I began Wing Threads because I believe we can be more effective in the way we do conservation by building community through creative means.
I look at conservation as a practice of caring for people. Like all living creatures, humans are dependent on the health of our environment for survival. We all take part in the interactions of life between land, sky and sea via complex global ecological networks. Living independently of our natural environment is not an option. This interconnectedness of life to which we belong, means that by tending to the ecological systems that support our existence, we indirectly take care of the needs of people. Despite this reality, we regularly behave as though we are separate from nature and in doing so, unwittingly harm ourselves.
We are living in a time of great anthropogenic change. An ever growing human population is resulting in global climate change, severe habitat loss, increasing pollution and rapid species extinction. Combined with our human tendency to focus on what we have lost, it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and powerless to effect meaningful change. As famous American environmental lawyer, Gus Speth has said:
” I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change… But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists don’t know how to do that “.
But I believe that we as ordinary people do – it is precisely through our ordinary but immense capacity to connect with others that we can begin to generate positive change by shifting the central focus of conservation towards people.
Biologically we are social beings. Therefore, the social benefits of conservation need to be apparent for us to understand their relevance. Without clear links between efforts to conserve biological diversity and human livelihoods, plants and animals can be publicly misperceived as being valued above people. A love of animals and wanting to contribute meaningfully to is what led me to pursuing a career in zoology in the first place – an experience shared by many of my colleagues. However, I believe our focus cannot solely be on the species we are trying to save. We also have an ethical responsibility to the communities we work with to listen and respect the needs of those whom our actions will affect. When we consider our own and others’ needs in the context of being inextricably linked to the ecosystems that support us, conservation actions become more readily understood and hence more effective. To care about conservation issues, people need to feel they are being cared for – that they belong to a community.
I see migratory shorebirds as a living expression of global community – they are birds without borders, moving freely between countries and across continents. Their migration path is the thread that connects communities living around the world to one another, intertwining the lives of people whose paths they cross. Conversely, they are also an expression of our disconnect. Shorebird numbers are decreasing at an unprecedented rate. As their feeding habitat is depleted through our ongoing development, we effectively incur a ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Their rapid decline is the canary in the mineshaft warning us of the devastating consequences should we fail to understand our interconnected place as humans within an ecological network. Unaware in our race for ‘progress’, we don’t realise we are unravelling the very threads by which our own survival is also bound.
Despite this, I am optimistic and believe in the goodness of people. I envision a future where we unite to find creative solutions to the ever challenging environmental and humanitarian problems we will face as a global society. One where we put aside our differences and listen to each other to find common ground that has the greatest long-term benefits for the many, not what brings short-term gains to the few, because we recognise we are all smaller parts of a much bigger whole. A caring world, where people act to support each other by supporting natural systems at the local level that in turn, through our inescapable interconnectedness, support us all. Inevitably, there will be extinctions but there is still so much left worth saving and in the process, we may just save ourselves. Paradoxically, it is because people are the problem, that people are also the solution.
Without people, there is no change. With people, there is hope.
We are crowdfunding! Please help give Wing Threads: Flight to the Tundra wings – literally! Head on over to www.chuffed.org/project/wingthreads.