The 30th of November is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. It was established in 2011 as a response to the immense loss of species occurring as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change and ‘is driven by a growing coalition of artists, educators, celebrants and writers’.
It aims to ‘create new rituals for remembering and mourning what we have lost, and for celebrating and making commitments to what remains.’
We are currently living through the Sixth Mass Extinction. Unlike the previous five (Ordovician-Silurian, Late Devonian, Permian, Triassic-Jurassic and Cretaceous-Tertiary), which were caused by environmental factors and a fallen meteor, it is driven by humanity and is therefore also referred to as the Anthropocene Extinction.
Scientists have traced its origin to the end of the Ice Age, when humans eradicated the mammoths. Other animals hunted into extinction by humans here in Britain include: elk (1500BC), Eurasian beaver (1500BC), aurochs (1000BC), Eurasian brown bear (1000AD), wild boar (1300AD), common crane (1600AD), grey wolf (1680AD).
Today’s devastating extinction rate (the ‘natural background rate’ is 1-5 species a year, we are currently losing over 1,000 times more) results largely from industrialisation and its release of carbon dioxide causing global warming and ocean acidification. Farming, deforestation and introductions of invasive species have also played a major role.
According to the Species Recovery Trust, over the past 200 years, 413 species have been lost from England alone:
78 species of beetle,
70 fungi (including candelabra coral, pig’s ears, blotched woodwax, pinkmottle woodwax, steppe puffball, dune cannon, asparagus rust, great pignut rust and orange knight),
62 species of moth (including the black V moth, lesser belle, the many-lined, the cudweed, spotted sulphur, marsh dagger, orange upperwing, white prominent, the conformist, gypsy moth, lunar double-stripe, scarce black arches, feathered ear, dusky clear wing, scarce crimson and gold, Lewes wave and orache),
43 species of fly,
30 species of mosses (including swollen thread-moss, upright apple-moss, matted bryum, helmet moss, dense fork-moss, Muhlenbeck’s feather moss, sickle-leaved fork-moss, pale bog-moss, small four-tooth moss),
24 species of vascular plants (including blue bugle, lamb’s succory, interrupted brome, Davall’s sedge, three-nerved sedge, small bur parsley, perennial centaury, alpine bladder fern, mountain bladder-fern, purple spurge, hairy spurge, slender naiad, cottonweed, whorled Solomon’s seal, Irish saxifrage, rannock rush, summer lady’s tresses, Irish lady’s tresses
22 species of bees, 13 species of lichen, 10 species of wasp, 7 species of bird (Kentish plover, black tern, white stork, corncrake, red-backed shrike, great bustard, great auk),
6 species of sawflies, 7 species of heteropteran bug, 5 species of butterfly (black-veined white, chequered skipper, mazarine blue, large copper, large tortoiseshell),
4 species of spider, 4 species of liverwort, 4 species of stonewort, 3 species of dragonfly (dainty damselfly, Norfolk damselfly, orange-spotted emerald),
3 species of mammal (northern right whale, wildcat, greater mouse-eared mat),
2 species of shrimps, 2 species of snails, 2 species of mayfly, 1 species of fish (burbot), 1 cnidarian (Ivell’s sea anenome), 1 species of earwig (tawny earwig) and 1 species of ant (black-backed meadow ant).
Measures such as the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015) have brought nations together in promising to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, such promises are easily broken. Days after the Paris Agreement, the UK government released a new round of fracking licences. As the Paris Agreement comes into action, Donald Trump has decided to cut NASA funding for research in climate change and remove restrictions on fracking and coal mining.
It’s difficult not to despair when the world’s major political players show such blatant disregard for the fate of the earth and declining species. However, it is possible to find hope in the efforts of conservation groups.
The Species Recovery Trust has made a commitment to saving 50 endangered species by 2050. These include: New Forest cicada, green tiger beetle, heath tiger beetle, wart-biter, Cosnard’s net-winged beetle, lemon slug, bearded false darkling-beetle, southern oyster mushroom beetle, triangular pigmy-moss, forked spleenwort, starved wood-sedge, rabbit moss, Deptford pink, field gentian, heath lobelia, darnel, marsh clubmoss, field cow-wheat, upright goosefoot, spiked rampion and dwarf milkwort.
The BBC’s interactive map shows where extinct and rare species have been re-introduced to the UK: beavers to Knapdale Forest, Goshawks to Dumfries and Galloway, eagles to the Isle of Rum, ospreys to Loch Garten, reindeer to the Cairngorms, great bustards to Salisbury Plain, red kites to Buckinghamshire, large blue butterflies to Polden Hills, pool frogs to Norfolk and lynxes to Northumberland.
The Great Crane Project has succeeded in reintroducing common cranes to the Somerset Levels. In October, I visited WWT Slimbridge and saw them on the banks of the Severn from Holden Tower. From a distance, I first thought they were sheep or rocks, but a closer look with binoculars disclosed 15 cranes in 3 groups, some roosting, some grazing. I was privileged to witness a brief dance: two cranes pirouetting and extending their impressive wings. I got a little closer to one of the cranes within the reserve.
Remembering lost species and preserving those who remain is something we can all play a part in: whether by finding out about and monitoring the species on our doorsteps, volunteering for or donating to a conservation group, protecting endangered species from development, or raising awareness through campaigning, blogging or the arts.
This year I am making a commitment to learning more about the species in my area. I have been making an effort to record the birds on my stretch of the river Ribble and to learn to identify local fungi, mosses, liverworts, lichens, ferns and various types of insects.
This evening, on the open mic at Damson Poets, I will be reading three poems for extinct and returning species: ‘Trilobite’ by Deryn Rees-Jones, ‘The Fallen’ by Helen Moore and ‘The Wolves of Chernobyl’ by Ben Smith.