Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An overheard conversation



Dicentra
A few years back I overheard a European royal talking to an English duke’s daughter. The latter was a keen advocate of prison reform, whilst the former supported conservation.  The nub of the conversation was “It doesn’t matter how many prisoners are rehabilitated, if we have an uninhabitable planet, it won’t matter anyway.”

Since then, I have worked in higher education and medical research. I believe in both strongly – the benefits of good education and the desperate battle against dementia, and I continue to advocate for these and other causes. (I do believe that prison should be about rehabilitation, not just punishment, but that’s perhaps a whole other blog post.)  

Working on wildlife trade is an interesting area – it’s a different perspective on conservation. By understanding consumer demand, trade channels and market trends, it’s possible to identify growing or emerging problems and what threat they pose to wildlife.  And then (with a wide range of partners) to do something about it. 

As well as the well-known species under threat from trade like rhino, elephants and Tigers, there are many other living organisms threatened by unsustainable and illegal trade practices.  Losing animals, trees, fish and plants at the current rate is rapidly depleting the resources that humanity relies on; we need to steward our consumption now if we want them to be there for future generations.

Pasque flower, also a medicinal herb

I’ve learned a lot more about plants in my current role. Plants: essential to all life on the terrestrial planet, and yet they receive little fundraising attention (perhaps because they are not ‘cuddly’?)  Wild plants are a major source of medicine (the breast cancer drug was developed from a yew tree), food, and income for the harvesters who collect them. Given their tremendous benefit to humanity, plants deserve as much attention as our favourite ‘charismatic megafauna’.  And it’s not just medicinal plants under threat from trade – orchids, for example, are extremely popular with horticulturalists and also used for food in some cultures (try searching ‘salep’).  Both markets have a thriving legal, and illegal trade. 

Why did I write this piece today? Because looking at the funding landscape, conservation and wildlife are way down on the ‘I care about’ scale from the big money players. In the UK, for example, around only 4% of trust funders have wildlife conservation as a charitable objective. Yes, I am a conservation fundraiser, so I have a vested interest in this subject. But as the princess said, if we don’t look after our planet, our wildlife and climate, then there’s really not a lot of point worrying about anything else because human life will be unsustainable.  In other words, we all have a vested interest in conservation. 

Resources:
Try the wild plant quiz on www.whygowild.com
Wildlife Trusts (UK) 
Botanic Gardens, Kew
Wiki on Medicinal Plants

Want to do something about it? www.traffic.org/donate

Photos: (C) Carolyn Sheppard. "Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest have used bleeding heart for generations as a remedy for toothache and other types of pain. In years past, bleeding heart was widely employed for treating syphilis"
The dye from the pasque flowers was used to colour fabrics, and a preparation made from the dried plant was used to make Pulsatilla, a medicinal.
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