Our ability to conserve and protect wildlife is at risk because we are unable to accurately gauge how our environment is changing over time, says new research out today in Conservation Letters.
The study shows that people may not realise species are declining all around them, or that their local environment may have changed dramatically since their parents' and grandparents' days, and even in their own lifetime.
This could be bad news for conservation projects, because if people do not perceive there to be any degradation of the world around them, they may be less willing to engage in activities to conserve and protect the environment.
The new study provides the first evidence of so-called 'shifting baseline syndrome' - a conservation theory which says that people's perception of the environment is determined by what they see now, with their own eyes, and does not take into account what things were like in the past.
To test the theory scientists carried out a survey in the village of Cherry Burton, Yorkshire, to examine whether people were aware of changes in local bird populations over the last two decades. The researchers asked 50 village residents what they thought the three most common birds in the village were 20 years ago, and more recently, in 2006. Their answers were rated according to how close they came to getting the three most common birds correct for both dates, which were the wood pigeon, feral pigeon and starling in the earlier period, and in 2006 were the wood pigeon, blackbird and starling.
In addition, villagers were asked to say whether they thought populations of four easily recognisable birds - sparrows, starlings, bluetits and wood pigeons - had increased or declined in the village in the last 20 years. In reality, numbers of sparrows and starlings have declined in the area over this period, whilst wood pigeons and blue tits have increased.
|Contact: Danielle Reeves|
Imperial College London