A new exhibition, ‘Extinct’, opened this month at the Manx Museum, working in partnership with Manx Wildlife Trust. Laura McCoy, natural history curator with Manx National Heritage, tells us about it.
Wednesday 8th September saw the opening of the new temporary exhibition ‘Extinct’ at the Manx Museum, in partnership with Manx Wildlife Trust (MWT).
It follows on from the recent publication of Birds of Conservation Concern Isle of Man by the charity Manx BirdLife and the forthcoming publication of Plants of Conservation Concern Isle of Man by MWT.
There are many species that have become locally extinct on the Isle of Man, particularly birds and plants, and this trend is not slowing down, with the Yellowhammer, once one of our most ubiquitous farmland birds, disappearing from our Island as recently as 2019.
Some may ask how these absences impact our day-to-day lives, and why this matters, but as we are becoming increasingly aware, the complexity and variety of our environment is what sustains us; if you knock out enough of the bricks, the wall will come tumbling down.
These disappearances are symptomatic of a difficult state of affairs, reflecting that the global biodiversity crisis is impacting our Island and that islands are particularly sensitive to changes in management and climate.
The more protected, understood and supported our environment is (and our UNESCO Biosphere status contributes to this learning), the better it is able to withstand and buffer us from the global shifts that are to come.
Thankfully, however, not all is doom and gloom. There are stories of hope, such as the success we have achieved with the recolonisation of the Calf of Man by the Manx Shearwater, demonstrating what we are capable of if we put our minds to something and make the changes necessary to consider the organisms we share our world with.
This exhibition demonstrates our Memorandum of Understanding with MWT and our mutual commitment to protect and campaign for our Island’s wildlife. We have used images from our archives, excerpts from recent surveys, data from different organisations, beautiful photos from talented wildlife photographers and created a soundscape of the lost bird calls of our landscape.
The specimens on display, including a White-tailed Eagle, are all from the Island and highlight why it is important that we hold these historic collections; they are proof of what was here and when, can be used to educate people about what they can no longer see living and perhaps illicit a spark of passion so that we protect what we still have. We are at the brink, we need to bring things back.
David Bellamy, of MWT, gave advice on the exhibition and said: ‘We have much to be grateful for on our beautiful Island, including many iconic and abundant species considered rare elsewhere, including Chough, Hen Harrier and Peregrine.
‘However, we have lost many species since records began and some, like the Isle of Man Cabbage, are teetering on the edge. Unfortunately, losses continue; it now appears that the Yellowhammer, once our most common farmland bird has very recently been lost as a Manx species. Sadly, the only physical evidence of their former presence is of taxidermy specimens within the Manx Museum’s collection. This is a story that has to be told.
‘Of course, we can restore nature across the Isle of Man, but it will need public and political support and adequate resources, as shown by the tentative but encouraging return of the Puffin to the Calf of Man after a decade of control of a non-native species.
‘Thankfully, efforts are now being made to reverse declines across the whole Isle of Man, including the recent launch of an Island-wide Agri-Environment Scheme which will encourage lost birds such as the Lapwing to return to rear chicks in our fields once more.
‘Excepting the Great Auk, which is globally extinct ,and will never again grace our shores, each of the lost species on display could make a comeback if we are willing to make more space for nature on our Island.’
‘Extinct’ runs until 31st May 2022.
Photo: Yellowhammer by Pete Hadfield, 23rd December 2010, Bride.