(A piece initially written for the 2nd "Lonely Conservationists" Book, but it didn't quite meet the criteria so I've published it here as a blog instead. A hopeful, honest letter to my future self and what I think the future of Britain's wildlife will look like. Haven't had enough time to proof read tweak it as much as I might've liked, but still had a lot of fun writing it - enjoy!)
Dear 80yr old me (if you made it),
I’m sure by now, after decades of planning, you’re firmly tucked away in a wild corner of the New Forest, or a sun-kissed Somerset wetland.
And, if so, while coasting the surrounding rural landscape in your electric car - a patchwork quilt of woodpasture, Fallows and cropland, you probably experience a natural spectacle I only daydream about, drifting off at the back of a lecture hall.
It’s late Autumn. The trees are done with their modest blushing and now blaze neon yellow, amber and rosy reds, briefly storming the landscape with an army of colours and textures. The sky’s beginning to hug Britain close again, imprinting its low, watercolour sunsets and sunrises into our sky, its colours violated occasionally by the inky silhouettes of migrating waterfowl. Your Shrikes, Turtle Doves and other common summer migrants are now securely back in Sub-Saharan Africa.
You’re driving down one of those wild, ancient country lanes. Windscreen dappled with dead insects raining from the stark yellow Birches, so bright they camouflage the black-and-yellow “Beaver and Moose crossing” road signs. On all sides, the dynamic landscape of Fallows, Woodpasture and grassland intermingles with the crops: squash, peas, and corn, all grown harmoniously together, as the native Indians once did. Sustainable and effective.
And, thanks to the Fallows and Rough Grasslands, fat with seed-rich weeds, this landscape has everything set for that wildlife spectacle to take place…
They erupt from nowhere. Spooked by the abrupt hum of your electric car, the hedgerow appears to split in two halves. While one, an eclectic barricade of thorns, stays rooted to the ground, the other heaves into the air in a discordant mass of dappled chestnut feathers and rapacious chirps.
Following you as you drive, the feathery innards of the hedgerow peel out and away from you for well over 100m.
The feathered chestnut mass convulses and swells together in the low gold sky, deafening calls audible for miles. It’s a House Sparrow “super-flock”, some 20,000 strong.
Briefly extinct on our island during the early 21st Century, this spectacle is the result of intrepid juvenile House Sparrows briefly bolstering their parent’s flock, while they gain their independence, descending on leftover crops in a cacophonous, dappled concord.
Quietening, the flock twirls, pleats, and spins gracefully, before suddenly rupturing into a musical frenzy, some unknown signal indicating for them to descend into the bronzed fields below, probing enthusiastically for food amongst the heaps of leftover crop.
You’re probably spoilt with this site regularly at this time of year.
Where (or when*) I’m from though, while you can occasionally see Sparrow super-flocks in some of Norfolk’s well-managed agricultural cities, they’re a ghostly whisper to yours. Here in the 2020s, House Sparrows are actually declining, and at a breakneck speed of almost 1 bird per minute, until very recently.
Our meadows and grasslands, buffets of invertebrate food, are exhausted. Cities are impenetrable fortresses of glass and metal, bloated with air pollution, a far cry from your dynamic, green cities of birdbox-clad buildings and living green rooves.
It can be hard in my day and age to uphold optimism, remembering that there is a way out of all this. That times will change. But they have to.
After decades of gruelling, hollow policies and government promises to protect nature (which you probably sit laughing at now) the generally more conscious young generations of scientists and intellectuals will pressure something to give, fighting for the sustainable, wildlife-rich dream you’re now living.
Right now, conservation could be turning the corner to a Golden Age.
As the ice continues to melt and deserts continue advancing, the general public will turn to us conservationists out of desperation. The days of bullying, isolation, and treatment that we’re out-dated relics will give way as society realizes it needs conservationists.
Scientists spot the messages nature sends us, the public give the message a voice, but conservationists translate and act on them.
Once attitudes shift; conservationists are conserved, and with the power of the public’s support and finances fuelling us, the great rewilding movement can kick off.
Introducing large, charismatic creatures at one end of the spectrum will draw headlines, funds and steward a wilder landscape, while easing more sterile, urban areas into rewilding by conserving familiar, smaller species like Sparrows will create new audiences and transform our hostile concrete jungles into the wildlife oasis they have the potential to be.
Regardless of the where/when’s, you know that every conservationist counts over the next few years, and no matter how difficult it is to be hopeful, we’re in the worst of it. We just need to keep pushing, and trigger that slight change in mindset, and realise conservation is about the people just as much as it is the wildlife. You can have the passion of the greatest naturalist ever, and the drive of the most motivated athlete, but without the love of a humanitarian for the people you’re protecting the planet for and with, you’ll never reach your potential as a conservationist.
And hopefully, by 2091, I’ll be driving down that rural country road you’re on, electric car splattered with a Picasso-esque display of insects, Moose, Lynx and Beaver lording the primeval landscape surrounding me, all topped off by that colossal, super flock of House Sparrows.
All the best. And don’t do anything I would do.
17yr old you.
Image 1: Nature Photographers Ltd. (2021). House Sparrow flock in Spain [Image]. Retrieved from https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/5cdee7a86e30c30001c9637b/1610189298633-CQ5JT943U6XR2G2989W5/163074.jpg?format=1500w
Image 2: Howard, P. (2019). House Sparrow silhouette [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.outdoorphotographer.com%2Fphoto-contests%2Fwildlife-2019%2Fentry%2F642051-house-sparrow-silhouette%2F&psig=AOvVaw04NkZhfTAcwhHvqJWDljD2&ust=1642672855087000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAsQjRxqFwoTCNjVqLXHvfUCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD