Friday, 19 November 2010

Wildlife that you can't see

I've never seen a blue whale. Actually I am quite content to not see a blue whale in the flesh in the whole of my life.

It's not because I wouldn't want to see one, it is more that I am happy that they exist, I can believe that they are magnificent creatures, and that the world is a better place both ecologically and spiritually with them in existence.

This was something that I did learn at University, that we can gain happiness from knowing that a state exists without experiencing it. It's called vicarious consumption and it is a big theme in modern society. We want people in other parts of the world to lead happy and decent lives, so we are prepared to pay a bit more for coffee, even though we may not ever hear or see these people.

So what about wildlife that lives nearer home, that you aren't allowed to see? Hidden away in every county in England there are woodlands, grasslands, rivers, and all manner of habitats which we have no right of access to. Yet they contain plants and animals and fungi and all the rest of nature. Some of these areas are protected and some are known about and some may be unchartered waters for naturalists.

You may shout "but we should have access to these places", but the point is that the wildlife is there whether or not there is a right of access for the general public and it makes no difference to the ecological health of an area, whether that right exists. So we should be happy that these places exist, plodding away in obscurity, leading their little ecological lives, without newsletters and visitor centres and paths and all the paraphenalia of the modern conservation world.

That's not to say that we shouldn't manage these places for wildlife. They need management (and of course a management option can be to do nothing), but they don't necessarily need access to be of great benefit to wildlife or to us, if we cherish them vicariously.

1 comment:

Lucy Wallace said...

Hi Stephen,
Interesting article. You could go further and wonder whether there is value creating places that are left completely to their own devices. The knowledge that such places exist has inherent value to us as well as ecology. Mount Kailash is a grand example, a more low key one is a special corner on a farm I know dearly in Wales.