In the U.K. water voles used to be very common, on every river bank. But their numbers and habitats have been decimated, literally: reduced by 90%. Several reasons:
All these result from the activity of humanity - but, worse, from activity of humanity that is in many cases unnecessary or even frivolous.
Many of the areas of banks and meadows they inhabited have been built over. Water courses have been diverted and in doing so have been given hard banks. Sewage outfall. Vandalism and disturbance.
In many places, because of motorized water craft causes waves that erode the banks, the banks have been shored up with concrete or corrugated iron or stones. Voles make their holes in the banks, but cannot make them in these materials. Result: no homes, no nests, no young, no population.
Mink, that used to be kept on fur farms for their fur, have escaped (in some cases been driven out when the fur farm owners feared financial losses). The problem is not so much the indiginous British mink, but the American variety, which was imported just after World War II. It is fast enough in water to catch the voles and small enough to enter their burrows. After the loss of their habitat, this mink is the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back.
(I merely heard this was a cause, and do not precisely what problems it brings.) Angling has become not only more popular but also more commercialised and hi-tech. Bringing at least nuisance and disturbance. Possibly other problems.
First level causes:
- Fashion industry. Dictated that mink furs were to be sought. So that more people bought them than really needed to.
- Opportunism. Fur is an effect product. An opportunity to make some money.
- Finance. Mink fur could attract a high price.
- Construction boom. 1960s and 1980s saw huge swathes of greenfield land built upon. In the 1960s the idea was "Away with the old; bring in the new." In the 1980s it was monetarism and enterprise, and "Sweep away all controls." But why use greenfield sites>
- Because they are cheaper. In the 1960s it was almost a crusade to spread out across the countryside. In the 1980s it was cheaper for big firms to bring pressure to bear on local authorities to assign greenfield sites to housing and industrial development, than to build on brownfield land.
- Water sports. Increase in powered water sports lead to more destruction of mud banks, and more shoring up needed. Why do we need water powered sports? Why not enjoy rowing?
- Commercialisation of Angling. Angling, which used to be 'everyone's sport' with a stick, piece of string and a hook, became commercialised and formalised. It became 'the thing to do' in some circles. Commercial interests promoted it. Equipment sales. Proliferation of stands on banks.
Second level causes:
- Slaves to fashion. We must wear whatever (furs) others show us. We are not content with pure beauty. We must always be getting something new.
- Slaves to fashion. We must obtain whatever (angling) gadgets are the latest or the promoted. We are not content with the enjoyment of making our own. We must always be getting something new.
- Greed. Developers wanted the profits from easy-build greenfield land, rather than taking their responsibility to steward the land resources we have.
- Love of power gadgets. There is an attraction (to males at least) in gadgets which are powered and do things for us. There is a good feeling in being accelerated and in controlling a powered thing. So powered watersports have proved more popular than human powered ones.
- Competition. Watersports done for competition; not content with mere enjoyment.
- Narrow thinking. Problem = bank erosion. Solution = concrete. Don't even think about the denizens of the banks. But, if you do happen to notice them, you have the answer: "There are plenty other places for them to go." No there aren't.
- Elevation of finance. Financial indicators were considered the prime ones, in front of which all other considerations were sacrificed. Idolatry.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 1999. Comments, queries welcome..
Last updated: 7 February 2001 email. 16 May 2011 link to andrew repaired, unet gone.