Steve Westerman

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

LIONS, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephants, and Buffalos were identified by Trophy hunters as the ‘Big Five’ species of Africa – their priority targets. In part, this was because they presented hunters with the greatest difficulty and threat. Now, thank goodness, attitudes are changing. In keeping with this, a new photography-oriented project, with conservation motives, is ‘re-branding’ the notion of the ‘Big Five’ – taking it away from its hunting origins and extending it beyond Africa. People are being asked to visit the website ( and to vote, from a list of 46 species, for the five animals that they would most like to photograph or see photographs of.

Relevant to this, and somewhat worryingly for all of us that enjoy wildlife photography, I read one research paper that suggests a high frequency of photographic (and other ‘virtual’) representations of a species may lead people to underestimate the extent to which it is endangered – perhaps due to the feeling that because they have ‘seen’ the animal many times its numbers can’t be low!

A related discussion that can be found in the literature concerns whether ‘focusing on’ charismatic species appropriately targets conservation efforts. The most appealing species might not be the ones that deserve highest conservation priority.

Anyway, despite some reservations, this project started me thinking about which animals I most enjoy seeing and photographing in the Wharfedale area – and I decided to try to list my “Wharfedale Five”. There are plenty of possible candidates so it was a challenging task. However, this is my selection: 1. Otters; 2. Kingfishers; 3. Roe Deer; 4. Brown Hares; 5. Barn Owls.

What are your thoughts? Which species would be included in your “Wharfedale Five”? Taking a positive view of the efficacy of this approach, could it be that identifying a few iconic local species (e.g., otters), and then publicising some of the local environmental challenges they face, would encourage more people to engage with conservation at a local level? It might even provide a focus for the coordination of efforts and of viewpoints across geographic areas (e.g., along different stretches of the river) and between different relevant groups (eg: Wharfedale Naturalists, Friends of Ilkley Riverside Parks, Ilkley Clean River Campaign Group, Ilkley Angling Association, Ilkley Golf Club, Ilkley Tennis Club, Bradford Council). Improving local environments for one species, and understanding related constraints (e.g., tackling factors such as water quality, bank-side vegetation/cover, human disturbance, food chain) might then have benefits for other species that share that environment (e.g., Kingfishers, Dippers, Little Grebes). Am I being too optimistic?