We tend to think of extinction as a global phenomenon involving large animals somewhere else, Africa, perhaps.
Or if we think of it as closer to home, we might be worrying about small marsupials that we’ve never seen, like the mountain pygmy possum.
But extinction can be a lot closer to home.
This week, reading about urban parks, I came across an arresting phrase: The extinction of experience.
This phrase was coined by an American lepidopterist (aka butterfly expert) back in the 1970s. Robert Pyle realised that a certain type of extinction was profoundly local.
He was thinking about being a boy, on foot, in nature, looking at butterflies. That’s how he got interested in them.
And he realised that this ordinary suburban experience was going extinct: “People who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?”
The extinction of experience is coming from two directions: one is that children don’t get out as much as they used to.
Fears for their safety are greater; screen entertainment is so easy to get, so entrancing.
Houses are getting bigger, yards smaller. Many people now spend only a tiny fraction of their days outdoors.
From the other direction, our local natural world is not as rich as it was.
Birds are fewer. Butterflies are fewer.
As we confront both rising temperatures and rising population pressures, we are going to need to keep learning about how local ecosystems work.
It’s not just about improving the scientific knowledge of experts; it’s about a growing affinity in the population at large.
It’s about being interested in, observant of, the natural world around us.
Public urban green spaces on our doorsteps can help with that.
To reconnect people with nature, we need to make sure nature is nourished or put back into the places where people live, work and spend their leisure time.
We need to consciously design urban places with this in mind.
If “connecting with nature” feels like effort, if it’s just another “to do” on an already busy list, people are unlikely to do it.
But if they just happen to walk through a pleasant park on the way to work and notice that the gum trees are now in flower or the wattle birds are building their nests again, then it’s become an ordinary – and quietly uplifting – part of life.
The future of Centennial Park, a great, sprawling open space in South Bathurst, is now under consideration.
It’s a park that’s been left in state of benign neglect; it is Machattie Park’s very poor cousin.
There have been murmurings in favour of using it as a greenfield site for the construction of new cultural facilities. It’s been said that it’s “not doing anything”.
It’s actually doing a lot. Once you get your eye in, even this patchy stretch of earth is a storehouse of biological riches.
It’s a safety guard against the extinction of experience.
The consultants assessing “all options” (including building) for its future will be in Centennial Park on Sunday from noon until 3pm.
Wander on down to the park and let them know how you feel.