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

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine