Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Our Place

The book ‘ve just finished reading is one that took a little longer to get through than I had hoped, but it is quite densely packed with a whole host of interesting and relevant information. Our Place by Mark Cocker looks at the history of wildlife conservation in the UK, providing a background to the formation of organisations such as the National Trust and the RSPB. Cocker also explores where things went wrong, and where things would have been drastically different today. While us Brits tend to self-identify as a nation of nature lovers, the amount of wildlife and wild space left tell a very different story. As a country, England has some of the lowest levels of tree cover in Europe, and we’ve also lost over 95% of our wild flower meadows in the past 50 years. Things are slightly different in Wales and Scotland, where a lot of the land is inhabitable. Despite this, we have changed the landscape of our countryside forever, by draining the fens and converting every spare parcel of land into housing estates or agriculture. Our Place takes a deep look at these actions, the people behind them, and the consequences to our natural heritage.

As someone who works in conservation, this is a book that I wish I’d read sooner. There are a number of other books out there (that are now out-of-print), which investigate certain aspects that Cocker does. As well as being rare, they’re also quite long, and only focussed on one topic. This is where Cocker’s genius comes in, being able to weave all of those threads together, while condensing the information down so that the average reader doesn’t fall asleep while learning about the founding members of a certain conservation organisation. He also directs the reader to further reading, should that be a rabbit hole that you wish to fall down. The worrying thing is that the majority of the general public have been completely unaware of the decline of our native flora and fauna, many of them being disconnected from nature. How can someone fight for a cause, if they don’t know its worth? It is very clear that the main conservation organisations were born from humble beginnings, and have all had their successes through time, despite the challenges. Cocker uses the example of North Norfolk to highlight how much of the land has been secured by various conservation organisations (it’s a lot), yet it has been hard to replicate this across much of the UK (except in the case of National Parks).

It is clear that there is still a lot we can do to help protect our wildlife, and save/convert spaces for nature too. It’s completely possible to return agricultural land to nature, if you’ve ever walked or driven by an abandoned farm, you will have seen a prime example of this. The Common Agricultural Policy and other pieces of legislation have a lot to answer for, but hopefully time hasn’t run out. Despite the somewhat depressing topic, Cocker works hard to keep things positive. If you’re also working in conservation in the UK, this is certainly a book that you need to read at some point.

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