30 September 2009

death of the small things

Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day and we were talking about how the death of the small things is rather worrying. Of course people only pay attention to the death of the more noticeable creatures - the tigers, the lions etc but nobody really talks about the fact that there are no earthworms in garden soil anymore or the fact that the sparrows have disappeared.

The disappearance of the smaller life-forms is definitely a barometer on how serious environmental impacts are. The common sparrow ironically is not common anymore. Sparrows have disappeared from major cities world over due to temperature increase, excessive noise, air and light pollution. However, they are still found in places away from the cities. Earth worms have disappeared because soil quality has degraded due to excessive use of pesticides. Other small creatures like frogs, butterflies, grasshoppers etc are also disappearing along with wildflowers. I have a theory that this is connected to the rise in mosquitoes - logically it makes sense to me, but it is just a theory.

Elsewhere there have been reports of honey bees dying out in California affecting pollination of almond trees and dying hedgehogs in England which are set to completely disappear by 2025. The climatic changes have been subtle but drastic enough to affect the life-style and reproductive timing of these animals. Milder winters mean that animals do not hibernate as long as they have to emerging earlier than usual and getting trapped in extreme weather and perishing. Baby hedgehogs, baby squirrels, even baby grass snakes are being found in distress in many places. Toads and newts that should still be under a rock and bats which are normally still hibernating during winter in hollow trees and barns have all been found out and about during these months and there aren't enough insects around for them to survive on. Some baby birds like ducklings and blackbirds are also vulnerable to sudden cold spells.

The protection of the small creatures is something that can be encouraged. A bird-feeder will encourage birds to your garden, planting flowers will ensure butterflies. Using composted soil will see the return of earth-worms. Even our immense capacity for imagination finds something grotesque in meadows where wildflowers do not bloom, where sparrows do not chirp and where squirrels and hedgehogs do not exist. All creatures great or small have a place on the earth and a role to play and our carelessness should not nudge them out of their niche.

Earth laughs in flowers
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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