The word extinction, to many of us, conjures images of iconic animals and distant landscapes – big cats on African plains, polar bears striding across shrinking ice sheets, orangutans witnessing their rainforest habitat disappear. Familiar protagonists of wildlife documentaries, and the face of many a conservation campaign, these totems of the disappearing natural world deserve and need all the help they can get.
Yet when we think about extinction, we probably don’t think of the Blue ground beetle. This unassuming insect, found only in Devon and Cornwall in the UK (as well as in parts of Europe), is not in imminent danger of extinction – it is only Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species*. But along with countless other species, as its habitat disappears, its future starts to look less certain.
Extinction is the tip of the iceberg: what lies beneath is a massive decline in species populations.
These species, which might not appear on your TV screen or your Facebook timeline (until now!), are not all found in exotic locations. Many of them are much closer to home. The State of Nature Report, 2016, described as a ‘stock-take’ of UK wildlife, shows that 56 per cent of species found in the UK have declined in recent decades. A similar pattern can be found in the US and indeed wherever a combination of agriculture and industry has taken a heavy toll on wildlife. Environmental journalist Michael McCarthy calls this decline the great thinning, lamenting the fact that in the UK, it is only people over the age of fifty who can remember:
“springtime lapwings crying and swooping over every field, corn buntings alert on each hedge and telegraph wire, swallow aerobatics in every farmyard and clouds of finches on the autumn stubbles; they remember nettle beds swarming with small tortoiseshell and peacock caterpillars, the sparking pointillist palette of the hay meadows, ditches crawling and croaking with frogs and toads and even in the suburbs, song-bird speckled lawns and congregations of house martins in their dashing navy-blue elegance …” (Michael McCarthy, The Moth Snowstorm, 2015)
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the less well-known, and often uncelebrated and forgotten species that make up the complex web of life on Earth. We’ll investigate the importance of biodiversity for humans – at the same time exploring the impact we have on it. We’ll highlight some of the incredible efforts being made by conservationists, many of whom we work with, to preserve fragile environments and their threatened inhabitants around the world. Conservation can and does work, we just need more of it.
We are delighted to be working with artist and friend Clare Shenstone, who is bringing some of these less celebrated species to life through her painting. To follow Clare as she paints each species, and find out more about extinction and the work we are doing with our partners to tackle it, find us on:
Finally, we can’t talk about the extinction crisis without mentioning Louis Masai and his incredible Art of Beeing tour, which is just coming to an end in the US. His work aims to open minds and hearts to the extinction crisis on our doorsteps. In 2014, we worked with Louis on a film and art project called This is Now which beautifully highlighted the local species that we have lost or risk losing.