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  • Writer's pictureAlex, Sundew Ecology

Our baselines are shifting...

When I were a lad, all this was fields...

There were so many flying insects that we had to stop and clean them off the windscreen when we went for a drive. Seeing a hedgehog squashed on the road was an everyday occurence - a sign than the population was vibrant. The air was filled with the song of crickets and the scent of wildflowers.

Life was better and British wildlife was in a healthy state, and we should do all we can to get nature back to how I remember it.

But it wasn't perfect. The wildlife of our islands was already ruined by decades of intensive farming, extensive development and pollution. I just remember it being better than it is now.

People growing up today will think the same thing when they are older. They will remember the first time they saw a frog and when there was a good year for small tortoiseshell butterflies.

They will look back on their twitter feed at the pictures of sparrows and comma butterflies with wistful reminiscence: 'things were better back then'.

This is the cause of 'Shifting Baseline Syndrome': the gradual change, through generations, of the accepted norm for environmental quality.

Environmental degredation is a relatively slow process, slower than a rusting car. Slower than the regular shifting of the seasons. Changes over our lifetime are almost imperceptable, but we remember the good old days and assume that it was always like that.

This is a dangerous thing because we conservationists and environmentalists will be satisfied with smaller gains than we should be. We will be complacent when we have 'restored' a meadow or replanted some trees. And, over time, things will get gradually worse and we won't even notice.

Instead we must use data and science.

We are lucky in the British Isles that we have the best historical information about wildlife and climate in the world. Village parsons have been systematically recording wildlife for two hundred and fifty years, and meteorologisits have been measuring temperature every month for three hundred and sixty years.

Many of the wildlife reports are held by our amazing 'environmental records centres' around the country - most counties have one. We must use these to create our baseline, rather than our own rose-tinted memories.

We must aim high when it comes to the restoration of our landscape. We shouldn't be celebrating the return of plants and animals that were common just a few years ago. If we want to restore a functioning ecosystem that will support us and all our needs, here and across the world, we need to aim for the stars.

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