Nature Will Thrive While We’re Under Lockdown

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Here’s an idea: we should’ve done this a long time ago.

We are the intruders. We’ve been the intruders for a long time. We’ve taken land that didn’t belong to us, stripped it and scorched the earth with concrete to try and hide what once lived there. Then we pushed the animals into the quaint quarters we made for them and pretended that made a difference.

But now, under a 24/7 lockdown for the foreseeable future, nature is stirring.

Spring has hit and, looking out the window at clear, sunny skies, it’s hard to remember that just weeks ago they talked about snow on the news. The world is blooming and, realising there’s no one in the streets, no cars on the roads, no planes in the skies – nature is returning home.

Satellites have documented a drop in air pollution around the world, Venice waters are clearer and, in New York, carbon monoxide emissions have halved. Is it possible that change can be done? After all this time twiddling our thumbs, feeling guilty after David Attenborough made us watch a sad whale on TV, could it be that minimal change wasn’t that hard?

Wildflowers are out in bloom, there are no jet streams in the sky and we can hear more birds than ever. An acoustics specialist explained that birds “stop singing when there is noise, so now they are letting themselves go. Animals are shaking off human noise pollution.”

There were reports of a wild herd of 122 Kashmiri goats, usually found on rocky coastland, who have moved inshore into the Welsh town of Llandudno. After 200 years of being confined to limestone bluff, the goats have retaken their home.

Meanwhile, in Santiago, pumas have been appearing in cities. There have been three sightings already since the streets emptied. Droughts in the countryside have left these cats dehydrated but they are finally able to come back to their old land in search of stolen reservoirs.

An activist in India said of a nilgai (the largest Asian antelope) found wandering the streets: “Wildlife will always try to reclaim their territory. […] Parts of [these] areas are actually built on that terrain. So they are just exploring the places they consider their own.”

In Japan, a herd of deer have left the parks, where they are usually fed by tourists, to find food in the city centre and the train station. And, in Devon, key workers have been photographing foxes, badgers, and rabbits in hospital car parks while others have spotted goat kids where billy goats had previously been culled.

This lockdown is a lesson we won’t be taught again. We are the problem. The Gaiac theory of population suggests: when the population is unable to sustain itself, the earth will regulate it. It’s no coincidence that the remedy for our destructive population is in, ironically, a zoonotic disease (one that comes from domesticated animals).

But the Chinese government has prescribed a vaccine containing bear bile to treat COVID-19, already threatening the species in the northeast. Nature reserves are preparing for the lockdown lift when the sheer number of visitors will disturb wildlife and erode habitats.

We’re not learning.

In the site of the Chernobyl disaster, more than 200 bird species, brown bears, bison, packs of wolves, lynxes and the rare Mongolian wild horse have reclaimed the land. This is nature’s way of telling us that we weren’t meant to be there – if we were, we would have returned.

This lockdown could let the earth heal. Once it’s lifted, we can’t go back. We need to find a new normal or this will happen again and Mother Nature won’t give us another chance to learn.

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