There has long been
debate among British naturalists about the
reasons for a decline in indigenous rare and
Loss of habitat appears
to provide some explanation, as does the
introduction of foreign species that have out-competed
native flora and fauna. It is clear, however,
that known factors can only account for about
thirty percent of the effect that is driving many
plants and animals towards extinction.
The only clue is that
the rate of decline accelerates in early summer:
It was a pleasant day in early June when
George Gardener surveyed the overgrown tangle of
plants that he had allowed to take over his
garden. He would have liked well tended beds, but,
somehow, other commitments always occupied his
time. Also, with the British climate being such
as it was, days in the autumn, winter and spring
had often been rather too cold to work outside,
and days later in the summer tended to be too hot.
Today there was warm
sunshine with a few patches of puffy, white cloud
to filter the suns rays. The addition of a
gentle breeze made conditions perfect for
Georges annual gardening day.
Throughout the land, many
like George would also focus their aspirations
for the perfect British garden into the next few
hours, before their best intentions were once
more undermined by a recollection of the physical
effort involved and other of life's demands.
George was well prepared,
having purchased some new shears and a spade.
Experience from the previous year had taught him
the importance of correct tools. No implement
from the cutlery drawer had proven quite up to
He began to cut a path
across the garden, and noted that some of the
weeds were rather attractive. Having no knowledge
of botany, he was unable to identify those he dug-up
as ladys slipper orchids and Young's
helleborine orchids. He continued by
shearing away the three-lobed crowfoot
and the early gentian.
In his enthusiasm, George
failed to notice the black-backed meadow ants
and the narrow-headed ants that he
crushed underfoot, or the irreparable damage to
their nests caused by digging-out the Newman's
George began to sweat from
the exertion. He flamboyantly pulled a
handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow,
accidentally swatting a southern damselfly.
His roles in the demise of a golden hoverfly
and a shrill carder bee were deliberate
due to the annoyance caused as they buzzed around
Some plant roots were
particularly thick, so George forcefully thrust
his spade repeatedly into the ground to sever
them. It was just bad luck that one such blow cut
a grass snake in half and, another, a slow-worm.
There was no way for George
to know that this patch foliage had also
contained the only specimens in southern England
of the plants on which fed chequered skippers
and marsh fritillary butterflies, nor
that their clearance was to lead directly to the
extinction of both species.
He finally reached the shed
at the end of his garden. He opened it and looked
inside. It was empty. The infestation of greater
mouse-eared bats that he poisoned last year
had, thankfully, not returned.
As George paused to rest,
he noted next doors cat in the branches of
a tree. He had never liked the animal. The rock
he threw missed Tibbles, though unfortunately
fatally wounded a song thrush that had
alighted on a neighbouring branch.
The second rock also missed
the cat, sadly despatching a squirrel. George
reflected that the creature was redder in colour
than the grey squirrels he normally saw in the
George inspected the result
of all his efforts with satisfaction. No plants
remained standing. He would leave those he had
cut down or uprooted where they lay as they would
compost and provide nutrients for the soil.
George was particularly pleased with this
ecologically-minded thought as he was tired and
not in the mood for further gardening.
it, he concluded. Thats enough
for this year.
All the plants and animals in italics are either
endangered in Britain or thought to be extinct.