ECOS Interviews: DAVID BLAKE

Thoughts from influential nature conservationists…

DAVID BLAKE

Background

I am employed by Landmarc Support Services, the private sector partner to Defence Infrastructure Organisation that manages the Defence Training Estate, as Rural Estate Delivery Adviser for South West England. I started my career as a gamekeeper, but went on to manage a wildlife reserve in Ireland, became a rather bad teacher and a slightly better Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger. I spent thirteen years as a Project Officer in the Cranborne Chase AONB team. I have had a lifetime love for, and fascination with, big, old, ugly trees; an interest I indulge at every opportunity.

How do you define nature conservation?

I prefer definitions that describe the impact rather than the activity. Nature conservation has to make a positive difference; otherwise it is just a nice pastime. Therefore nature conservation is the reduction of the extinction risk to wildlife populations and the lessening of habitat degradation. More positively, it can be described as increasing resilience to extinction and improving the size and quality of habitats. They amount to the same thing, but what we must guard against is nature conservation being anything that a self-proclaimed nature conservation organisation might do, regardless of whether it works or not.

What are the main influences (positive and negative) on nature in the world today, in your view?

Positive:

  • Globalisation – enabling us to understand and effect nature conservation all over the world no matter where we live and work.
  • Education – the massive increase in literacy during the Twentieth Century made an understanding of ecology and an appreciation of nature available to everyone.
  • Technology – GIS, GPS, satellite radio collars, digital photography, thermal imaging, remote sensing, huge computational power, survey results zipping around the world at the speed of light, open-source data …. Technology has transformed how we study and understand the natural environment.

Negative:

  • Globalisation – our effect on the world is now global, the products I consume use nutrients and water from all over the world, but that water and the waste ends up in local catchments and soils … unless that waste is exported of course.
  • Education – despite all the advances in educational standards and availability we are still witnessing a massive lack of engagement with the natural world that seems to be increasing.
  • Technology – rare earth metals for our devices mined in vulnerable habitats, the ability to suck the last dregs from every oil well, the power to utilise resources form the most inhospitable places that used to be safe havens, the ability to make almost anything that we desire so that we desire more and consume more and more and more …
David Blake standing on a mountain: “The Wild West of Ireland is my Happy Place, this is Three Castle Head”.

What’s the good news about wildlife and nature at present, in your view?

I think the good news stories are all about large-scale, trans-border collaboration. I think of trans-national parks and conservation areas in Africa and the successful creation of tiger range in India. I think of the Berne and Ramsar Conventions. I think of the EU LIFE programme and Natura 2000.

Beyond habitat loss and species decline, what’s your greatest concern in UK nature conservation at present?

The extreme conservatism in the nature conservation sector and the minimalist approach we have always adopted in the UK has stopped us achieving our goals. Conservation organisations understand that there is a new paradigm for them to grasp: conservation through natural processes at large scales. What they seem unable to do is stop their old wildlife reserve / wildlife garden mentality that is so stultifying. Nature conservation in the UK has always been about the Good Folk stopping the Bad People from doing the dreadful things they do, such as farming, forestry and building roads. This approach has lead to our nature areas being places where things don’t happen, instead of areas of increased opportunity to act positively. They are of the smallest possible extent and in the smallest possible number because no government is willing to curtail people’s freedoms to the extent the Good Folk would like. If only we could go back and start over again, but this time with an open-hearted and positive outlook!

How do you feel about your input (as a volunteer and/or professional) to the subject – what if anything has it achieved and what might you do differently if starting again today?

If I could go back and start over again, knowing what I know now, I would not go into practical nature conservation. I would thereby not cause all the harm I have done through mistakes and having to learn from some of them. I would try to make a career in environmental journalism and keep nature conservation as my touchstone and inspiration. I have planted some lovely woodlands though, I’ll say that for myself!

David Blake kneeling in woodland: “This is a woodland that I planted in 1990 on improved pasture”.

If you had a limited budget on nature conservation in Britain, what would you prioritise and why?

Well, I certainly would not spend tens of millions of pounds a year on newt fences. If I had a few million quid to spare, I think that I would be tempted to hire the best public relations company in the world and win the argument, once and for all, that environmental and pro-nature action does not come at the expense of jobs and taxes, but that it is economically no-regret. I would put that one to bed forever. I’m not sure that that is absolutely the best thing to do, but it would make me feel better as I am so utterly sick to death of hearing that “we” can’t afford to have lions and elephants anymore, or ancient trees and saproxylic beetles are a “nice to have”, or that conserving ancient woodland costs jobs.

Now, where’s that Euromillions ticket gone ….

Anything else you’d like to say…?

I’ve think I’ve said quite enough and our suffering readership need to hear from someone else. By the way, Readership, who would you like to hear from?


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Cite:

Blake, David “ECOS Interviews: DAVID BLAKE” ECOS vol. 2022, , British Association of Nature Conservationists, www.ecos.org.uk/ecos-interviews-david-blake/.

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