Probus Hears About Creatures Great & Small

President David Wickens with Speaker Stephen Thair

Most of the senior readers will remember times during the 1950s when the only “foreign” animals school children would see were either those lucky enough to visit a zoo or see Tarzan films at the cinema or on small black and white televisions in programmes such as David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest and those of intrepid explorers Armand and Michaela Dennis and under water film makers Hans and Lotte Hass.

Hans & Lotte Hass

Today, it is a different situation with both the increase in foreign travel that allow face to face experiences with exotic creatures and locations but also for the considerable amount of television programmes that these days highlight concerns about global warming with its danger to animals, plants and humankind.

The speaker, Stephen Thair, himself a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, sought to bring his concerns about the way our planet is heading at the latest meeting of this club for retired professional and business managers.

The RSPB’s recent Big Garden Birdwatch had over 700,000 participants and spotted 11 million birds. This may sound a lot, and there have been some increases in certain species, but the organisation calculates that in the last 50 years, from 1972, this country has lost over 38 million birds. Having said that, and because they are more house types of birds, you will probably see more species in your back garden than on a walk in the Hampshire countryside.

The speaker cited many reasons for changes in the world’s ecology. Global warming has meant that in the UK plants are flowering a month earlier than they used to. Animals operate by day length which means that orchids now flower before bees have emerged to pollinate them. Increased rainfall brings planned housing developments into question with either dangers of building on traditional flood plains or as is happening close by in the Arun valley existing water extraction may be having an impact on the environment and any new developments need to be neutral in the consumption of water.

Spain has severe water shortages and strawberry growers in Andalucía have been illegally tapping water for some time. This has now been regularised by the regional government due to a combination of political and commercial pressures.

Whale Bone Arch in Greenland – one exists in Whitby in recognition of their whaling fleet

Over the years there has been progress on several fronts. Whaling was a substantial industry, including in Britain where a large fleet was based in Whitby, but these days the International Whaling Commission set catch limits to preserve stocks. In 2020 only Japan and Norway were whaling commercially although four countries conducted aboriginal subsistence hunts. Today whale watching has become a tourist activity..

Reductions in many fishing fleets throughout the world have been necessary as several varieties have been fished out and Cod stocks in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland are still only at 10% of the level seen in 1960. Herrings, around Britain, are now said to be in good numbers following a ban from 1977 – 1983.

Tins of Tuna now claim that the contents have for some years been caught by lines rather than by nets but even this method attracts criticism from the RSPB as Albatrosses are sometimes themselves caught on these long lines.

A success story has been the Tequila fish that was extinct in the wild in Mexico. It has been reintroduced to its native area after being bred in an aquarium at Chester Zoo. Rewilding at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex has seen the return of Nightingales, Turtle Doves and breeding White Storks. And last year at another English site 72 pairs of Common Crane fledged 40 chicks with the result that today there are more in this country than in the 17th Century.


Tropical rainforests, known as the lungs of the world, are subject to extensive logging activity. Extensive deforestation of biodiverse forests takes place in parts of the world to grow palm trees for their oil, destroying the habitats of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino. Civilisation is relentlessly advancing towards them so that today 70% of rain forests have a road within one mile.

The UN COP-15 conference about biodiversity was held remotely in October 2021 due to Covid. The follow-on COP-15 part 2 due at the end of August at Kunming in China to review progress and finalise the post 2020 biodiversity framework has been postponed due to Covid. The key aim is to make 30% of the Earth’s land and seas to be protected areas by 2030. Alarmingly none of the twenty goals set by governments at a similar conference in 2010, to be achieved by 2020, have been fully met.

The pressure is on us all to do something to bring these targets back on track. Time is running out.