Shifting baseline syndrome
As part of a writing project, I have been trawling through my notebooks from the early 1980s, having just completed a similar exercise for the 1970s. It makes sobering reading. Back then, I was still able to go out locally (in northern Surrey and south-west London) and see Turtle Doves, Willow Tits, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatchers with ease and certainly not need to comment on seeing them as anything other than normal. At Beddington, one July day in 1980, I recorded a flock of 400 House Sparrows, and saw 800 at Dungeness the following October. These are counts that seem incredible now. It is all too easy to think of such figures as remarkable - but, in reality these were massive decreases on what had gone before. Close to my home, on Banstead Downs, 18,000 were counted coming into roost in 1960, with over 10,000 at Dartford Marshes, in Kent, up until 1974. By 1984 the same roost could only boast a maximum of 2,000. It is easy to allow 'shifting baseline syndrome' to creep into our analysis. We remember what we experienced when we began birding, and use these memories as a yardstick on which to measure against. I frequently refer to my copy of Bucknill's 'Birds of Surrey' published in 1900. Infuriatingly, the Victorians didn't count their birds - they looked for nests, shot unfamiliar species and, if a species did appear in abnormal numbers, would only remark that there were 'many'. Oh how I'd love to know just how many birds did populate that era. It would push 'shifting baseline syndrome' onto another level.
I did go out looking today, to Canons Farm. No need for any baseline comparisons. It was dire. Pants. In lieu of a bird, here is one of several Speckled Bush-crickets that were resting on the nettles.