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Credit: Renato Arap

I have always been entranced by Mother Nature ever since I was a very young boy and my mother brought me my first book of Birds.  I used to watch the birds that visited our garden and would marvel at their different forms, colours, feathers and sounds.  One such bird was the goldfinch.  The most gorgeous, brightly coloured little bird I had ever seen.

In many ways, birds have shaped my life and helped me recognise how important the natural world is in ensuring our well-being, connecting us with the beauty of our environment and making us better, happier people.  Through birds, I came to realise how the plight of wildlife, farm animals and ourselves are all intertwined.  When I was growing up, the place to see wildlife was around farms in the countryside; how things have changed. Now, industrial farming with cages, chemicals and crop monocultures has led to some farmland birds, like goldfinches, and other wildlife fleeing the countryside for the sanctuary of our gardens.

It’s a situation that is sadly reflected the world over where we humans have caused one in four species of animals, fish, insects and plants to be threatened with extinction (Source: IUCN Red List).  We have driven these creatures to the margins.  We have cut down their forests and exploited their lands to make way for intensive agriculture and in so doing, have degraded and polluted soils and waterways. We have hunted and over-fished, as if there is an infinite supply of wildlife and we have burnt fossil fuels to the detriment of our climate.

Today, 17th May, is Endangered Species Day, but to my mind every day humans exploit, endanger and push species to the very edges of existence.  

Industrial agriculture is a key driver of wildlife losses worldwide. Factory farming – the intensive confinement of grain-fed animals – is devastating for animal welfare and responsible for driving the world’s food resources, wildlife and environment into decline. No one can deny the direct link between the extinction of animals and the demand for cheap meat. Vast land areas are used to grow animal feed, wiping out wildlife in its wake. Since the widespread adoption of factory farming, more than half the world’s wildlife has been lost.

The recent IPBES Global Assessment Report compiled over three years by more than 400 international experts and launched by the United Nations in Paris on 6th May, confirmed that human actions threaten more species with global extinction than ever before.

The report highlights that of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species (75% of which are insects), around 1 million are threatened with extinction. Land use change driven primarily by agriculture, forestry and urbanisation has been the greatest driver for the collapse of nature. It also stressed the importance of protecting all species, not just the iconic ones. All life is connected; from the soils and plants to the bees and mammals, reinforcing what scientists have been saying for 30 years: that the climate crisis and biodiversity losses are linked. Both need to be tackled urgently.  

It’s a lot to take in but one thing is for sure we need to act, and fast.

Fortunately for us all, what is not endangered are the individuals with the will and passion to take a stand for nature and for our planet. 

Sir David Attenborough Credit: Eamonn McCabe

Inspiring eco-warriors like Sir David Attenborough, who in his 93rd year continues to make hugely impactful documentaries, or Greta Thunberg, the teenage activist who last August started her school climate strike which rippled across the world and who is now in line for the Nobel Peace prize.   

Also, Compassion’s own Patron, Chris Packham, the naturalist, who is equally far from afraid to put his head above the parapet for our wildlife. And of course, Extinction Rebellion, the global socio-political movement formed only one year ago, which uses non-violent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and the risk of ecological collapse and thereby humanity’s own demise.  

Sadly, Endangered Species Day is hardly a day for celebration.

Yet, it is a day for reflection; for considering the part we can each play in protecting our planet. 

It can be as simple as starting with the food on our plates; eating more plants, less meat and milk, and avoiding the produce of factory farms helps enormously in cutting out farm animal cruelty and saving iconic wildlife. Another way to help could be to seek to take a more pro-active role with a charity, movement or local nature support group.

Whatever you decide to do to help, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to be wild and passionate for animal welfare and the beauty of the natural world around us; standing up for those species that have no voice but have an equal right to live in harmony alongside us.   

After all, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, ‘The central ingredient, a central part of human life, is a healthy planet’; if we don’t honour our responsibilities to protect the natural world, our children and their children will never forgive us.

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