Few of us will have anything to compare the Coronavirus epidemic within our lifetime, such is the impact that it is making on the world. The nearest in my experience is 9/11. I remember watching that unfold on the TV and thinking it was an American movie. Then I realised I was watching the news – live. It feels very similar now, a virus sweeps the world and this time, testing our certainties, taxing our economies and taking our lives.
In the aftermath of 9/11, America stopped domestic flights for a number of days. This was unprecedented, and the reasons were obvious. It also presented environmentalists with an unexpected opportunity to measure the effect that airlines were having on the air quality across the United States. As air travel ceased, the extent of its impact could be assessed. Air quality improved almost immediately, albeit not for long.
There are similarities with our wildlife. The current government restrictions, including the huge reduction in the number of cars on the road and journeys made, have in turn reduced our noise, as well as air pollution. Many report being able to hear our songbirds, and of course, we now have a bit more time to listen. This is certainly an apposite time to appreciate the sounds of nature from the comfort of our homes. If, as currently appears to be the case, the government’s call for maintaining our social distance is adhered to, then there will be far fewer people meeting up to chase, shoot or generally persecute our animals, wild (or indeed, domestic). The hunting season maybe over, but ‘sports’ such as shooting and greyhound racing should also be off limits.
So my questions are these - Will our wildlife be able to pick up during this temporary ceasefire against the creatures that inhabit our countryside? Will it suddenly dawn on us that we can do without blasting our birds out of the sky, or chasing hares around the countryside, or televising greyhound racing? Will the lives of most people in this country be better for being able to appreciate the natural world around us, whilst there are creatures enough left to inhabit it? Or, when the Covid-19 crisis is over, will we return to ‘normal’ without having learned a thing about our effect on wildlife or the countryside?
It speaks poorly of society that we needed this deadly virus to bring us to a situation that we could have decided for ourselves. Does it really take a deadly pandemic, borne of animals and transmitted to humans, to precipitate a situation that can allow the former a brief respite from persecution visited on them by the latter? Whilst it may be only a tiny minority of our citizens that do this, their actions should, more than ever, sit uncomfortably in the consciousness of this, our nation of animal lovers. Let’s take this opportunity not to return to normal. Rather let’s ensure that the voice of the compassionate majority that can now speak sense, as well as truth, to power.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of LACS or the wider Link membership.
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