Cultural Studies

Surveying the Anthropocene: Endangered wildlife: the threats to seabirds, and the use of rephotography

by Patricia Macdonald

This is the second of a series of blogs featuring themes and participants from the book Surveying the Anthropocene: Environment and photography now, edited by Patricia Macdonald (for an introduction to the book, see Q & A blog with the editor; and for the first thematic blog, concerning the worldwide threats to forests, see here).

It is a discussion between Dr Pete Moore, rephotography scholar and Wildlife Management team member at government’s adviser NatureScot; the eminent writer Adam Nicolson (two of the contributors to the book); Professor Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Biodiversity and Science to NatureScot; and the book’s editor, Dr Patricia Macdonald.

Surveying the Anthropocene: left: Front cover image [Chris Jordan]; right: back cover image [J J Harrison]
Surveying the Anthropocene: left: Front cover image [Chris Jordan]; right: back cover image [J J Harrison]

Patricia Macdonald:
A seabird’s cry is one of the wildest and most evocative sounds in the natural world. But for how much longer will it continue to be the keynote voice of our coasts, in this present Anthropocene epoch of massive, human-caused destruction of the web of life?
Might this brief geological moment act as a transition to a future time which ‘has at its heart the belief that all living beings have a right to life and to the recognition that they have forms of understanding we have never shared and probably never will’ – as Adam Nicolson so eloquently puts it in his concluding essay in this book?

Gannets in flight near the Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, Scotland [Matthew Dalziel + Louise Scullion]
Gannets in flight near the Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, Scotland [Matthew Dalziel + Louise Scullion]
The largest colony of the northern gannet, on the Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, Scotland, in 2015 [Patricia & Angus Macdonald / Aerographica]
The largest colony of the northern gannet, on the Bass Rock, Firth of Forth, Scotland, in 2015 [Patricia & Angus Macdonald / Aerographica]
Corpse of a gannet from the Bass Rock colony found on a nearby beach, 2022 [Patricia Macdonald]
Corpse of a gannet from the Bass Rock colony found on a nearby beach, 2022 [Patricia Macdonald]

The 2021-22 pandemic of ‘bird flu’ or Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI – another lethal pandemic acronym to remember alongside Covid-19), is an unprecedented, largely anthropogenic, globalised threat that is bringing about the deaths of enormous numbers of the familiar seabirds nesting this summer on coasts and offshore islands.

As the distinguished contributors to the blog in the PDF link below discuss, it focusses our minds on the current role of humans in bringing about what has been called the sixth major extinction of life on Earth, and the possible outcomes of this in a deep-time context.


About the Book

Cover of Surveying the Anthropocene

A thought-provoking combination of visually powerful imagery and comment

Surveying the Anthropocene presents a range of approaches to image-making concerning the environment by some of the best artist-photographers working worldwide, alongside texts by some of the most illuminating writers on environmental questions, at a pivotal moment in the human relationship with the planet.


About the Author

Patricia Macdonald BSc PhD FRSE FSA(Scot) FRSA HonFRSGS HonFICS is an environmental / cultural-landscape researcher, writer and academic (since 2004 Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh & Edinburgh College of Art) and an award-winning artist-photographer whose powerful, boundary-crossing environmental aerial imagery – made in collaboration with her partner Professor Angus Macdonald of the University of Edinburgh – is commissioned, exhibited, collected and published internationally, spanning fine-art and editorial contexts. She is the author/co-author of ten books/catalogues and numerous articles.


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