There are three types of biodiversity that encompass the vast, interconnected web of life on Earth - genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity. It is our natural insurance policy for survival, described as the most complex feature of our planet.
The more eroded it becomes, the more vulnerable we are and it is happening so rapidly we can hardly keep track – especially as much of the loss is hidden.
We often picture far flung reefs or rainforests when we think about biodiversity. They need our protection, and supporting indigenous communities to claim legal title to their land has been shown as more effective at protecting forests than declaring them national parks. But what about closer to home?
The unique landscape of the UK is highly diverse, from heaths to woodland, fens to grassland, coastal dunes to wetlands and peat bogs. Many of these spaces are of global significance and host an array of wildlife, but biodiversity is about habitats not just species. One of the most severe threats is either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality of any that remains.
Recent statistics show part of the picture, but looking further back illustrates how much we have lost already. Meadows in England and Wales declined by 97 per cent between the 1930s and 1984, and the area of coppiced woodland fell by at least 90 per cent from 1900 to 1970. Both had dramatic effects on the survival of many rare wildflowers and insects.
It is painful to hear and can seem overwhelming, but there are green shoots we can nurture and actions we can take to help re-energise the land:
Support rewilding initiatives
Rewilding is taking root as a concept of how we manage our landscape and echoes the idea forwarded by regenerative farmers that we must “create a home for all life”. The Scottish Rewilding Alliance has a vision to reawaken nature and make Scotland the world’s first rewilding nation, and the return of wildlife in to rewilded land can be astonishing.
Knepp Estate is just 16 miles from Gatwick airport but in 20 years of rewilding have seen the return of extremely rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, Peregrine falcons and Purple Emperor butterflies.
Top ranking in the WWF’s top five threats to UK wildlife was intensive agriculture, due to both the changes in the landscape of removing hedgerows, meadows and trees plus the increase in the use of pesticides that goes along with it. There is up to 50 per cent more wildlife on organic farms, and you can enjoy your meals more knowing your choices do make a difference.
Start close to home
Surprising places may hold great value as habitats – Caring for God's Acre work to support groups in caring for burial grounds and graveyards that offer refuge for our native wildlife and often harbour varieties of plants seen in ancient meadowland.
Monty Don has eschewed the idea of the neatly clipped lawn and tidy flowerbed as outdated and longer relevant. Ditch harmful metaldehyde slug pellets and weedkillers for natural alternatives – see national charity and Wicked Leeks partner Garden Organic for ideas.
Speak up for nature
We need the UK government to act on protecting nature now. Whatever cause is dearest to you, make your voice heard in whatever way you can.
The plight of our ancient woodlands is one that the Woodland Trust are raising awareness of – with campaigning currently focused on preventing the devastating damage of HS2.
Many of the landscapes we love are shadows of what was lost – get involved in native tree planting in your area or join in with some of these UK wide projects:
- Learn to identify and grow trees with The Conservation Volunteers
- Become a Wildlife and Wetland Trust volunteer
- Save wildlife spaces and places with the Wildlife Trust including their Wild London group.
- Check out the database of volunteering opportunities on Naturevolunteers.uk, NatureScot and the Countryside Jobs Service
- Join in volunteer activities with the RSPB or a Marine Conservation Society Beach Clean.