Watching wildlife

People who benefit from nature need to conserve it. Otherwise, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity, their use will not be sustainable. Merely watching is not conservation, unless watching gives value to nature, for instance by bringing jobs to local communities, or if nature-watchers work with other interests to restore habitats. Moreover, in a survey across Europe (on p12) BirdLife partners which had a most positive opinion of habitat contributions by hunters also had most rapid growth in membership.


For more than 80 years, some wildlife watchers in the British Trust for Ornithology have systematically recorded bird nests, bird numbers and ringed birds. Others organisations focussed initially mainly on increasing legal protection for species and nature-rich areas, from 1889 in the case of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Previously, the state had protected species and areas for hunting, and a first nest survey (of goshawks for falconry) was in the Domesday Book (1087) for Cheshire. Citizen Science surveys are now frequent, for birds, mammals, butterflies, bees, moths and broad ‘bio-blitzes’[RK2] . Records of timing for natural events inform our efforts to help wildlife adapt to change.


Cooperation to boost ‘habitat heroism’ is essential, because extinction threats from deliberate killing are now far less than from habitat change in Britain. Habitats need to be improved everywhere, partly because disconnected populations easily go extinct and partly to encourage a hands-on interest for nature’s riches (without carbon costs of travel to distant reserves). Fortunately, along with growth in local wildlife trusts, has come mobilisation of local volunteers and other community engagement, for example through building visitor centres at reserves (as illustrated above).

 [RK2]Add best link for each



Have you ever picked mushrooms or blackberries? For many children, early rewards from nature are the fun of helping mum and dad gather wild flowers and fruits. Thanks to TV shows, foraging for edible plants and sea-life has gained popularity. British people are increasingly adventurous with fungi too. If we are careful to keep foraging sustainable, for instance with the European Code of Conduct for Gathering Fungi, and safe for those eating these riches of nature, this is great, because “Hands-on opens hearts”.


Like wildlife-watchers, foragers can offer systematic information on nature’s riches if they choose. As with records of rare birds, which can attract too many watchers, the recording may need to be confidential, by a trusted organisation.


Foragers, especially those who are also gardeners, may become good volunteers for projects to re-establish fungi and plants from nearby woods and valleys (for which there are simple IUCN guidelines). An interesting challenge is the subtle governance needed to balance farming of wild food species with foraging which conserves habitats. As with hunting and watching, the answer is probably not ‘either …or’, but ‘more and more’ of all these activities. It is best if the different interests and government work together to get all possible benefit from engagement for nature and livelihoods.