The Menace of Pokemon Go

As someone who works in the sunny, frabjous world of urban greenspace, there is something that causes me even more consternation than swans or geese. People. They’re always there, with their stupid faces and their stupid big feet encroaching, eroding, trampling. People ruin everything. This seems to have increased recently, particularly in the ‘youth’ demographic*, and I think I know whose fault it is.

Nintendo. I blame Nintendo. I do not fully understand Pokemon Go, but from what I have gathered so far it is a menace and a danger to the very fabric of our society and should be banned forthwith. It’s possible I exaggerate. I know, I know, I’ve been promoting youth engagement for as long as this blog has been rumbling along unnoticed, but anyone who lives long enough, has an opinions and is foolish enough to express them will inevitably get called out for a hypocrite sooner or later. The thing is to brazen it out.

On the surface, there’s a lot to be positive about Pokemon Go. It’s getting kids out and about, exercising, walking, discovering new areas and new greenspace. Trouble is, when they are there they spend most of their time staring at their phones. But more seriously, as far as I can work out, the location of your ‘Pokemons’ has been pretty randomly generated – result being that I’ve had kids wandering around sensitive areas of reserves, trampling and eroding as they go, ignorant or unconcerned about any signs there might be. I now need to check all of my reserves for traces of Pokemon (no, I’m not just looking for an excuse to play games in work hours). I particularly need to check some protected and ‘off-limits’ areas, as there does not seem to be any filter to stop these things from appearing in these places. I’m not even sure if there is any bar to them appearing on private property. Although here I feel I should clarify that I have no idea how Pokemon Go works.

squirtle

Ecologists are still trying to work out what affect Squirtle will have on our delicate waterway ecosystems

I remember Geocache – harmless, responsible Geocache. Bless ’em. Most I could ever accuse that lot of was furtively rustling in the bushes with a lunch-box and scaring off the squirrels. But at least they had solid rules written in about where Geocaches could be placed and specified that the land owner’s permission was sought. I suppose Geocache may now be dead in the water.

Maybe I’m just annoyed because it is exactly the kind of ‘app’ I’ve been crying out for (except, y’know, with ‘real’ animals and stuff in it). In short, I wish I’d thought of it. But then perhaps a Pomarine Skua is just not as interesting to the Kids as a Pikachu. Once again, I think it’s worth clarifying that I do not understand what Pokemon Go is all about.

I’m sorry, it’s been a difficult week and it’s possible my brain has melted a little.

*yes, that’s right, ‘youth’

Camley Street – A Revisit

Don’t look back. You can never look back”

Don Henley

1- camley

Me loitering outside my previous place of work before the restraining order

If you ever find yourself in London, baffled, as I am, by the sheer vibrant greyness of it all (no that is not an oxymoron), then it’s worth reminding yourself that in amongst all that grim, concrete hustle and bustle, London is one of the greenest capital cities on the planet. Indeed, if you’re rolling straight off the Eurostar at St Pancras then right there, a short stroll from the platform, is one of the best examples of the tiny little green nooks and crannies that exist throughout the frequently overbearing behemoth of England’s capital – Camley Street Natural Park.

I apologies that this post my have begun with all the tepidly verbose prose of a Lonely Planet review. No, I have not taken to heart all the frequent pleas from readers to be ‘less curmudgeonly’. But I do think Camley Street is something worth shouting about.

A brief admission of self-interest here: Camley Street is somewhere close to my own heart, just as it is close to the very heart of London (oh good grief man, listen to yourself would you?). A lot of my formative experiences in urban conservation and outreach occurred there. I volunteered and later worked at the site. My Logan’s Run themed 30th birthday was held there (I did, indeed, ‘renew‘). It is a great example of what I’d phrase ‘shop-front conservation.’ There’s some interesting bits of natural habitat, even the odd notable species, but it is a site most definitely managed with public engagement at its core. This is no bad thing. In fact it is an ideal use of the space. But now, it’s becoming something different.

I recently revisited the site and realised all was not quite as I remembered it. The hills were higher when you were young, and all that. Perhaps it was because I worked and volunteered there with some great people who are no longer there (I’m sure the new volunteers and staff are great, but they are mostly strangers to me), but it seemed less alive and full of possibilities. I found myself ambling around the site pointing at things and saying to myself ‘I made that’ and then picking out the inadequacies in my own handiwork.

It’s possible memories and subsequent experiences have slightly detracted from the place for me, it’s possible I object to the artistic viewing platform that’s been installed at the southern end, it’s possible I’m royally peeved that my kingfisher bank has been flattened a year before it would have finally offered a suitable habitat for the occasional visitors that make it even to this darkened corner of the Regent’s Canal. It’s possible I’m annoyed that there isn’t yet a blue plaque with my name over the gate.

There’s been a major development going on in the old warehouses the opposite side of the canal. The area has well and truly shaken off its rather dubious reputation. Very soon, a footbridge will link the new development to the north of Camley Street. A new visitor centre will replace the ‘charming’ and somewhat ramshackle old cricket pavilion that currently performs the role. Will Camley Street keep its character? No doubt the levels of footfall will increase immeasurably. More people will through-route from the London School of Arts buildings to the railway stations. More people will discover this wonderful sight and the wonderful work the London Wildlife Trust do there. But it will never be the Camley Street I remember. That’s the nature of urban reserves like this and I should be glad.

How the Public View Conservation Works – the Need to Improve our PR

As conservationists, many of the practical measures we take on our nature reserves and green spaces are often unsightly and can appear drastic. When reserves are popular with visitors, and in particular long-standing local residents, this can lead to negative perceptions of the organisation if the rational behind such actions are not thoroughly disseminated to the public and where possible, the local community consulted on the need for interventional measures.

Scrub is a particular area of contention. Scrub cutting and clearance is an everyday part of environmental management, and despite recent leanings towards rewilding it will more than likely always be so. Deciding which areas of scrub to be cleared and which areas to leave for songbirds and invertebrates is a key consideration when working towards enhancing biodiversity. This can lead to dual, competing issues amongst our visitors and managing their reaction is pivotal in gaining the good will that strengthens the long-term future of reserves.

‘Public opinion towards scrub is ambivalent. On the one hand some can perceive it as symbolising neglect and untidiness, while on the other it is valued for high densities of songbirds, its attractiveness to butterflies and the colourful displays of flowers, foliage and fruits. One of the great challenges is to raise public awareness and understanding of the value of scrub and the need to manage it. Better interpretation of its traditional uses and value for wildlife and the landscape will help to achieve this’

The Forum for the Application of Conservation Techniques

In an overly simplistic representation of our two competing issues, we can characterise public reactions to conservation works as inclusive and exclusive. Neither is wrong and both opinions must be respected and addressed appropriately. A third position, ignorance, is one that we have all encountered, but is usually easily disabused through education. These two stances amongst visitors exemplify the ‘park’ vs ‘wilderness’ debate that many of us will encounter. Family visitors and those outside the local area often express inclusive reactions to practical measures, reacting favourably to improvements in infrastructure that aid the visitor experience.

‘I was really pleased to see the investment made to (the site) in parking, pathway & structures around the lake which I feel has been some time in coming (the same can also be said of parking facilities). I hope more of this can be done to other parts of the forest to encourage broader use of the area as I feel it is often under used even by the local community.’

Visitor Survey response: example of an inclusive response

pollard

Ugly trees

For some members of the public, scrub (particularly bramble, gorse) can often be seen as untidy and as a barrier (physical and psychological) to fully enjoying green space. For example, a recent questionnaire survey of visitors to a site I worked at flagged up statements about the woodland looking ‘untidy’ and ‘unkempt’ because of the prevalence of scrub. The site is a huge public space, should it not therefore be managed with these opinions at the forefront? This would be foolhardy and in all situations due consideration should be given to the overall biological health of the forest. The flipside to this is the reaction to freshly cleared and strimmed areas of scrub which can initially be a visual shock to those acquainted with an area and look more unkempt still to newcomers, aggravating those of both a inclusive and exclusive bent.

Visitors with exclusive opinions are often locals and long-time visitors with an interest and knowledge about the site. To them, new facilities, footpaths etc. are often anathema and risk despoiling their own private reserve by encouraging other visitors. This is perhaps overly harsh, and many opinions can be centred around concern about loss of biodiversity or impacts on a favourite species. Any new conservation work is viewed with suspicion and responses can be actively hostile with active sabotage not uncommon.

Pollarding, coppicing, grazing, tree felling, tree planting; they can all result in negative reactions, often through lack of understanding fostered by poor communication and publicity. Pollarding is a key historic component of managing some ancient woodlands. However, judging by some reactions I have come across, there is a level of anger, distrust and confusion about the important role it plays in preserving trees and creating habitats:

Why are so many old trees being felled? Ordinary people are not allowed to build on green belt but many old oak trees are being felled. This is a disgrace!’

I hate the way you’ve lopped the branches off trees.’

‘What is this current craze for butchering trees by cutting branches taking place? it looks awful’

We must improve social knowledge about interventionist conservation measures through the tools we have available; social media, updated and accessible websites and clear interpretative panels for our inclusive visitors, consultations and face-to-face discussions for our exclusive visitors. If our visitors are not given the information about practical conservation works in a proactive, not the more traditional passive approach, we risk losing the PR war. Without the support of our local communities and even irregular visitors, we will be resigned to battling for their ecological future alone, an inevitably futile endeavour.