University of Chicago Press, £17. Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Wild Hope: on the Front Lines of Conservation Success, By Andrew Balmford
Site by site, species by species, rescuers are working to bring an injured planet back from the brink
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Saturday 11 August 2012
Living urban lives in our towns and cities, and living half of them peering into electronic screens, it is easy to be cut off from the natural world and not register the cataclysm which is overtaking it; but the most casual glance at the figures will make it clear. Half the rainforests are cut down; most fish stocks are at danger levels; the seabed is increasingly degraded; and one fifth of all vertebrate species – mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles – are threatened with extinction. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimated this year that a third of the world's wildlife has disappeared since 1970.
It is a calamity past generations never imagined. The Earth, the exquisite, life-thronged blue sphere hanging in the barrenness of space, is being wrecked by us, the human species, with our exploding numbers, whether through habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation or the introduction of alien creatures and plants into new environments where they cause havoc – not even to mention climate change. And the wrecking is not a discrete event, terrible but over, like the dinosaur-destroying asteroid; it is a continuing process driven by the ever-expanding human enterprise, and it is going to get worse. In the circumstances, "what can we do about it?" is one of the most challenging questions humanity has ever been asked. Yet all over the globe, as Andrew Balmford shows in his gripping new documentary-cum-study, concerned men and women are trying to hold back the tide of ruination, and sometimes succeeding.
Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science at Cambridge, travelled to every continent save Antarctica in search of examples where conservation on the ground is actually making a difference. The seven detailed case studies he presents all show that with committed people and imaginative polices – the latter often the key – the widespread destruction of nature which seems such an inevitable part of economic growth can be halted and reversed.
In some cases, such as the protection of India's remaining one-horned rhinos in Assam, now a mouth-watering target for poachers because of the value of their horns in traditional Asian medicine, the old-fashioned remedy of "fortress and fines" – which ultimately means shooting armed poachers dead – is still necessary. But in other situations vividly portrayed in Wild Hope, such are the attempts to preserve South Africa's unique fynbos flora, or the cloud forests of Ecuador, the trick is to make other players – governments, businesses or communities – understand that preservation can be in their interests too.
Balmford is an astute analyst of just why it works in some places and not in others. Wild Hope will doubtless be taken by many conservation professionals, as well as students, as a textbook. At its close he distils his perceptions into seven "ways to win battles" which include, tellingly, not letting the best be the enemy of the good. But underlying the technical insights is the larger question of whether or not the obliteration of the natural world can be held back generally.
Conceding that his list of successes is the result of "deliberate cherry picking", Balmford admits: "The sad reality is that the majority of conservation efforts are not so successful and most activities that diminish nature... evoke no organised response at all." Yet the very fact that these conservationists are doing what they are doing throws into sharp relief a paradox. While human beings are destroying this planet, our only home, human beings are also trying to save it, and this offers at least a glimmer of the hope in this moving book's title.
Buy Wild Hope from independentbooksdirect.co.uk for £15.30 (RRP £17) including postage or call 0843 0600030
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
news Opponents claim it would stop performers such as Beyonce and Madonna appearing on TV
It takes a platoon of chefs, litres of brandy and rum, and almost 100kg of dried fruit
newsThat most ancient of crimes is on the rise, threatening farmers' livelihoods, community trust – and human health
food + drink
sportIf you thought the London Olympics and Wiggins' Tour glory made last year best, don't forget Murray's Wimbledon win and Farah's double
Arts & Ents blogs
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all: Pop star says he was 'messing around'
American Hustle, review: 'Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as the neurotic housewife'
Justin Bieber's mishaps and controversies
Is Bilbo Baggins a girl?
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 North Koreans are gasping for the truth: Let's give it to them
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 5 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- < Previous
- Next >