Thursday, 29 March 2012

Rage against the dying of the light

A few months ago I still thought Tweeting was something celebrities did via their mobile phones to tell the world about their last cup of coffee. Now I know better.

The first surprise was that you could Tweet on a computer. The second was that people who actually had something to say - journalists, conservation charities, even governments - do it. I am now a Twitter convert. I use it even day to keep up with the news I'm interested in, to find out what informed commentators think about it and, occasionally, even to tweet myself.

Three things attracted my attention today, which in a strange way were all connected. The first was the news that starling numbers seem to be falling in Scotland - down by 17% since 2002, according to the results of January's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/310431-falling-stars-of-the-garden. How easily our wildlife ebbs away without us really noticing. Starlings - one of our most domestic birds, and yet disappearing before our very eyes. We get them in the village of course. In winter they perform our very own, very tiny murmuration as they collect to roost at dusk. As the days lengthen they perch on the tv aerials and telegraph poles commentating on the latest bird arrivals - curlew calls, swift screams, even the resident tawny owl is flattered by imitation. We'd notice if they weren't there. But we don't notice because they are.

Then I took the Twitter link to Michael McCarthy's excellent wildlife column in the Independent - Nature Studies http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/nature_studies/nature-studies-by-michael-mccarthy-where-is-the-elegy-for-the-mountain-blackbird-7594939.html. He was writing about another disappearance. Ring ouzels are becoming a rare sight on the mountains, and have gone completely from some of their English haunts. I've only seen them a couple of times - they looked like giant dippers to me - whizzing up a heathery glen instead of a splashy river. Mr McCarthy's point was that not only is the loss of another bird species a tragedy, but one for which we have no mechanism to mourn. For once I disagreed with him. The fact that we are still losing species, in this -2012 for God's sake - is not something just to mourn but to rail against. Rage, rage against the dying of the light - as Dylan Thomas so succinctly put it. Surely the right response is for those who care - and surely that should be everyone - to express their outrage that this could still be happening.

And that brings me to the third item that caught my attention. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) has begun a new campaign called 'Inspiring Generations' http://inspire.wwt.org.uk/write-a-letter-and-win/. They're using the original text from Robert Falcon Scott's final letter to his wife as the starting point, with the famous line 'make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games they encourage it at some schools – I know you will keep him out in the open air..'. They are then asking people of all ages to write their own inspirational letter to future generations.The best 100 will be sent by Scott's grandson from Antarctica to the chosen recipient. It seems to me to be a very good campaign. If Scott's letter to Peter led to him becoming one of the world's foremost conservationists - founder of WWT and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - who knows what 100 such letters might achieve.

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