Monday, 26 May 2014

No need to worry about them, they are as common as muck!

The "common" Large white or  Cabbage white butterfly
Oh! You don’t need to worry about them – they are as common as muck! Take as many as you like they are everywhere!

We often take for granted things that are plentiful; after all, there have been lots around for as far back as anyone can remember and should there be any sort of problem with their numbers, we would notice straight away – wouldn't we?

The Passenger pigeon was probably the most numerous bird on the planet and was found in the vast forests to the east of the Rocky mountains in North America. Enormous flocks, often up to a mile wide, would literally darken the sky as they flew over, not just for minutes – but for hours! It is estimated that in the nineteenth century their numbers reached 5 billion and comprised some 40% of the total bird population of North America.

The last Passenger Pigeon died in Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st 1914. Their demise was largely due to the vast numbers that were “harvested” at the breeding colonies and shipped to markets all over the world.

As I travel around England with my work, I find that what is considered “common” differs enormously. The Tree Sparrow (similar to the more common – now I'm at it - House sparrow) for instance, is not considered particularly rare in the East Midlands, but has ceased to be a breeding species in my own county of Hampshire, where it was once widespread. The aforementioned House sparrow is doing OK in Milton Keynes, but not in Cockney London or indeed in many other parts of the country. So bad has been its decline that it is now listed as a red data species. The Brown Hare I was recently told, has reached “plague proportions” in parts of Norfolk, is “doing fine” in Hampshire but has been “lost completely” from large areas of Devon and Cornwall.

There is a wonderful old lady who lives in Wiltshire, who looks after a lovely little flower called Cow-wheat, which grows freely and quite naturally in her garden.  It was not until she saw a television programme on “endangered plants” that she realized just how rare it is – only occurring at 3 sites in England! “I just thought it was such a pretty weed” she told the botanist who visited her garden, who nearly fainted on seeing some 7000 Cow-wheat plants!

So what am I trying to say here? Well, just because something is numerous in your local area or even your garden, does not necessarily mean that this is the case elsewhere. Quite often farmers will say to me “this farmland bird decline is a bit over-played don’t you think. Take the Skylark for instance. I reckon that I have one singing in every field on the farm”. My reply is that yes, they are still a common bird, but perhaps you had TWO singing above every field on the farm 20 years ago.

It is probably human nature to pay more attention to the unusual – but have many of us taken much time to stop and study the everyday things that surround us?  Konrad Lorenz wrote in King Solomon’s Ring, “in this state of apparent idleness, one learns essential truths about the macrocosm and microcosm”. Lorenz was referring to gazing into an aquarium. He was awarded a Nobel prize for his insights into mechanisms of animal behaviour that were based on his careful observations of everyday, common animals.

So, here’s a thought for you to consider. How about taking a little time to observe something really common such a daisy in your lawn or Cabbage white butterfly. You will probably be astounded at its beauty, structure, colour or whatever – and I bet that if you look really closely for a while, you will notice something that you had up until now been completely unaware of. 

Perhaps this time spent in apparent idleness might even lead to you gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of a species, which in turn may not win you a Gong, but might just give this common as muck species, more “value”.

And you know what, that worth and appreciation might well help to stop it going the way of the Passenger pigeon.       


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