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29 May 2006 at 11:22 pm #3340Martin WParticipant
Here’s an email from “bass-playing birder” Nigel Birch, sent to Oriental Bird Club group, evidently responding to message from a birder wondering about publicising birds in urban areas.
Worthwhile, I think: to me, we need strong conseration ethos, yet how to create this when so many people now live disconnected from nature?Quote:I was intrigued by your musings as they touch on something I have been
thinking about a lot recently as I prepare a talk on birdwatching
(specifically the role of the amateur) for local young people in the
city where I work.
First I would say, don’t worry. You have excellent credentials – a
year and a half of looking for information you can’t find seems an
excellent qualification for asking the questions you pose!
The root of the problem it seems to me is that in the West –
particularly the UK (which has a long history) the US and western
Europe there is a history of amateur ornithology and awareness of birds
– define it how you want, but I would add from the little old lady
feeding the ducks in the park through to the dedicated hobbyists and
‘twitchers’ who birdwatch in their spare time and have developed an
impressive knowledge of their neighbourhood’s, region’s and country’s
Some of this activity is recorded into county and other
Reports, and is also channelled into scholarly professional research
via surveys, etc organised by the professional bodies like the BTO and
the RSPB in the UK. In addition local groups like the one I was a
member of in the UK increasingly carry out their own local surveys and
go beyond reports into mapping distributions, population trends,
producing Atlases, etc. This means that there is a wealth of
information for potential authors to draw on in writing the ‘Where to
watch…’ type guides.
Elsewhere in the world (including where I am currently based – south
China) this tradition is non-existent. Birds may feature in the local
culture – but often only registering as cultural icons (eg Cranes),
food, pets or pests. What ornithology does is exist has until recently
been solely professional. It’s interesting that you should pick
Keoladeo to contrast with the dearth of information in your region,
because my recollection is that this was set up initially as a hunting
area under the British colonial rule.
What I think your experience reflects is that as new reserves have been
established in this region and as tourists have come, the publications
and the focus is on the more spectacular aspects – big cats, game
animals , scenery – rather than on other parts of the wildlife – for
example birds. I think in turn this reflects the background of those
involved in the promotion, the interests of the majority of visitors
and local population.
In short, the published information reflects the
areas where there are rare species because that is where birding
tourists from the west have gone, or where conservation efforts have
been concentrated (and publicised). In contrast, elsewhere, there are
no little old ladies feeding ducks in the park, no people putting out
peanuts for the garden birds and few local birdwatchers watching and
reporting on their local patches.
Result: information on the sites holding the rarities, but little about what visitors (or indeed locals) might expect to find in their parks and if they have them, gardens.
So in answer to your last point maybe yes, you should think about
writing ‘Birding from my balcony’. And you should try and find like
minded local souls who can go out with you and between you get enthused
about what’s around you. There are some groups already – they should
Often the interest of a foreign visitor helps raised
their profile amongst local people and politician who might start
thinking that maybe there’s something in this after all. In Oriental
region I think we have a particular part to play. We only have to look
at Saemaengeum to see what ignorance and apathy in the majority of the
population can do when coupled to the greed of property developers and
speculators. Or visit wildlife markets to see the scale of the trade
in wild caught birds and other animals. And it will only get worse if
we do nothing.
According to the UN next year sees a landmark in human history – for
the first time more people will live in cities than in the countryside.
Whole generations will be growing up who won’t have seen the stars,
whose only exposure to greenery will be manicured parks and gardens,
often devoid of any wildlife.
How can they be expected to protect the
wild places and their inhabitants, or to understand how their
lifestyles (eating habits, pet keeping, etc) affect the world they live
in but can’t see? How can the politicians who will come from these
backgrounds be expected to give wildlife a high priority when few of
them understand or appreciate the issues now?
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