I’ve been on a journey, accompanied by poet Harry Man, to memorialise Britain’s vanishing wildlife. These creatures, along with countless others, are disregarded as we rush about our hectic lives each day in our concrete metropolis. But outside in the natural world which we so heavily depend on for our food, clothing and pretty much everything else, each creature is entwined in an ecosystem more complex than we know. Many are disappearing before we can catalogue and study them, a process critical to learning how to protect them. From microscopic bugs to fungi and algae, to bigger creatures such as birds and mammals, they are all a part of a global issue – a mass extinction, the extent of which is hard to grasp.
‘Starry Sky’ from ‘Finders Keepers’ illustration by Sophie Gainsley
Our capitalist greed-fuelled actions of the past centuries have set in motion what scientists are calling ‘The Sixth Extinction’. Put concisely by New York writer Elizabeth Kolbert, ‘Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.’
It is hard to believe this as we sit comfortably in our built-up cities. But it has been revealed by scientists, that we “have only identified about 10-15 percent, at most, of existing species. Most types of life are unknown, rendering the great dying crisscrossing the globe eerily invisible to human eyes and silent to human ears.” – Tikkun Magazine.
As discussed in The The Ecologist online and OneTreePlanted.org, the main issues which are driving species into extinction, – recent studies calculating that we are losing up to 200 species a day – are mass habitat destruction such as deforestation and pollution. Trees are being burned and logged at a scary rate. 80% of the world forests have already been destroyed and every 2 seconds, an area the size of a football field is destroyed.
Return of the Humpback
But it is not all doom and gloom. There are countless inspirational projects all around the word and a myriad of success stories. When first observed by mariners, the Humpback whale was named ‘The Merry Whale’. Not so merry is the fact that their curiosity and fearlessness made them easy targets for Whale Hunters. Add to this, their predictable migration routes and what you were left with was a marine massacre. Humpback populations were ravaged across the globe, so much so, that when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling of Humpbacks in 1966, there were only 5,000 left. This number may sound like a lot, but it was estimated in a study that Humpback populations were reduced by up to 90%.
There were only several hundred Humpbacks left in North Atlantic waters, where many traditionally feed on the rich marine ecology during the Spring and Summer. Since then, the Humpback has made an impressive comeback. There are now 80,000 recorded whales worldwide and the species went from being labelled ‘endangered’ in 1988 to being considered a ‘least concern’ as recently as 2008. This is just one of thousands of conservation success stories well worth celebrating.
‘Hello World’ illustration by Sophie Gainsley
Our project, Finders Keepers, created by Harry Man, aims to also raise awareness of conservation work taking place across the UK. This includes the protection of habits such as our woodlands and hedgerows which are threatened by the increase of agriculture.
The Toothed Threadwort, the Bastard Balm and the Wormwood Moonshiner
As I scrolled down the long list of endangered UK species, some of the more imaginative and entertaining names jumped out. Among them, I found the quaint ‘Grizzled Skipper’, the ‘Grayling’ and ‘Bastard Balm’, all imaginative names for different butterfly species.
Meanwhile an unsuspecting algae goes by the name of the ‘Toothed Threadwort’ and a ribbed black beetle, the ‘Wormwood Moonshiner’. Even in the most unlikely of places, the British sense of humour prevails and reminds us of our abundant imagination and creativity. It was these traits and our ability for forethought and planning, which enabled us to survive against the odds and thrive in most environments across Earth until today. There is much hope that these same traits will enable us to undo some of the damage we have caused and turn back the clock, to conserve threatened species. In the words of
David Attenborough, “Our planet is still full of wonders and as we explore we gain not only understanding but power. It’s not just the future of the whale that today lies in our hands, it’s the survival of the natural world on all parts of the living planet. We can now destroy or we can cherish. The choice is ours.”
‘The Woods’ from ‘Finders Keepers’ Illustration by Sophie Gainsley
‘Advice Whale’ Illustration by Sophie Gainsley, Poem by Harry Man, from ‘Finders Keepers’
Written by Sophie Gainsley
Edited by Cheryl Burns