You may have seen them popping up at the War Memorial in Dorking on a Friday morning: a group of people, out in most weathers, sitting in silence with a banner reading “Pause for the Planet”. For several years now, Extinction Rebellion Dorking have been quietly asking passers-by to pause a moment and spare a thought for the planet and what we humans are doing to it. Last Friday, they had something more to say.
This time the banner read, “Remembering the Lost Species of Surrey”. One of the organisers, Sophie Blond, explained, “The Surrey Wildlife Trust has recorded at least 17 extinctions in the county in a little over 100 years. This means that despite appearances, our so-called green and pleasant land can no longer support significant numbers or breeding populations of 17 species.” She continues, “The problem is that each generation has little idea of how things were for the previous generation. So, our children grow up not knowing that they should see a pine marten chasing a squirrel through the pine trees on Leith Hill; that there should be a Water Vole running along the River Mole, or that they should see the glorious Lady Orchid growing tall amongst the grasses in local woodland clearings. They don’t know what they are missing. We don’t know what we are missing.”
“The problems that face local wildlife are many. The whole of Surrey is under pressure of development. Mole Valley District Council’s plan alone includes planning for at least 6,000 homes between 2020 and 2037. As for water quality, earlier this year, the BBC reported on analysis that cited Dorking Sewage works as responsible for the highest number of unpermitted spills. Furthermore, untreated sewage was released into the River Mole on 223 days over the last four years. And then there’s the impact of effluence from industry, farming and road run-off. We have a higher than national average of human deaths in Surrey due to human-made air pollution and now the Government has lifted the moratorium on fracking, parts of Surrey may well be threatened by industrial development. It’s little wonder that vulnerable species are unable to survive in the county.”
The 90-minute vigil ‘Remembering The Lost Species Of Surrey’ was interspersed with spoken eulogies to the 17 lost species. Passing public were offered an explanatory leaflet giving information about the state of nature in the county and ideas on how to encourage wildlife in their outdoor spaces. Members of the group reported that there are always a range of reactions. Some people say they don’t have the time to take a leaflet, or look away, but others stop. They were thanked by two members of the public for the work they were doing, especially out in the rain. One passer-by said “The Climate Crisis is real. I’m very concerned for the future of my grandchildren.” Another couple stopped and said, “We are visitors and more troubled about fracking news – hope that’s not happening in Surrey.”.
According to Surrey Wildlife Trust’s plan, Restoring Surrey’s Nature 5 Year Strategic Plan published in 2018, a third of Surrey’s biodiversity (meaning all animal, insect, bird, fungal and plant life) is extinct, or heading that way, a statistic certainly worth pausing to reflect upon.