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Living in harmony with wildlife



Changing attitudes to wildlife

They live in the shadows, moving quietly between their natural habitats and the last vestiges of open space left near our suburbs, towns, and cities. Many are nocturnal, emerging after dusk to follow well-worn paths in search of food. They are quick, vigilant, and able to forage within a wild larder that regularly involves crisscrossing both human and natural landscapes.

Foxes and badgers, field mice, ferrets, and countless other species - they are our wild neighbours, creatures great and small, hardy and resilient who still call these patches of land home. Adaptable and resourceful, these small mammals somehow manage to live alongside our ever-expanding urban areas, contending with ever-increasing threats, and in many instances becoming deeply vulnerable as they are forced to retreat deeper into the shadows each year.

I have learned so much through my experience working hands-on with wildlife, from being a trustee of the Baboon Matters Trust to volunteering at bird sanctuaries and running my Wild Neighbours urban wildlife initiative. I have seen that human-wildlife conflict often originates around access to food, for when livestock are introduced into areas inhabited by carnivores or crop farming expands into lands frequented by grazers and browsers, and when we have waste bins overflowing with discarded food, we are exposing wild animals to the perils of being drawn to this easy food source, where they have to expend far less energy than they would foraging naturally in the wild. Through deepening our understanding of these issues and approaching them with an open mind and heart, we can find solutions that will ensure that we live in harmony with wildlife and respect human-animal boundaries.

Belinda Ashton - This Beautiful World 12_edited.jpg



Becoming a voice for wildlife

My work through Wild Neighbours has been guided by Jane Goodall's words, "The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves." I hope that the words and images I share inspire people to see nature anew so that we appreciate the extraordinary privilege of our interconnection and work together to hold onto all that is wild and free in our beautiful world.

Who will now care for the animals, for they cannot look after themselves? Are there young men and women who are willing to take on this charge? Who will raise their voices, when mine is carried away on the wind, to plead their case?


Belinda Ashton - The Swallows Return (E2)_edited.jpg

Through the animals, knowing that they are out there living their secretive lives far amongst the hills and valleys of this beloved land, we are reminded and reassured of our own sense of belonging within the immensity of the wider living world

Wildlife under increasing pressure

It's such a hard life out there. I think wildlife has always had a challenging time living near people and it's a story that is thousands of years in the making. The difference today is that we have so much information at our fingertips, we know all the pressures and understand all the complexities and dramas of our ever-expanding human world. We know that behaviours like fox hunting, grouse moor burning, hare coursing etc are harmful to wildlife because we can see their impact. Less visible is the insidious effect that these activities have on individual animals. One only has to drive through the countryside to see how any wildlife is deeply afraid of us and dash for cover to avoid us. Witnessing this fear is a sad reflection of how we treat them.


I truly believe that if we are open to working with these issues and take the time to try to understand what drives one to engage in activities that are unnecessarily harmful to wildlife, we can start making a difference to ensure that our collective footprint is as light as possible so that we tread with care and thoughtfulness alongside the wild animals that live beside us.

I have touched on a few issues that make life challenging for wildlife :

Developing in sensitive nature areas - impacts local wildlife's ability to move freely across their natural territories and brings them into frequent contact with people, with all its attendant problems.

Our speeding vehicles - many roads crisscross through rural or wildlife habitats and nocturnal animals become disorientated by the noise and bright lights of our speeding cars. Significant numbers of wild animals are killed on busy roads each year. We can reduce this high mortality by driving slowly and with an awareness of the broader natural environment.

Our domestic cats - studies have shown that free-ranging domestic cats have a significant impact on birds and small wildlife. Most creatures killed by domestic cats are left to die and are seldom, if ever, eaten. This impact can be reduced or even prevented if we keep an eye on our cats and ensure they are wearing bells on their collars to alert wildlife to their presence.

Poisons - rat poison, weed killer, and myriad other poisons used daily in homes and businesses wreak havoc on small wildlife and cause much suffering. With a little bit of research on Google, one can find suitable alternative products to use on lawns or in our homes that are eco-friendly and do not impact creatures.

Bright lights at night - when viewed from space, apparently the glowing lights of our towns and cities are brighter than stars. This increased illumination at night has a significant impact on nocturnal life, and in many instances, certain species are having to adapt their behaviours to cope. Birds like owls and many carnivores hunt under the cover of darkness, and our night lights are having an impact on their ability to function naturally. We can each help reduce this impact by turning off unnecessary lights at night.


It is becoming increasingly urgent that we find a way to live with more consideration for wildlife... before it's too late. My deep concern is that if we don't find a way to live more cooperatively and with more caring and kindness, we stand to lose all that is wild and free - and we stand to lose our own wildness and freedom too. Seen or unseen, all is connected. Many long years ago, Chief Seattle wrote: 'If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.' And his words have never been more poignant than in our frenetic, fast-paced modern world.

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