Climate change risking these UK species

Have you seen any of the ten species mentioned on your travels across the UK?
17 June 2022

Interview with 

Sophie Pavelle


It is lovely to have open spaces where nature can just be - wild flowers and grass growing way above the knees, providing habitats for different species of birds, bugs and bunnies. But around the world, climate change is having a detrimental impact on animals, including ones on our own doorstep. Science communicator Sophie Pavelle recently went on the hunt across the length and breadth of the UK to try to spot some of the species which are most at risk in the UK and recorded her findings in her debut book “Forget me Not”. She told Julia Ravey all about her travels…

Sophie - We start off looking for the marsh fritillary, which is one of Britain's rarest butterflies, and then we head to Wales and we go look for the harbour porpoise and then we head even more north in north Wales and look for sea grass. Then we head back home to Devon and I look for the Britain's rarest bat, which is the grey long eared bat, which is an absolutely amazing animal it's known as the whispering bat because it can basically be invisible and switch off echolocation, which is awesome. And then I take the reader on the longest trip, which is all the way up to Orkney's northernmost aisle called North Ronaldsay, which is probably my favourite place that I went to throughout the whole trip. And then we had all the way back down to Sussex and we go to Knepp wilding estate. I don't know if you've heard of that, this big rewilding project, and we look at dung beetles, so get down and dirty in the soil. We go to a river near me in Devon. So I tried to focus on a few local trips as well to sort of show that there's actually so much on the average doorstep, if you really look for it. And we look for Atlantic salmon, which was amazing. One of my favourites, hopped in a kayak for that one. We head back up to Scotland on the overnight sleeper train to look for the mountain hare in the Cairngorms and that's in February. And then we go to the Peak District and look for the merlin, which is Britain's smallest falcon, which was pretty cool. Finally, we are back on Dartmoor on Devon soil and looking for one of Britain's rare wrist and coolest bumblebees, called the bilberry bumblebee, which is also known as the mountain bee. And I had no idea that we had such a bee, so that was pretty cool as well. So I think what's important is that I realised that nature is nature. Nature doesn't always want to come out to play to please us. And so there was a lot of trying and failing, but then ended up realizing that it's more about the journey and the thrill of the chase, as opposed to actually succeeding and seeing a species, it's more about just immersing yourself and the adventure.

Julia - Yeah. There are a lot of species on that list and many that I haven't come across before. So which of those was the hardest to find, or that it was quite impossible to find.

Sophie - The one that was very difficult and I was a bit annoyed about not seeing it, but actually it makes perfect sense because it is just so incredibly rare was the merlin. So there are about only 30 breeding pairs of the Merlin on the Peak District at the moment, perhaps less. And they're just impossible to find, you know, there really are animals that are on their way out if we don't give them enough attention, if we don't sort of remember to look around us and realise that there's nature disappearing before our eyes.

Julia - How did you get about on this trip? Because obviously the whole book is about we're losing species to climate change, but transport is a huge contributor to climate change. So how did you try and get about, to see all these wonderful species and try and find them? What were your modes of transport?

Sophie - I couldn't really write a book about climate change and have a sort of social commentary on our high carbon lifestyles from the driver's seat of my petrol car, but it was really important to make all the travel as low carbon as possible. So yeah, I mean, I take lots of trains. I take ferries, I cycle as much as I can. I'm a keen cyclist. To see the grey long eared bat I was lucky enough to be able to do quite a beefy hike along the Jurassic coast to go see it on a farm. And then to see the salmon, I try to become a salmon and kayak down an autumnal river with an experienced friend. I was on a shoestring budget and I was able to have these incredible experiences on our doorstep in Britain, hopefully might encourage people that they can do the same.

Julia - These species are at risk. That's the whole premise of the book. What are the things that we can do to help save these species and others that are at risk because of climate change?

Sophie - I mean, a whole host of things. It can be as simple as doing the whole No Mow May as much as you can. So I don't know if you've seen on social media, there's been this great campaign this year that I think has gained a lot more traction than in previous years of people just making a bit less effort in their gardens or in their green spaces or on their window sills in their pots. And just letting nature take hold for a little bit during this most pivotal time of spring, when there's lots of new life and new growth, and that does wonders for insects. And we are in an insect apocalypse basically, where our insect populations are dangerously low and life starts at the bottom of the food chain. I also think zooming out a little bit. It's just so important to keep these conversations going. And I think just normalising the fact that nature is part of us and we are part of nature and conservation and looking after nature is much about changing the human mindset as much as it is actually doing practical things. And then if you zoom out even more, you can then encourage people to hopefully use their power as a voter in this democracy and vote for leaders who are making decisions for nature.

Julia - And what would be your number one tip for someone who wants to go out and experience a little bit of nature in their local area?

Sophie - I would say don't overthink it. I think the best thing is just to throw yourself into it and immerse yourself. And don't worry about whether you're gonna learn anything or whether it's gonna mean something profound to you. I think just give it a go and make it yours.


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