Conservation—future prospects

Conservation—future prospects

Conservation--Future Prospects E. J. H. CORNER, F.R.S. Professor of Tropical Botany, University of Cambridge; Botany School, Downing Street, Cambridg...

594KB Sizes 0 Downloads 50 Views

Conservation--Future Prospects

E. J. H. CORNER, F.R.S. Professor of Tropical Botany, University of Cambridge; Botany School, Downing Street, Cambridge, England.


federations, are concerned with the conservation of Nature. There is distinct anxiety, with action as never before. Wholesale slaughter, wholesale collection, and wholesale destruction of the environment, are disappearing like last night's clouds. A new city, Brasilia, has sprung up in the midst of the wild cerrado forest of Brazil; from sky-scrapers one may look down on the wild trees, and in a few minutes from the hotel one may be walking beneath them. This is an enormous advance on the clean sweep and concrete apron of the unimaginative builder who plants exotics and faulters with yesterday. There is a Red Book of endangered animals. There is to be one for plants. We begin to know where action is really needed. Governments are aroused over whales, polar bears, soil-pollution, sewagepollution, atmospheric pollution, chemical pollution, and the demarcation of national parks.

The object of conservation is to prevent the unnecessary elimination o f wild life. Public support, which is essential, needs testing. Immediate action requires international pressure. Education may provide perpetuity. The problem will be the ecological management of the flora and fauna of the world in the very limited space that will be allowed. The undertaking is scientific, and leadership must be inspired.

A perusal of the resolutions passed at meetings of conservationists shows that most have been ineffective. This does not mean that they are lost plaints, for their advice is sound. They require, however, continual repetition, with the emphasis varied as the background changes, until the objectives of conservation have been reached. The goal is that every one should be aware of the need to protect, for the benefit of his children, the wild life in his native land and the scenery which supports it. The negative side, to be avoided, is that all this world history should be cleared away.

But the forces of destruction and exploitation, to smash the environment and to extract it to the last profitable coin, are gaining. There is a loss of wild nature, a recession of green belts, as never before. Such are the clouds, rising with the sun, that presage new storms. The best intentions are continually routed. Whales diminish, polar bears are killed increasingly, pollution mounts, national parks are poached, while what can be saved for the future is largely in the hands of charity. These hands must be encouraged, for their motivation is real, and when they become the majority there should be funds commensurate with the tasks.

We want to know how and why, on the surface of the earth, the greatest complexity of matter and energy has become entwined, through millenia, into civilization. We know a little; the next generation will know more; distant posterity may understand, provided we do not destroy the evidence. There are two windows on this omniscient outlook: one is bright, the other dark. Wild nature in rock, wave, frond, or limb, is a light to our recreation; but overpopulation casts on this the shadow of locusts. Education is the source of improvement, and to this end conservationists must strive. The task is to save now, and so to educate that this saving will be appreciated.

Yet this assertion can be questioned. Every inference in conservation can be questioned. If all the facts in any case have been recorded and marshalled, it is difficult to discover where. Here lies the value of this new periodical. Its service will be the gradual exposition of events, so that it will become the comprehensive reference. Thus one would like to see, early, an analysis of the relative contributions to conservation from official sources, which will be easy to assess, and unofficial ones, which will be difficult, because many people give of their own time and energy to the cause. We are taxed on donations to save wild life.

AWAKENING REALIZATIONS The dawn is breaking. Many individuals, local societies, national organizations, and international 21

Biological Conservation--Elsevier Publishing Company Ltd., England--Printed in Great Britain


Biological Conservation WIDESPREAD


In many countries the wild has been conserved by great landowners, as their reserves for hunting. The primitive freedom and luxuriance was maintained by those who had the strength to acquire and hold land for this instinct. Otherwise in Great Britain, for example, most non-agricultural land would be covered with gorse, hawthorn, and nettles. Politics and taxation have weakened the landowners, and the wildernesses in their possession are threatened. National trusts, and the like, and official nature conservancies, are established to take over, in various forms, more or less public ownership. There are meetings at which enthusiastic supporters plan and issue proposals for further and surer c o n s e r v a t i o n - - w h e t h e r they be shooting or fishing syndicates, hikers or naturalists, archaeologists or landscape planners. Money is needed and the public response is incredibly slight. A few people give handsomely; a small minority give a little; the great majority give nothing, though it is the mass that invades the seaside, lakes, and countryside on holidays. When international bodies meet to discuss plans in the world approach to conservation, they do so as a handful of enthusiasts with little or no public support. Either the public is not with the movement or, as seems more likely, it is uninformed and uninspired. Either conservationists are a small sect that will be squeezed out by the lavish expenditure on the destruction of Nature and the lavish profit that can yet be made from its utter exploitation, or they really have something to motivate public opinion and incite action. This seems a major question. Conservationists assume that they have a great stock of goodwill through which to work. If so, it is asleep. We have been asked in Great Britain to save small parts of the coastline by finding £2,000,000 wherewith to purchase. The published list of donors reveals how very few persons, especially in scientific circles, are really concerned, though this sum is trivial among such a wealthy holidaying people. Forty years ago there was a world appeal to save the Redwoods of the Pacific West. It has been repeated, and those of us who gave then are forced to conclude that the United States of America are unable to buy up and preserve an adequate small portion of land by which to conserve this unique heritage of world forest. Many other examples could be given to show the prevailing indifference or antagonism to conservation. The case for conservation has been made many times, but clearly it is unconvincing. There is no certainty that national, far less international, opinion is truly concerned. A Gallup Poll could test sentiment as to whether conservation is backed by a majority of

voters strong enough to demand from their elected representatives a national policy and real action. Financial figures will be needed to prove whether the ultimate return from conservation, say of Redwoods or coastline, or the immediate return from out-and-out exploitation, will be the more beneficial. If answers to these problems were favourable, the conservation movement would be immeasurably strengthened.


It seems, nevertheless, that ignorance is the usual enemy. Several good textbooks on conservation and numerous well-illustrated books on threatened aspects of nature have been published in the last decade. Few universities employ them; practically no school teaches the subject; and the impression prevails that human progress is still a battle against Nature, which has to be destroyed for every engineering venture. Biology, accordingly, is becoming more and more a laboratory exercise in competition for the laboratory skills prevalent in universities; we are taught evolution by bacteriologists! As for geology and the nature of scenery, they never had the educational advantages of poetry or athletics. The great natural history of the earth, which we are beginning to appreciate, and the great natural monuments, which have taken thousands and millions of years to fashion, are still considered insignificant topics compared with the brief, ruthless, and conceited history of Man. It must be realized that very few people have been privileged by birth, fortunate direction, and opportunity, to appraise the great drama of Nature; it is still to most an unknown language. At the last Pacific Science Congress in Tokyo, 1966, it was sadly evident that, excepting the host country, the main knowledge of the western Pacific lay with the privileged foreigners. If this is true of a scientific reunion, how much more devastatingly true must it be in lay society! One of the main tasks for conservation, if it is backed by public feeling, is to convince educationalists in universities that it is a scientific, social, and aesthetic subject of supreme importance to human welfare (1UCN, 1967; Darling, 1967; Stone, 1965; Corner, 1964). Besides books and classes, there is the mass-medium of television. It could become the most powerful means of winning support, because 'seeing is believing'. Poor shows, obviously fudged,-and merely sensational ones, are unworthy; but the few good productions that have been backed by effective speakers, have proved succesful. No small part of the attraction of the 'Western' lies in the grand scenery. The difficulty is to get the material. A good television

Corner: Conservation--Future Prospects


pollution, is the work of conservation. The biological conservationist thinks of the cycles of nature which operate through the living and restore the dead; no organism is too small or too large, too rare or too numerous, for his c o n c e r n - - b e c a u s e all enter and play their parts in the living structure of the environment. The greater the variety of living things, in fact, the richer is the environment; and this is the reason why biological conservationists are so concerned with conservation in the tropics. HELP FROM THE PULPIT? We must also consider the atmosphere, because all living things respire and, voluminous as it is, it is Then, besides the lecturer and the announcer or becoming polluted. Through the destruction of forest, actor, there is the word spoken by the minister of the oiling of the sea, and the burning of the organic religion. Science may presume to explain how the reserves of the world - - as coal, oil, natural gas, and world may have come about by natural causes, but it w o o d - - o x y g e n consumption is gaining on oxygen cannot explain the beginning or the end any more than restoration by photosynthesis. Man has induced a the nature of ultimate particles or the imponderable titanic katabolic phase in the main cycle of nature, success of life. In its search for truth, science ag- quite apart from worries about smog. There have been grandizes religion. The neglect of science and, estimates about the oxygen and carbon dioxide particularly, the failure to appreciate wild Nature and contents of the atmosphere, about the rate and magniall that it means to Mankind, have hastened the decline tude of oxygen consumption and photosynthetic of the pulpit: its congregations make off to the seaside restitution, but they are tentative, and revised estimates and the countryside, as they were meant to do, on the will have to figure from time to time in Biological holidays; yet, some of the great sermons have come Conservation. The world being round and finite, its from wildernesses. We have for example St. Francis living matter is geared to what there is in flux. We have of Assisi, the great Indian religious poem of Sakun- reached the state when the vast stores of the earth are telah and, among the most meaningful comparisons being consumed and converted into waste products and of all, between the deforested mountain and the liberated into the air faster than they can be redispirited mind, the beautiful analogy of Mencius. incorporated; accumulating, they poison. No scientific explanation can inspire us as do the stars or the wind, the mountains or the waves, the INTERNATIONAL PROBLEMS AND temperate spring or the tumbling canyon; and a SUPERVISION hummock, a spit of land, a copse, or a rivulet, can be the source of immediate delight. Where the word of The state of the atmosphere is obviously an interthe Church prevails beyond any other, as still in many distant lands, it could advise the heedless against the national problem. Internationalism, or super-soverdestruction of the environment on which they depend. eignty by consent, is the new means of conducting Where it sinks deeply into heart and home, it could human affairs. Its recommendations are going to kindle a feeling to save for posterity the scenery of the become more effective. It is already concerned with the earth. Far greater resources, spiritual and worldly, oceans and Antarctica. It can frame and will discover have been mustered in the cause of religion than how to use its edicts. It will extend into all aspects of conservation can summon; and the two are not alien. conservation. To suggest that a nature reserve in one They are missions of good will, of tolerance, and of country should be under international supervision sympathy, with the right of all things to live; their may seem absurd, but this may be the surest safemissions transcend our daily lives. A very sadly and, guard. Governmental acknowledgement is precariously may it be hoped, superficially-drawn inference at the mercy of over-riding authority and vested associates the rise and decline of Christianity with the interests. Private ownership has still less guarantee because land can be commandeered. Public ownership rise and preponderance of world exploitation. by legal act is more secure, but the best safeguard would seem to be ownership by international consent requiring international sanction for dispossession. CONSERVATION OF [,AND, WATER, AND AIR There is the case of the'small nature reserve of Bukit The management of land and water, so that they do Timah on Singapore island. It is the last relic of prinot suffer too lengthy or irreparable depletion or mary forest within 40 miles of this thriving city, and it

unit, however, on any scientific expedition, would repay its costs handsomely, and would contribute not only funds for further exploration but also a bonus for conservation; this bonus would be educational as well as financial. Brains, instruments, opportunity, and public speaking, are all called for. Perhaps Biological Conservation will provide an inventory and give critical reviews of television progress.


Biological Conservation

is the type-locality for much of the biology in southeast Asia. It has been conserved since the time of Raffles, who founded the city; yet it is incessantly threatened by quarrying, building, timber-thieving, shooting, and proposals for an amusement park. Those who have striven to conserve it would have been glad of international support. Their successors will need it. The few scientific advisors who realize its lasting value will need the help of the international advisory council of IUCN to formulate their case on scientific, recreational, and financial g r o u n d s - for posterity. We shall see what may happen with Aldabra.* This last-remaining unspoilt coral island of any substantial size in the Indian Ocean enjoys, through the sorry state of sterling, a respite from aeronautical development which would ruin it as an international monument of island life. It is doubtful whether even its powerful protagonists, the Royal Society of London, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, and the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, can champion its cause successfully without the full intensity of international support. This has been the backbone of conservation in Africa, with its immense store of mammalian and avian l i f e - - o b v i o u s l y of great popular appeal. So we return to the Redwoods, which give us a picture of the Palaeozoic coniferous forests which once ruled the land; their cause is international, and it would seem hard to find a better example of a more ancient kind of living monument. Yet there are others equally worthy of international concern. A few years ago New Zealand managed to save the last giant Kauri trees (Agathis) from the sawmill. There is a small reserve of giant Araucaria in the rain forest of Carboniferous descent near Bulolo in New Guinea, sanctified while the supply of timber is plentiful. The destruction of Nothofagus, Fitzroya, and Araucaria forests in Chile, Argentina, and Tasmania, is becoming a cause of international, if not national, concern (Lerman, 1968). There will be a time when the far richer Nothofagus forests of New Guinea will require conservation. And what is being done about the richest and grandest of all, the Dipterocarp forests of southeast Asia? Their timber value is so high, and the agricultural value of their land so great, that the power to conserve these supreme sources of animal and plant life is far beyond the means of local scientific opinion. If European biologists want to know what their world looked like in the Tertiary period, they can still learn from the great oak-forests that lie on the mountains above the Dipterocarps. Yet, what international help has come to support Sabah in its

* See Dr D. R. Stoddart's article 'The Aldabra Affair' later in this issue. - - Ed.

valiant efforts to establish the Kinabalu National Park? There can hardly be a richer domain of plant and animal life amidst fantastic scenery as yet unpolluted.


Before the last war such wild virgin land was abundant. The engineering conquests of that war have been turned on the fictitious enmity of nature. What remains of this land will soon be so limited that it will have to be managed very carefully. There will be little opportunity for specialist sanctuaries, say for bird or mammal, orchid or conifer, but general-purpose sanctuaries will become the rule. To confine wild life in closed areas will require great understanding of ecological relationships, nowhere more intricate and less understood than in the tropics where the attack on wild life will be most severe. Planning has it that lowland tropical forest is to be cleared for agriculture. Mountain forest, as high up as it remains economic, is to become available for forestry, which implies the loss of most unmerchantable t r e e s - and they are the ones that provide the main requirements of the rich biota. Agriculture, moreover, may go to the snow-limit, as in the Andes. A few mountain-tops may remain wild, if they are not needed for holiday resorts, and all this clearing may raise the cloud-level which at present gives protection. If conservation really means a genuine effort to prevent the disappearance for ever of the natural state of the earth, international committees will have to sit at international tables and work out, internationally, plans for general-purpose ecological sanctuaries of limited s i z e - indeed, of minimal size - - for the tropical lowlands. Theirs will not be merely questions of how and where to conserve the elephant, gorilla, orang-utan, slipper-orchid, or other particular species, but how to work them all into one viable self-feeding unit. For many reasons botanists have been reluctant to take part in conservation. Rare plants can be cultivated with ease, as for example the famous Flame-tree (Delonix) of tropical towns, now lost from the wild state and of whose natural ecology in Madagascar we may never know. But it was clear at the International Botanical Congress in Edinburgh, 1964, that botanical concern was being roused vehemently against the monoculture of large mammals in national parks, leading to the degradation of plant life and, thus, of the whole reserve and its purpose. Botanists will have to be invited, if they do not come forward, to take a leading role in true conservation. Soil-fertility through micro-organisms, photosynthetic

Corner: Conservation--Future Prospects


apodemiology in the classical s e n s e - - m u s t arise in which conservation of scenery and wild life gather importance. There can be few more pleasurable and beneficial recollections from a holiday than those of a beautiful, exotic, exciting, multifarious landscape and seashore, lived in and cared for by people who respect their customs and their part of the world-heritage. Mexico without cacti and broad-brims would be much like the Philippines without Dipterocarps. Hotels, recreation grounds, and shops, are convenient but not the attraction. It behoves all tourist countries, if not all countries everywhere, to care for their holiday scenery. In England we are alarmed at the disappearance of hedgerows, which have protected wild life while the fields have been ploughed. In India and Brazil we should expect to see the Fan-palms, Borassus and Mauritia, stalking like giant hedges over the landscape. Hotels are classified by stars. Apodemetics will demand a similar classification of countries according to standards of conservation. In my own limited experience, Queensland would gather the most stars. By contrast, there are too many examples where development and exploitation are effacing natural beauty and character. This is where the 'Black book' of Fisher (1967) would come in, resulting from his proposed three-yearly 'World Audit of Environmental Damage'. But many stars will attract many tourists, who will aggravate the problems of erosion, friction, and pollution. The disposal of litter, the regulation of trampling, and the restriction of shooting and collecting, will have to be studied scientifically--just as much as the special effects of auto-sledges, for instance, on the tundra, and of helicopters on wild herds. The wealthy returns of tourism may by themselves FUEL A N D V A C A T I O N SCENERY justify expenditure on conservation and necessitate a degree of apodemiology for the upper ranks in its The intensifying burning of the world's capital, service; but what of the lower ranks? It is easy to classified under the rational use of natural resources, overlook the fact that the humble labourer conserves and the mechanization of labour to which it has led, Nature. The upper ranks promulgate; the lower have forced a reaction from society by differentiation ranks stop the marauder. Ways and means will have to into two phases - - the office for work and the holiday be found of improving public esteem for these into get away. The magnitude of combustion being a valuable people, so that they may be recruited to serve direct measure of wealth, holiday-makers from the one of the coming vocations. By starting at the bottom, richer countries travel farther. West Africa and the the foundations can be secure. Middle East are becoming the scenes of tourism from Europe, as South and Central America are from their U R G E N T NEED OF D O C U M E N T A T I O N North. The idea may be escapism, but the motive is more likely a natural curiosity to see the different While the general movement towards the interparts of the globe with their different peoples and landscapes. The receiving countries develop income national assistance of conservation is growing, there is as part of the return, no doubt, for the export of an immediate and special need to document and make under-valued raw material. known for future reference new features of geological, The tourist industry is becoming so large and com- geographical, biological, and archaeological imporprehensive that a science of holiday-making--say, tance, as they come to light. The more progressive

ability, structural ability in tree-architecture to provide the scaffolding for animals, lianes, and epiphytes - - and lianes are among the most effective sources of food and habitat in the tropical forests - - specific variety to maximize zoological content, longevity to provide decomposable timber, clearings to perpetuate desirable regeneration, and so on; all these and many others are primarily botanical problems. A start is to be made in the tropical section of the International Biological Programme, through its studies on productivity. It will meet, however, the difficulty that living matter is so various that for elucidation a very large team of specialists will have to be organized, and these are the very men that the 'new biology' is not training. For reasons that are far from understood, trees have evolved in the tropics in such immense variety that they have entrained a corresponding evolution of animals and lesser forms of plant life. The conservation of gibbon, parrot, toucan, or rhinoceros, depends on the food supply which they derive from the plants of the whole biotic community, which in turn require their roots and leaves for natural vigour. Man in his economy has no use for this polyculture, destroys it, and lays bare the sterile earth; in his leisure, however, he appreciates the polyculture. To the ecologist falls the responsibility of perpetuation and restitution. Maybe he will seek the solution in reserves within forest reserves, which have been started by way of reference or for control of forest management. Thus it has already been discovered in Malaya that monoculture of timber trees may not be satisfactory. Conservation reserves are, in a very limited sense, the necessary controls against exploitation.


Biological Conservation

countries have, of course, government departments and exhortation from every angle that can be brought to relevant societies which undertake these duties; but bear. The activities will require for proper coordinathey scarcely exist in developing countries where, by tion the central offices of IUCN, and this new journal the nature of things, the landscape is being most will be the current medium through which biologists rapidly and violently disturbed. A records office, or a can impart and learn about the science, practice, ministry of discovery (and tourism?), is required. For successes, and failures, of the mission to save life. In instance, tracts of virgin forest are hourly being this mission the entire human world must join. destroyed, with scarcely any record of what forms of life are being l o s t - - s o m e irretrievably, others damagingly through loss of h a b i t a t - - o r what soils References and scenery are being despoiled. Cuttings and excavations are as frequently removing geological and CORNER, E. J. H. (1964). The tropical botanist. Advanc. Sci., 20, 1-7. archaeological information. And all these happenings are changing the local climate; concrete floors are DARLING, F. F. (1967). A wider environment of ecology and conservation. Daedalus, J. Am. Acad. Arts Sci., becoming the new dust-bowls. 96, 1003-19. All hope must be given up that science will understand the distribution of trees in the tropical forest; it FISHER, J. L. (1967). Ninth General Assembly Proceedings. I U C N Publications, New Series, Suppl. Papers No. 8, is not continuous, and such immense gaps have now 68-78, mimeographed. been created artificially everywhere that it is too diffuse for comprehension: the subject has been too big for IUCN (1967). Conservation education at the university level. IUCNPublications, New Series, Suppl. Paper No. this proud century. 9, 74 pp., mimeographed. Usually there is no scientific investigator at hand when these biological desecrations happen, but there LEGGE, J. (1961). The Works of Mencius. Book VI, Chap. VIII. Hop Kuen Book Co., Hong-Kong. should be. The developments from which they stem are often planned, prepared, and approved, over LERMAN, J. C. (1968). Forestry expedition in the Andes. months or years of deliberation in private and official Science, 160, 251-2. departments, and could be made known, long in STONE, E. C. 0965). Preserving vegetation in parks and advance, for scientific action. (It is perplexing to read, wildernesses. Science, 150, 1261-7. too, of the large number of unemployed graduates in UNESCO (1960). A Common Trust. The Preservation 'developing' countries.) The most notable example of of the Ancient Monuments of Nubia. UNESCO, Paris, such desirable and well-thought-out action has been 28 pp., illustrated. the recent study of the Nile Valley, instigated by UNESCO (1960) before the flooding of a large section above the Aswan Dam. Currently there is the instance of the Royal Society Expedition to Matto Grosso, at the request of the Brazilian Government, to study the ecological circumstances along the track projected for the new road from Brasilia to Manaus. Yet too many expeditions and too much scientific effort are spent on going to places that are not in imminent danger of exploitation. Those who assist in the organization and despatch of expeditions seldom receive notice of land that is to be 'opened up', and consequently are unable to direct the energy of enterprising young men and women where it may be most useful. Here is another way in which Biological Conservation may help, by endeavouring to obtain this information and by reporting on results.


I conclude that, provided public opinion is on the side of conservation, it can be aroused to supply the demand and the means for action. Itwill need incessant