Saturday, 27 November 2010

Fortress Conservation

Traditionally conservation was about creating boundaries between people and areas that were considered to be untouched nature. Those boundaries could take the form of people not being allowed access at certain times, or restricted access in terms of behaviour e.g. staying to paths or not picking plants.

There are a variety of reasons why that kind of conservation doesn’t necessarily work but a particularly interesting reason in relation to orchids in Britain is that a lot of the habitats that specific orchids grow in are not natural habitats and have in fact been created by man and need the continuing intervention of people to maintain them.

Early-purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) favour lightly shaded woodland. This kind of woodland tends to be woodland that is managed by people with activities such as coppicing maintaining a light canopy under which plants flourish. Likewise Green-winged Orchids (Orchis morio) favour damp pastureland, Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) grow where grass is kept short by sheep or a light mowing regime.

The interaction between people and the environment creates landscapes that while serving a purpose for people also harbours wild species. UNESCO has expanded from sites of natural or cultural heritage to include the concept of cultural landscapes – landscapes that are created by the interaction between people and the environment

Traditionally the area of orchid spotting is embroiled in secret; those who disclose locations of rare plants do so with the risk of incurring disapproval from the rest of the orchid community. Historically plant collecting did contribute to a decline in some orchid species. There are also current examples of the open disclosure of orchid locations resulting to a raid by a plant collector - for personal or resale purposes – digging up plants.

However conservation needs to the input of people who are not botanists or experts – just average people to support maintenance of management schemes that foster particular flora and protection of specific areas from development through donation of their time, voice or finances. It seems unwise and unfair to request support from people who are then excluded from seeing some of these special plants because there is an assumption that people outside of the circle of expertise are untrustworthy.