Remembrance Day is an annual memorial day in Britain and the Commonwealth, held in honour of soldiers whose lives were taken from them in war. There are similar traditions in many other parts of the world, often around the 11th of November to commemorate the end of the First World War.
This year I came across a different sort of event, also held in November: Remembrance day for lost species. Held for the first time in 2011 by a group called Feral Theatre, it has become an annual occasion and has been endorsed by a growing list of conservation groups and ecological historians.
“Remembrance Day for Lost Species is a chance each year to explore the stories of species, cultures, lifeways and habitats driven extinct by unjust power structures and exploitation, past and ongoing” says the website. It highlights the injustices and exploitation that lead to extinction, and “provides an opportunity for people to renew commitments to all that remains”.
I suspect my younger self would have rolled my eyes at this idea, but I think it’s actually quite important. As the Living Planet report tells us, wildlife numbers have fallen by 60% in the last half century. That’s extraordinary, and yet the ‘shifting baseline‘ effect normalises this depleted state. Children growing up today take this to be normal, with no idea that the world used to be more diverse, more alive, more interesting. The loss doesn’t affect most of us, in the cities and disconnected from nature. We hardly notice it. And so we need events, rituals, shared moments where we bring this stuff to our attention.
Remembrance Day didn’t exist until somebody created it. There is no reason why we can’t create a Remembrance Day for Lost Species and make it an annual event.
How do you participate? The campaign invites people to hold any kind of memorial event they like, including processions, tree planting, or art projects. A handful of events are mentioned on the website, including a couple of churches that have taken on the idea. I would be interested to see what they do, and whether more churches hear about it and try it. Other participants include galleries and museums, schools and theatre groups.
Will it catch on? Hard to say. It’s definitely a niche proposition at the moment, and I suspect it needs a more iconic activity or symbol before it gets much attention – ‘do what you like’ is rather open. But something about the idea resonates with me. It feels like these sorts of occasions are necessary, that there is a hunger for some kind of public acknowledgement of what is happening to the planet, and the loss and confusion that many people feel about it. A Remembrance Day for Lost Species might be helpful, and all traditions have to start somewhere.