Out now: The Environment, December 2023 - January 2024

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Thinking wilder

Five years ago, The Environment published a moving story about conservation in Madagascar – about the UK wildlife experts battling to save and rewild the world’s most endangered duck.

Habitat loss and shrinking wetlands drove the Madagascar pochard to extinction in the 1990s – or so the people of Madagascar thought until 2006, when scientists tracked barely 20 surviving ducks to a remote waterbody. Captive breeding has grown the known population to 119 birds, 83 released and ten hatched in the wild.

As this magazine went to press, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust announced a new breakthrough. Madagascar pochard rewilded on Lake Sofia have flown back to their home on Lake Alaotra. Scientists hope this signals that the Madagascar pochard – known in Malagasy as fotsimaso – will resettle its ancestral waters.

It’s a niche story. But it’s a story of hope when hope can be in short supply.

That’s especially true in the UK, one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries. This autumn the State of Nature report studied 10,000 species of UK plants, mammals, insects, fungi, amphibians and birds. It concluded that one in six could face extinction – from climate change, pollution and intensive farming.

This issue is all about nature and why it matters – to our health and wellbeing, yes; but also on its own terms.

We look at how nature is clinging on to abandoned Welsh coal tips, visit the bison rewilding a degraded woodland in Kent and ask a Poland-based expert about the pros and cons of rewilding with wolves. And we look back at a year that became a delayed Super Year for the Oceans, diplomats discussing everything from deepsea mining to fisheries to marine protected areas.

We now have a deadline to deliver. A year has passed since COP15 adopted a framework for world governments to reverse biodiversity loss, restore habitats and protect Indigenous peoples’ rights. The framework sets a 2030 deadline to protect 30 per cent of the planet and retore 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems. It’s a promise we must all work to keep.

Novelist Ben Okri has his own, beautiful take on the task ahead of us. The struggle to restore our water, wildlife and environments “ is really a tiger’s work”, he tells The Environment. “This work requires that you be fierce in spirit but with a beautiful heart. It is not aggression, but the fierceness of mothers and fathers protecting their loved ones.”

Stay fierce.

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