different initiatives all around the globe, ranging from Tigers in Asia to Lemurs in Madagascar”, and “[t]here are 19,817 species on the IUCN red list, classified as threatened with extinction.” Pick one problem to start. Which one? Easy! Choose a local one.
What’s happening in Conservation? A lot. But not enough that is winning many battles. Most activity is inside offices and banks and on computers. Such good intentions and politics only waste opportunities to achieve actions on the ground – so we’re losing.
Yet most informed People want to do everything possible to fix today’s big problems. Worldwide, we’ve got the numbers, so we should be winning. We could be winning! Species-level Conservation can win. So let’s win! How? Start with Common Names.
This, I figure, is how to grow truly interested and involved leadership for Conservation: go local first, then go wider. And the good news is that, from the British Isles to New Zealand and back, right now the climate of opinion is swinging in favour of saving species from extinction. How? Hone your ideas by observing, remembering, communicating and contemplating critters. This way you will gain the wisdom to know what to do. To convert more people to Conservation, infect them with your interest in your favourite back garden weeds and weirdies.
The Vital Sciences:
In recent decades, the Vital Sciences* are not up to playing their part in facing the big problems. The field scientists are not getting to do enough fieldwork: an overall lack of informed leadership is to blame. I figure that the relevant professionals need you, the amateur Natural History community, here, there and everywhere, to not only demand better results, but to get out and be the field workers to provide the vast quantities of local field data needed to help solve key problems. Shame the professionals! You will find they will willingly co-operate once you show that you have more clues to offer than they ever had.
* These are Natural History [ideas] and Taxonomy [names and communications] as prerequisites for doing Ecology [theory] and Conservation [practice].
At base, it’s your nit-picking, little wildlife observations (real Natural History) that will produce wisdom, because critters never lie: they are just living in their time-honoured ways.
Please check out my website: http://www.biolists.com.
BioLists.com is fully scientific yet it lets anyone very quickly build classified species checklists. It is designed to assist Conservation by making it very, very easy for users to record species-related observations. How easy? Common (vernacular) names are the most useful way in: scientific (Latin) species names are there more for the computer to use to put the lists into evolutionary (memorable) sequence. How quickly? With a little practice, The core purpose of BioLists is to empower Natural History, Ecology, Conservation and Education, by making Taxonomy accessible. All the hard work has been done and put into the database, so BioLists sidelines all taxonomic problems, leaving these for the professional Taxonomists to sort out. The BioLists System* is not just “a good idea”, it’s the only names-based communications tool that is ready to use to empower Natural History and much else. Remember the power of Names.
* BioLists’ biodiversity checklists let you record individual information about each species. A checklist can record that its species were found living together at the same time. That’s a useful package of Ecological information. BioLists makes it instantly easy to compare lists from different places or times. In this way, the BioLists System is ideal for Ecological studies.
TIP-1: Taxonomy is tricky and doesn’t fit easily into computers. [Warning: don’t try to figure out how BioLists works (and don’t let any computer-savvy nerd try to “fix” it “his way”). For advice, ask an ecocentric taxonomist! (She knows that all life is one.)
TIP-2: Keep BioLists, and your use for it, “simple”. Once you get started, it’s so easy that you need hardly notice it. [Hey. I don’t like spending time on computers either.]
TIP-3: Select the ‘Year-version 2000’ database for your first biolists – (and when you’re ready, the ‘Y-v 2010′ database). The taxonomic names found in Y-v 2000 are (still) up-to-date with many of the books, etc, in use today. Newer scientific names take time to get into general use; others take time to get updated and made available. Y-v 2010 contains many relationship updates resulting from DNA analyses. [No great hurry, but who will make Y-v 2015? And, help is needed to fill up Y-v 2000 and Y-v 2010. And more foreign language Names, please.]
TIP-4: If some species and Genus names don’t come from the online database, key them in; also you can edit ones that do turn up. Be careful about alterations, especially classification; you could lose compatibility with other biolists (your own, or those from other users). This could complicate comparing files and analysing composite datasets. Keep your records – er – uncomplicated.
How do you make a species INDEX for one of your Natural History books, or for a gardening, or travel book, or for an essay or report? Just make a biolist! Key in the first 3 letters of any species name (eg “m o u”), then find the name (“Mouse”) in the menu that comes up. Next – the interesting bit – find whichever “Mouse”you want! A clicks adds the species’ name and its classification to your biolist.
Downloading your biolist from BioLists into Excel puts the species list into Classified sequence – the one and only sequence shared by any and all biolists: but note – this sequence will be different for each Year-version database; this uniqueness is why Y-vs are needed. As planned (and tested), the System will soon update your biolists from one Year-version to the next. In Excel you see how easy it is to compare, merge, analyse, edit and export biolists. And they stay useful when archived.
With your biolist files, you’re clued into the life around you, you can share and compare everybody else’s life forms, and can comprehend all recorded life.
By the way, long ago, in a little book* I defined a student as “any interested person”. Hey. How many grandparents are “interested”?
* Woods, Cedric S 1963 Freshwater Life in Ireland: Keys and checklists . . .” Irish University Press. 128 pages. [Over 300 identifications to Genus or species level. 361 thumb-nail sketches, most drawn from life.] [This book should soon to go online as a recommended format for 21st Century Natural History. with a biolist Index added].
Thank you for winning
Cedric Woods, PhD (1968, Taxonomy and Ecology)