It can be difficult to roll with nature’s fluctuations. Man has, after all, gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid them for himself. There is much to admire in what we have achieved as a species – science, welfare and medicine have created a world (certainly in the West) which, though far from equal, does offer some semblance of structure and security.
This will offer a reasonable level of expectancy, a hope of long life for most and a level of care for many of the few. In turn, though, comes a sense of order and control. Standards and conformity. A society through which we mindlessly shuffle with punishment and admonishment should we err. Yet this ethos seems to reflect in the way we view the natural world – or what remains of it. As we close the door on our own organic simplicities, so we dismiss our acceptance of it elsewhere in the world.
It is tough enough for many species to cope with Man’s whims and excesses, but that is further compounded by our own rigidity. Time is, in many ways, manufactured. The sun will set at 2121 this evening but there are still 8 hours in the working day. We judge all by our own constraints – an absurd and dangerous arrogance – and then struggle to contend with what is actually the true order of things.
So it is that we struggle with boom and bust. The swings of fortune, influenced by the environment and climate, that we have striven so hard to flatten. As a result, we tend to either overreact or not react at all – a response not helped by an ignorance of our own impact. It sometimes feels as though we only act when a situation is so desperate that the required action rather absolves ourselves of blame. To save the curlew we now have to defend them against predation, yet the driving factors that have pushed the species to the brink are largely man-made. Waiting until the last moment somehow gives us the chance to deflect the blame. We have no other choice. It is a pattern that seems rather familiar in other aspects of society. Proactivity is too easy to resist – whereas reactivity is the populist way.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the house martins have all but gone from the village. One pair look to be hanging around to try, but last year there were at least 8 pairs and ten years ago, when we first moved here, there were probably 2 dozen. A quarter of a century since, there were at least that many on a single house, the owners putting wire above the doorways each winter to keep the ground beneath guano-free.
Of course, it isn’t until we reflect and recall (relatively) precise figures that we realise how desperate a plight might be. A steady dwindle is buoyed at the end of each summer by the issue of 2 or more broods. The cloud of martins that subsequently heads south countering the concern of numbers in spring. A baseline shifting seasonally and annually, the variants working together to keep the skies rose-tinted until they are suddenly empty.
The martins probably won’t return to this village. There is a chance, the immediate habitat is good and I’m not the only villager who keeps their favourite puddle mudded, but this isn’t a local problem and until the bigger issues are tackled, they will continue to disappear. And if we ever reach a point where predator control is an unavoidable measure for their protection, then we have long before lost the humble house martin.