Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain
Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain

Adventures in Conservation: Blog

I’ve questioned whether Adventures in Conservation is quite the right title for my blog, since it’s not about a fantastic exploration of distant, exotic places, but more of a gentle ramble around my sleepy rural home.  But, you see, I think of my experiences as an adventure, because when I recently gave up my day job after 15 years working as a vet, I had no clear idea of where I was headed, and I’m still finding that out. Here, I try to keep an account of those adventures.

Health in Wellbeing and Wellbeing in Health

28/06/2018

 

This afternoon, I attended a research showcase at my university, where I heard about the achievements of a diverse range of research groups. There were reports about studies into the origins of our universe, human trafficking and musical cultures. It was a truly fascinating event. Of particular interest to me were the presentations from research groups looking at aspects of health and/or wellbeing. One researcher mentioned the parodox involved in talking about health and wellbeing, as if they are two separate entities. In her opinion, health is part of wellbeing. I completely agree.

 

The Office for National Statistics in the UK assesses your personal wellbeing by estimating:

 

  • Life satisfaction
  • The extent to which you feel the things you do in life are worthwhile
  • Happiness
  • Anxiety

 

Your satisfaction with life depends on your feelings about the condition of your health, relationships, work and environment, amongst other things. So the condition of your health contributes to your personal wellbeing.

 

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined health, since 1948, as,

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Doesn't this also suggest that wellbeing contributes to your health?

 

Of course it does. Health and wellbeing are intertwined and interdependent. Wellbeing has the broader definition, however, encompassing elusive concepts such as happiness, which are not always included in traditional estimations of health. It might be useful to think about wellbeing as a dynamic state, while imagining health as a resource, not unlike the number of lives you might have left in a video game.

 

So while your state of wellbeing will influence your store of health (or the number of lives you have left), it is simultaneously affected by that same store of health.

Why Worry About Frogs?

18th April, 2017

 

First off, I should point out that the image shown here is of a toad, not a frog.  The honest truth is that I wasn’t sure what it was when I photographed it.  I was walking with my daughters in a childrens’ play area near a local wildlife reserve when we spotted it hopping across our path. The kids were delighted, and so was I. It was only later on that my learned colleague, Stephen Price, pointed out that it was a toad. You see, I am in no way an expert on amphibians. I just like them, and in the course of some recent research, I happen to have also discovered that they are terribly important to human wellbeing.

In case, like me, you are also not an amphibian expert (and if you are, please feel free to skip to the next paragraph, or perhaps to comment on this post and correct me where necessary – it is highly likely that some corrections are needed!), amphibians include frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians (which look a bit like large earthworms, and live almost entirely underground or underwater: see Amphibian Ark).  My fascination with amphibians, like that of many people, arose from the astonishment I felt as a child when witnessing the process of metamorphosis taking place, as frogspawn became tadpoles and then froglets, in my own back garden.

This fascination, combined with my veterinary interests, led to my recent publication of an article on the detection and reporting of an important amphibian disease, Ranavirus. I found that there is a need to harmonise methods of testing for and reporting the disease, to improve the collection of data which will help us to understand and perhaps mitigate the effects of the disease.  It’s a difficult task, to gather information from many sources and present it so that it can be utilised and understood.  You may ask, why is it worth the effort?

In the first place, diseases like Ranavirus can drastically affect numbers of amphibians. The Center for Biological Diversity asserts that earth is currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event of the past half billion years. The global amphibian assessment of 2004 found that amphibians were more threatened, and were declining more rapidly, than either birds or mammals. Amphibian declines are significant.

In the second place, humans trade in amphibians, and the movement of amphibians in this trade has contributed to the emergence of ranavirus as a threat to amphibian survival. We are culpable in the spread of the disease, and also capable of limiting it.  But again, you could ask why? Why does it matter if there are a few less frogs around? There are so many things to concern us in the world right now.  Do frogs (or toads, newts, whatever) really matter?

Of course, you’ve guessed that I am going to tell you that they do.  But they really, really do. Because to lose species upon species of amphibian is to lose huge amounts of genetic material. This material, the earth’s biodiversity, is our planet’s bank account.  To cope with changes (and there are certainly plenty of those around), the living planet needs to have the genetic capacity to adapt.  Apart from being a genetic resource, amphibians can be sources of food and of medicines. They also perform important functions (or ecosystem services). By eating and competing with mosquitoes, they control numbers of these insects, which transmit diseases such as malaria.   They are involved nutrient cycling, which produces fertile soil, so they assist in food production, even for those of us who don’t eat frogs.

Amphibians are fascinating.  I want my children’s children to see them metamorphosing, just as I did.  So I think they are inherently worth protecting.  But perhaps a bigger motivation is that if we don’t protect these species, our own species will suffer as a consequence.

Ancient Oak, Windsor Great Park, UK
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© Yvonne Black