Opinions – people matter

Conserving species or habitats is inherently down to people. Conservation is an anthropomorphic invention. We will not conserve what we do not love and by extension we cannot conserve something if we cannot identify or quantify it, but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between some ‘experts’ and what really matters in order to save species – people. Engaging people is possibly one of the most important tasks for any conservationist, which is why I try and engage as many people on social media and in person as possible. One thing that strikes me though is how averse some others are to this though. This brings me onto common names, which some experts hate. For example most members of the public would not engage with Deilephila elpenor but tell them about elephant hawkmoths and they will be hooked. Similarly Buglife did a wonderful job recently to save Nothophantes horridus, the Horrid ground-weaverThis is a spider that none of the people that donated to the appeal will ever see, but they engaged with the species never the less. So lets use common names (alongside scientific names) to engage with as many people as possible and stop being pernickety and actually get on with conserving things!


Even I have to be reminded sometimes that not everyone is interested in wildlife (no matter how hard I find that to believe). We need to be reaching out to people that don’t care all that much for wildlife.  I am interested primarily and insects and plants, groups which I find it is increasingly difficult to engage the public with sometimes. As a extreme example, take midges. Most people’s reaction may be to kill all of them on sight, but next time you are tucking into some chocolate, think about the midges that pollinated the cocoa plant. But whose fault is it that they think all insects should be squished and ‘weeds’ removed? It is not the unenlightened public, it is all of our fault. After all, it will be all of us that suffer if we do not engage as many people as possible. We have to stand together, or we cannot stand at all.

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. – E. O. Wilson

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6 responses to “Opinions – people matter

  1. I totally agree! I’m not a conservationist by profession, but I do work with children so I do my best to interest them in wildlife. When there’s a beetle in the classroom and the children are wanting to kill it or worried it might touch them, I’ll pick it up, show it to them, tell them something about it if I can and then take it outside – I think it’s good to show them that insects aren’t something to run away from and be afraid of! On Friday, I had to work with the reception class all day (age 4-5) and some children found a bee and were worried about getting stung, so I told them that not all bees stung and not to be scared of it… I got them to look how fuzzy it was and then it flew away to another flower without harming anyone. Then a hoverfly appeared and they thought it was a wasp, so I was able to tell them that some insects are made to look like wasps when really they’re just flies and don’t have stings. I know those are just tiny things but I hope all those little moments I can share with children will add up and maybe one of them will really be inspired by something one day and develop a lifelong interest. I’m rambling now, sorry, haha!

  2. Good work Louise, wish more parents and teachers would do this!

  3. Excellent points! Yes, it is hard for most people to know & remember Latin names. Yet it is so vital to engage the wider public. Hearts & minds need to be changed. If you just consider the humble lawn, most ppl strive for neat & green. It needs to be socially acceptable to have clover & other “weeds”.

  4. Working in environmental education / community engagement, I agree that if you are trying to interest people in wildlife, then scientific names usually won’t do the job. However, I sometimes mention it if it is relevant or appropriate. But only as an addition to the common name. Or sometimes, if whatever we are looking at doesn’t have a common name!

  5. Common names can be such fun. North American dragonflies are a great example: They have some awesome names. Who wouldn’t be curious to see what a Stygian Shadowdragon looks like? Every once in a while the scientific name is more entertaining, though. Orchard Orioles have a pretty dull common name, but their scientific name is hilarious.

  6. Well said Ryan. Latin names are so off putting, especially for children. BMG and I always use common names (some of which we make up if we can’t id something!), otherwise I don’t think we’d ever remember what anything was called. If I told her we were going to look for Lampyris noctiluca she wouldn’t be remotely interested, but tell her we were off on a nighttime adventure looking for glowworms and she’d be super excited!

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