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‘We need to change our relationship with nature’ says Over-based wildlife writer

A huge proportion of a damselfly’s brain is taken up with processing the images from tens of thousands of lenses in each eye
A huge proportion of a damselfly’s brain is taken up with processing the images from tens of thousands of lenses in each eye

Over-based nature lover and wildlife writer David Chandler has hailed the work of volunteers as the global pandemic encourages us to revisit our relationship with wildlife and animals.

The author or co-author of 17 books, who recently gave a virtual talk at the Book Warren and Cafe in Willingham, told the Cambridge Independent that the lessons from the coronavirus emergency must be learned.

“People are now finding pleasure and respite in wildlife,” David said. “I hope whatever the new normal looks like people don’t lose that because if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t care about it and if you don’t care about something, you won’t look after it.

“The root of this pandemic is a virus that jumps species. It jumped from a bat to a pangolin and from a pangolin to a human, and in fact 60 per cent of our diseases occur after jumping species and we’re creating situations where this is the sort of thing that can happen through the wildlife trade, and through habitat destruction. This makes life riskier and, if we carry on, we’ll get another pandemic and we don’t want that and I really hope that people will learn the lesson from this experience.”

David is also aware of the effect that the collapse in tourism is having on wildlife reserves around the world.

“My main writing outlet at the moment is for a birdwatching magazine, and I also review products for them, such as binoculars, but as well as this I do some ad hoc travel writing, which involves tourism projects from countries that want to promote their wildlife.

“Last year I had two trips to Spain, one to Portugal, one to Australia and one to Sri Lanka. Who knows how that’s going to go now? It’s an international problem because of the flights and carbon issues, but the fact is that for many eco-tourism destinations tourism does make a positive difference.

“The financial value is a reality and people’s livelihoods are affected, and that’s an issue with this virus. For instance, South Africa is reporting an increase in poaching.

“A lot of conservation work is delivered by NGOs, who have volunteers working for them, and charities are struggling for income during the pandemic, and the lack of volunteers because of lockdown makes it difficult to get their work done, so any contribution to help them carry on is going to be welcome and if you’re a volunteer and have stood down it’ll be really valuable if they can go back, and if you’re not a volunteer now maybe you’ll consider it.

“Being a volunteer is one of the safer ways of getting out there, and it really helps, and beyond that if you take walks into wild places you’ll be enjoying wildlife, and learn to respect it, and if you’ve got a garden you can learn how to make use of that.”

The dragonfly has 28,652 lenses in each eye
The dragonfly has 28,652 lenses in each eye

David moved to Over last year and has since learned a great deal about wildlife at the nature reserve, including during lockdown, because the Ouse Fen nature reserve is his local walk. One of the creatures he loves to look out for at this time of year is dragonflies, as his talk for the Willingham bookshop illustrated.

“The talk was about their characteristics, including their remarkable breathing behaviours,” David says.

“Most of their lives are spent underwater as a larva, then they emerge and they survive two months if they’re lucky. That’s the dragonflies, with a damselfly it’s two weeks, so the wonderful flying acrobat bit you get at this time of year is only part of their story.

“They’re out there now, being fantastic, eating and mating. They’re serious predators as larvae under water, and serious predators as airborne adults.”

One of the more fantastical features is their eyesight.

“They have the biggest eyes in terms of body size in the insect – and possibly the animal – world. They have compound eyes, so that means two large eyes, and each eye is made up of lots of single lenses.

“A recent study in the US found that each eye has 28,652 lenses, so the two eyes have more than 57,000 lenses making images, and that takes up a huge portion of their brain power. As well as making sense of all the images they have to hunt and find a mate.”

It probably slightly helps that the dragonfly has 360-degree vision.

“With a tiny movement of their head they can turn all the way round,” says David, adding that the Ouse Fen reserve is “a wonderful nature reserve and, with more land being handed over to the RSPB, it’s on course to become the biggest nature reserve in the UK”.

David worked at the RSPB and BirdLife International for 20 years before going freelance in 2005. His most recent book, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies & Damselflies of Britain & Ireland’, went on sale earlier this year.

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