Welcome to the Anthropocene! – Feb 2019

Hello everyone! Welcome to a new year which, if we are not careful, will consist of a veritable glut of political platitudes, conservation calamities and global gloominess. It seems that 2018 was the year when the world recognised finally that our planet is on the brink of crisis; now there is a real danger of us spiralling down into a mire of environmental ennui!

Alliteration aside, we are well used to the platitudes by now. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult not to be ground down by the plethora of news reports, documentaries and investigative journalism showing us harrowing images of marine fauna engulfed in plastic, the ramifications of a fashion culture governed by a throw-away mentality or communities ravaged by the effects of climate change and flooding.

Newspaper columns and their technical equivalents are reporting, seemingly on a daily basis, that wildlife, plant and conservation groups around the globe are concerned about habitat loss and how many species are disappearing or destined for extinction. Last October the eminent US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published an article titled Mammal diversity will take millions of years to recover from the current biodiversity crisis.

Many figures of doom are being bandied about, the dreaded 1.5oC rise in global warming, 60 percent of animal species lost in the last 40 years and the start of a sixth mass extinction event to name a few. Yes Folks, welcome to the Anthropocene, the epoch when species Homo sapiens really left its mark!

We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all pervasive, the mechanisms we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening that we can exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it.

Sir David Attenborough, Opening day of the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2019

In the face of so much despair, reinforced by scientific reality, it is difficult to see any cause for optimism. Nonetheless, we must retain some hope that we can reduce the damage and provide some sort of world that is fit for the planet’s fauna and flora to live in, us included. There is no doubt that we can, and should, do our utmost to make as many changes as are humanly possible in order to live in a more environmentally friendly and supportable manner.

However, it is the decisions the United Nations will make in the next two years regarding Climate Change and Sustainable Development that will go some way to addressing the problem. Part of the plan is a New Deal for Nature, something those of us who cherish our nature reserves and areas of wilderness will be eagerly awaiting.

However, not everyone is quite so concerned about Ma Nature’s domain. A major consequence of the increased urbanisation of the planet is that people are becoming less and less connected to the natural world. In a time when you can see images of practically every known species on Earth with the help of a visual Search Engine it appears that people are content to live their lives in a virtual universe without looking up to appreciate reality.

Could it be that the very technology informing us on the state of the world has become little more than a tool for voyeurism and superficiality, giving people a glimpse of something they cannot relate to and which disappears when they hit the off switch?

At risk of sounding like one of the cliché exuding orators that inhabit our news channels or a fashionable Mindfulness guru, it really is time for many more people to get out and take notice of what they can see and hear.

Clearly, the best way for people to get back in touch with the natural world is to walk outside, or even look through a window, and take a note of what is out there. Last month the RSPB encouraged us to do just that with the Big Garden Birdwatch. The Freshwater Habitats Trust is urging everyone to get involved in Spawn Survey 2019, a record of frog and toad spawn across the country. Later in the year people will be taking part in the Butterfly Count and swotting up on their Odonata identification for Dragonfly Week in the Summer.

In Crowhurst, we are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a range of diverse habitat types giving us the opportunity to observe numerous species of fauna and flora for ourselves. People are waking to the sound of birdsong as the deceptively mild winter months lull the Feathered Folk into a false sense of Spring-like conditions. Foxes are calling through the night as they prepare to play their part in the survival of the species and Moles are travelling miles in search of a mate in their subterranean cosmos.

Quarry Wood is seething with life at present. Insects are crawling and swimming through the pond whilst their relations dance in the air currents above. We are hoping to report our annual sighting of frogspawn to the Freshwater Habitats Trust before too long and we are flicking through our diaries to arrange Moth Events and a variety of other surveys.

This will be the year when we attempt to counteract the feelings of helplessness and despair effectuated by studying the wider picture with a concerted effort to value and take pleasure in what is on our doorstep.

To help visitors to our little reserve we have started a new scheme where we highlight something of interest on a small information board, which is actually a log!

These Nature Notes will be anywhere in the wood so keep a weather eye on the ground, in the undergrowth or even in the trees. Last month we pointed out the tiny new Scarlet Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha coccinea) which started to appear just after the Festive Season and hopefully the advance guard to another glorious display. February’s Nature Note will feature the first sighting of the Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) as they peep through the leafy carpet of the reserve.

To quote Sir David once more:

It is tempting and understandable to ignore the evidence and carry on as usual or to be filled with doom and gloom.
But there is also a vast potential for what we might do. We need to move beyond guilt or blame and get on with the practical tasks at hand.

Let us do exactly that!

Put me right at pgcrow@yahoo.com

Paul Johnson