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Younger generation fail to notice environmental decline due to generational amnesia which risks conservation longevity - Royal Holloway, University of London and Zoological Society London

Young people are not as aware of environmental changes compared to the older generation, according to a new report by Royal Holloway, University of London and international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society London) due to a phenomenon known as Shifting Baseline Syndrome (SBS).

The UK-based paper showcases a reduced awareness of issues such as the decline in bird biodiversity and abundance within their area compared to several years ago – meaning vital naturalist knowledge is being lost over generations without people noticing.

This worrying gap in knowledge and perception surrounding environmental data and conservation needs between the older and younger generation could hinder efforts to emphasise the urgent need for conservation action for declining species.

SBS describes a persistent downgrading of perceived ‘normal’ environmental conditions with every new generation, leading to under-estimation of the true magnitude of long-term environmental change on a global scale.

The presence of SBS could impact the validity of traditional and local ecological knowledge and participatory techniques as well as conservation target-setting. However, despite increasing recognition, there has been little empirical evidence for SBS, until now.

There is a wealth of experimental evidence recording people’s long-term impacts on the natural environment, from species extinctions and habitat loss to climate change. However, conservation baselines are often formed using more recent information.

By focussing on more recent timescales, we at more at risk of losing perspective on the true magnitude of long-term environmental change, as historical environmental information is lost over time and people do not notice.

Posted on: 21 August 2020

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