Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Why all the secrecy?

I've been asked a few times recently why I rarely, if ever, mention specific sites for many of the things featured on the Blog. Well, call me old fashioned but I believe our wildlife is better protected when it remains incognito to the masses. I don't think I'm being secretive, just careful. I'm not trying to be selfish, far from it. Let's say I posted locations for Great White Egret nests or Little Bittern nests on the Somerset Levels or any schedule 1 nesting bird for that matter, I would, quite rightly, be lynched for it. They are rare birds and there ARE people out there who would like nothing more than to steal eggs for their collection or to get close to the nests to photograph the birds. So nobody ever publishes that sort of information, thankfully. Yet rare butterfly and plant sites even reptile hibernacula are very frequently banded about on Twitter, Facebook or personal Blogs like it just doesn't matter? What is the difference between posting news about one over the other? Believe it or not there ARE people who still want to find rare butterflies, catch them and stick a pin through them for their collection. There ARE still people who would like nothing more than to dig up an orchid (of any rarity value) and have the smug satisfaction of seeing it either growing in their garden or making a fast buck by selling it on the black market and there are certainly people who will seek out adder nests and kill them all because they have a dislike for snakes and killing them makes them feel safer or they think they're doing everyone a favour.

You can add to this the pressure caused to habitats by visiting hoards of photographers and 'enthusiasts', something that should never be underestimated. In the age of the digital camera and social media, everyone and their mother is encouraged to get out in the countryside to see, touch, photograph and experience our wildlife and wild places. People think they have a right to see everything. As far as I'm concerned it's a privilege and if I don't get to see a rare plant because it's kept secret, so be it, I just have to live with that. Although not intentional, the damage caused by a stream of people visiting a site, perhaps lying down to take photos of a rare orchid or butterflies has a cumulative effect on the habitat. And what happens to these lovely 'wild' places - well, go take a look at Shapwick Heath on a Sunday morning and you'll get my drift. Put simply, they're not so wild any more. After learning about the destruction caused to cowslips and early purple orchids following a recently organised Butterfly Walk to see Duke of Burgundy Fritillaries, I can vouch for the fact that such exposure, although well meant, contributes to the destruction of the very thing these people want to see! I'm guilty of following the masses too (see the Military Orchid post), although pleased to say I didn't tread on any of the plants I still had to search inside myself to justify joining the masses and contributing to the wear and tear on the site itself. Even on a well led walk around the reserve some people still felt they had to wander off the paths and create their own (very obvious) routes through the meadow and trampled Common spotted orchids were observed where people had done this. The only recompense was that such Open Days do help to concentrate visitors to just one day a year, leaving the remainder for the site to recover. And if you don't believe such well organised sites can suffer from the plodding boots of the unwary, then check out the photos below of plants crushed in 2014 at the Monkey Orchid site. Quite unbelievable - why can't people pay more attention to where they are treading, especially as they went there just to see the orchids!!

'But it's out there on the web anyway' I hear you cry. Yep, I also happen to think it's too late for much of our rarer wildlife. In many cases the news IS out there and that's very sad. Sad, because that damage cannot be undone, Sad because it's now trendy to go and see every bloody thing that someone else Tweets out - it's not just you that will go to see that butterfly or that orchid or that rare nesting bird, there will be hundreds, possibly thousands over time. If not this year, it will be on their calendar for next year - and so the circus goes on. Snowballing until the creature or plant in question looses its grip in its fragile habitat, disappearing for good. Yes, it's lovely that we can all go and see pretty much whatever we want these days, take fantastic photos and be the first to publish them on Twitter - how popular are we with our mates, aren't we bloody clever. But at what cost?

No, I don't routinely publish site details, even if they are already 'out there'. I have a conscience and I'm making a point. I care about the species concerned, not whether everyone can get a photo of it. At the end of the day I can at least be sure that the only feet being (carefully) placed anywhere near a rarity that I publish images of, are my own. I believe things have a habit of 'going full circle' and as such I believe that one day people will wake up to the fact that our critically endangered species are endangered because we are destroying them, slowly but surely. But by the time that happens, for many species, it will be too late.

Are we loosing the plot as a nation when it comes to protecting our rarest wildlife, I think that horse may already have bolted the stable...

Here are just a few examples of where it's all going wrong and if you have 30 minutes to spare I strongly suggest you listen to the BBC Radio 4 podcast about this very subject:

Destroying Dartfords
Little Tern Colony
Orchids in danger
Collecting butterflies
Lizard Orchids dug up
Lizard Orchids in danger
The illegal trade in rare plants
Early purple orchids dug up


  1. Well said, I very much agree with you,

  2. Many thanks for your comment Steve, very much appreciated.

  3. Great post Roger, on a very sensitive issue.