The most important question of all?

Kent author Penny Worms has put together a delightful book that offers children and adults alike an insight into the ecological connectivity of the world around us

Its title seems to brook no argument, but Penny Worms’s book The Most Important Animal of All poses what is in effect a question that is entirely, and deliberately, open to debate.

It is one of author Penny’s “star titles” and comes after 30 years of working as an editor and writer. With much of her writing work being commissioned and the role of editor being “almost like a producer putting the team together”, Penny – originally from Maidstone but now living in Tunbridge Wells – felt it was time to focus more on her own ideas.

And so, among others, The Most Important Animal of All was born. It tells how on the first day of term seven children are asked by a teacher to champion their chosen animal for the No 1 spot. At the end of term, the class is to decide which is, well, the most important of them all…

Early inspiration had come from the Earthwatch ‘Irreplaceable’ debate at the Royal Geographical Society in which five scientists competed for audience votes on which was the most invaluable species (bees won).

Of course, Penny’s commissioning experience came in useful and artist Hannah Bailey was brought in to provide the illustrations; the pair “worked together very closely after that”.

Despite being “massively interested” and wanting to “go and sit in a hide to learn about birds”, Penny is not an ecologist so pulled in Alex Morss, who is and who went through the transcript before it was sent to the British Ecological Society, where a team scrutinised it yet further.

“Luckily, the BES loved it and endorsed it,” said Penny, who in The Most Important Animal of All has written a children’s book that also offers plenty for folk of an older vintage to consume.

“There’s loads for adults to learn – that was one of the reasons I chose the animals I did. Each animal has its own ecological insight – bats, for example, are often demonised as a source of disease, but they perform an invaluable service for the wider environment.

“The selection also gave Hannah a range of diverse landscapes to work with. The book is definitely cross-generational. That’s why children’s books are brilliant – I love what some publishers are putting out there, taking us back to basics.”

So what, in the longer term, was Penny hoping to achieve with the book?
“There’s so much climate anxiety in children, I wanted to do something positive and explain why keystone species are so important for the environment,” she said.

“It’s about caring and growing up with the belief that all species are important and being aware of the need to do something to help. It’s an informative book that is both insightful and inspirational. It had children thinking critically.

“It’s gone down so well in schools. There’s a project in Yorkshire where eight schools are coming together to study the book and debate which is the most important animal – there will be about 300 youngsters joining the debate.

“I suppose this is my vision coming to life.”

  • The Most Important Animal of All is available from bookshops and online retailers, but if you would like to buy a copy (or several!), use the code CPRE on Penny’s website and £1 per copy will be donated to CPRE Kent

With wildlife protection under threat, CPRE Kent responds to government review

Hazel dormouse is protected by law, as are its breeding sites and resting places (pic Wildwood)

Every five years the government reviews the list of species protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. The current review has proposed removing the highest levels of protection from species such as water vole, adder and slow-worm.
CPRE Kent were delighted to have the opportunity take a constructive part in the latest round of the so-called 7th Quinquennial Review, working in partnership with other NGOs. The wildlife around us needs all the protection it can get and we intend to help make this protection meaningful.

  • You can read our open letter to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee here

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

CPRE Kent supports call for consultation on proposals to reduce wildlife protection

‘We know that many of our most well-loved species, such as hedgehogs, are suffering huge declines. This is not the time to be reducing protection for them.’ (pic Tricia Moxey)

CPRE Kent will be joining 30 other conservation groups in signing an open letter opposing a review of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 that could undermine decades of work to restore and protect threatened species.
Every five years, species listed in Schedules 5 and 8 of the Act are reviewed through a process called the Quinquennial Review (QQR), coordinated by the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). 
Many species are listed because conservation experts have recommended their inclusion due to either persecution, population decline or other threats.
This year, in a change to the normal process, the Review Group (JNCC, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and representatives of the non-governmental sector) has changed the eligibility criteria of species currently (and in future times) listed and afforded protection by the Act.
This change means that an animal or plant species will only be protected when it is in imminent danger of extinction as defined by the highest categories in the IUCN Red Listing process, or those identified as European Protected Species. This decision has been made without due consultation and, to date, has not considered concerns raised by conservation groups. 
Large numbers of species will now no longer be protected against killing and sale by law, including previously persecuted species such as mountain hares and adders. 
Now, 30 conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Froglife, RSPCA, RSPB, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, The Wildlife Trusts, Zoological Society of London and the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK, have written an open letter to the Review Group in opposition to this proposed change, as many endangered species, from red squirrels to water voles, could be at serious risk if the proposed changes are granted.
Removal of protection means it would no longer be illegal to kill these species. Building developments could take place with no consideration of the impacts on formerly protected species such as slow-worms and water voles (if a case cannot be made to keep the latter listed). It also means that it will once again be legal to persecute adders, pine martens and mountain hares – despite all the costly efforts to conserve these vulnerable species.
It would become legal to trade wild-caught British species including amphibians and butterflies, directly impacting populations and posing a huge biosecurity risk. This is of particular concern for widespread amphibians already at serious risk from Chytrid and Severe Perkinsea Infection, which have wiped out populations worldwide and have both been found in captive collections in the UK.
While very valuable, the GB IUCN Red Listing process is not suitable for this purpose.  It is complex and requires high levels of evidence of population trends. This in turn requires high-level species surveys and analysis of data to determine population trends at a national scale.
There has been no provision made as to how this will be resourced and an assumption that NGOs will take on the burden of the work.
The changes that have been decided by the QQR Review Group remove the opportunity to prevent species decline. Under the changes outlined we will only be reacting to catastrophic species declines.
In their letter to the Review Group, the 30 wildlife NGOs are calling for a public consultation on the decision to change the eligibility criteria.
Dr Angela Julian, of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, said: “We are shocked to discover these proposed changes, which will effectively remove any form of protection from many of our well-loved widespread species including slow-worms, grass snakes and viviparous lizards. Our native wildlife deserves a fair hearing.”
Froglife’s Jenny Tse-Leon added: “Froglife is really worried about how these changes will particularly affect amphibians and reptiles, many of which have faced serious declines in recent years but do not qualify as threatened enough under IUCN definitions.
“Our research has shown that common toad numbers have plummeted by 68 per cent in the last 30 years, but these plans mean they no longer qualify for protection.”
And Nida Al-Fulaij, from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “The State of Nature report 2019 confirmed that 41 per cent of 700 species assessed have decreased in abundance since the 1970s.
“We know that many of our most well-loved species, such as hedgehogs, are suffering huge declines. This is not the time to be reducing protection for them.”

  • You can read the letter calling for a public consultation on the proposals here

Wednesday, June 30, 2021