2 June 2012

What is 'Wildlife'?

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting

Today I completed a form that asked if I thought there was any wildlife in my area. “It depends” is the response I wanted to make, but only had the options to agree or not. Is there a formal definition of ‘wildlife’?

The form filling came at the end of a fantastically enjoyable walk around a local ‘wildlife’ (ha!) area organised by the Manchester Local Record Centre. They have some National Lottery Fund money to improve the recording of wildlife (!) in the area.

It seems that with any grant of money these days some of it must be used for community engagement. I’m sure the Record Centre would like to spend the money on a new computer or to employ another professional ecologist, but fortunately for me – being part of the community – I got to spend a morning with someone who knows about local wildlife.

It’s questionable, I think, whether my new knowledge has any practical use to the experts or the wildlife, but I’m glad for the opportunity to learn. Perhaps the form should have had a tick box asking ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’, because as far as this member of the community is concerned that was the greater gain: an opportunity to indulge a geekish delight in naming things. My teenage children would have been embarrassed to be with me. There’s nothing more mortifying than a mum with a pair of binoculars round her neck and a notebook asking about buntings, fescues and national biodiversity plans. Heaven.

And as for the wildlife, yes I did see a reed bunting, an area of unimproved grassland, some damselflies, orchids, and rare adder’s-tongue fern. All of which I wouldn’t see in my garden or local park. Well, maybe the damselfly if lucky. So that question, ‘did I think there was any wildlife in my area’, made be hesitate. As you know I have blackbirds, daisies, cutworms, the occasional butterfly, frogs ... but do these comprise the ‘wildlife’ a precariously underfunded county-wide recording scheme would be interested in?

The term wildlife means different things to different people. I wonder if to many ecologists it may simply mean animals and plants on a government generated list that need to be uploaded to a database. And I know people who invest a great deal of spiritual meaning into the word. The leader of the walk, Dave Bishop of The Friends of Chorlton Meadows, said wildlife is anything living that is not human. A pragmatic answer I have sympathy with. The birds and insects and plants that exist in my immediate landscape are, to me, ‘life’, with no need for the noun ‘wild’.

Surely the issue of wildlife loss is not a matter of the loss of the untamed, unpredictable, unusual elements of the environment, but, simply the diminution of life.

Oh dear, too heavy? Shall do a short funny post next?

Image from The Wildlife Trusts