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Thursday, 13 January 2011

What would you say?


I read a great news report just yesterday about a postgraduate student who works for the charity Froglife. She’s just been funded to undertake a project which seeks to understand how biodiversity and our relationship with wildlife has changed within living memory by collecting oral histories from people. Imagine that. Recorded memories of what people remember about the wildlife of their childhood and younger years.

Now what a beautiful idea that is. How many times have we or someone else, seen something and said “I haven’t seen one of those for years!” Now, we could be talking about anything there. A mangle, for instance. But this is about wildlife. What a powerful thing it is to understand how the most detailed threads in the web of life have changed in recent decades through the feelings and thoughts of people who have lived and died in the environment. That not only provides a clue as to what is no longer there but, from a conservation perspective what should be there. But best of all, it will (I sincerely hope) show how our attitudes to the animals and their environment have changed and why they’ve changed.

So what would you say? If someone stuck a microphone in your face and pressed record what memories of your changing observations and attitudes to your natural world would you pass onto the next generation?

Would it be as simple as remembering the large flocks of house sparrows that are no longer around? Would it be how you felt when you saw your first fox hunt? Or how you felt when you saw your last? Would it be to remember skylarks over the allotments? Or otters on the river whose banks are now roads called Kingfisher Avenue? Would it be the childhood elm trees that are almost nothing more than memories in today’s Britain? The loss of the hedgerows near your house that were once so numerous? Will it be freely accessing land or coastline that you can no longer access? Will it be the feeling that there was once a bird that sang in the hedgerow? Or will it be the memory of how you didn’t used to see so many buzzards or red kites as you do now?

As such, I don’t expect it will all be a litany of loss and mourning. I think it will be a rich collection of differing feelings and changing times for good and bad in equal measure. Whatever memory it is you’d choose to leave then please leave it and make sure it really means something to you because that, surely, is the only true measure of its value.