Nature Studies: The life that disappeared while baby-boomers had their fun

This uniquely lucky generation always felt a sense of radical specialness - but what did they do to the natural world?

A A A

Awide-ranging alliance of wildlife conservation groups, large and small, last week published a remarkable report entitled The State of Nature: a comprehensive audit of what has happened to the natural world in Britain over the past half-century.

No fewer than 25 miscellaneous wildlife bodies took part, from the Association of British Fungus Groups and the Bat Conservation Trust, to the British Lichen Society, although it was the biggest and richest of them all, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which coordinated and produced it (while in no way attempting to hog the credit for itself). Sir David Attenborough wrote the forward and spoke at the launch.

The report is a stock-taking, and what it amounts to is an unprecedented synthesis of loss. It is remarkable for two reasons. The first is the range of its scientific detail: all that rarified expertise in species from bats to lichens, from toads to orchids, has been harnessed to examine the fate of 3,148 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects (and other invertebrates) and wild plants in the British countryside since 1962. The second reason is its conclusion: that no fewer than 60 per cent of these species have declined in numbers, 30 per cent have declined by more than half, and 10 per cent are threatened with extinction.

The vanishing individuals range from the exquisite garden tiger moth, once common and now shrunk in numbers by 95 per cent – I remember it well, but haven’t seen one in England for years – to the turtle dove, just as lovely, down 93 per cent in numbers and on the high road to extinction. But it’s the composite picture that matters most.

Do people realise? Do they take it on board? For younger men and women, it’s hard to miss something you may never have known, but here is an unassailable documentation of an astonishing and unfortunate fact about our nation, about the United Kingdom. We now have a countryside which has lost 97 per cent of its flower-rich meadows, 90 per cent of its coppiced woodland and 80 per cent of its heathland – a countryside which, since the 1960s, has lost an estimated 44 million pairs of breeding birds and 72 per cent of its butterflies. We live in a land which may be one of the richest in the world in terms of money, but in terms of biodiversity, it has become one of the poorest.

The State of Nature report should be read by anyone who cares about the natural world. (You can download it easily from the RSPB website). Its start date is 1962 – it looks at what has happened to our wildlife since then – and, for me, that prompted anew thoughts of something I have written about here before, which is the environment and the baby-boomer generation, that cohort of individuals born in the aftermath of the Second World War – of which I am one.

It’s a question of definition. The baby boomers have always been fascinated by how they will be remembered by history, not least because they grew up in the 1960s, the decade which changed everything and brought in all those new freedoms, from sex to drugs to how you lived your life; and many have long seen themselves as the generation who made the world a better place.

More recently, they have been seen in a less flattering way – as the luckiest generation who ever lived, who benefited nearly all their lives from the overflowing prosperity of the long Western post-war boom, in a way no other generation surely ever will.

But a report like The State of Nature suggests another definition. Its start date of 1962 is when someone born in the very typical baby-boomer year of 1947 – such as Elton John, or David Bowie – would have been 15; and it is during the rich, rewarding, safe and privileged adulthood of this person, now collecting their pension, that the great loss has all happened.

They’re the generation on whose watch the Earth went wrong. Some of the baby boomers fought it, of course. They founded, and joined, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and other green groups; but many more just watched their houses grow in value, thinking they had done their bit, they had changed the world for the better, when really it was going to hell in a handcart, all around them.

Twitter: @mjpmccarthy

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines