Just One Thing – Individual Actions for Biodiversity

Many of us watched the David Attenborough programme “Extinction: The Facts” and felt huge sadness and alarm as well as a deep desire to do something. So, what is the problem and what can we do as individuals to help?

According to the WWF Living Nature Report 2020, we have lost an average of 68% of our wildlife populations. Biodiversity is about the number of different species of living organism, but it is also about having thriving populations that can sustainably reproduce.

Why is Biodiversity important? Life on Earth is a dependent on interconnected systems – no species can exist in isolation. We all depend on the life-sustaining cycles such as the water cycle and carbon cycle. We depend on food chains, from plants photosynthesising to predators controlling population numbers so that not all the plants get eaten. We depend on decomposers such as fungi to recycle dead and decaying matter for new life to begin. Pollinators are crucial to plant reproduction, which in turn form the basis of much of the diet of humans and also medicinal crops. Invertebrates, microorganisms and plants are critical to healthy soil, which is crucial for food crops. Biodiversity improves our collective resilience – for example, trees help to mitigate against flooding and soil erosion. They clean the air, reduce the temperatures, provide windbreaks, forests help to regulate the climate and offer resilience for agriculture. Wetlands provide similar benefits for example in mitigating against flooding and storm damage, as well as storing vast quantities of carbon. In short, loss of biodiversity is bad news, not just for wildlife but for humans too.

Basic needs of life Life basically needs the following, although this is not exhaustive:

  • Food
  • Clean water
  • Healthy soil
  • Shelter/safe cover
  • Clean air
  • Reproductive requirements – wind, pollination, space (soil, space for offspring), safety, adequate energy/food 
  • Appropriate temperature
  • Sunlight/darkness

These are relatively generic and species are adapted to relatively specific conditions. There is also a lot of overlap between requirements, which reflects the interconnectedness of life. For example, food would be affected by things like lighting conditions, other plant and animal species, reproduction, water and so on.

Threats to biodiversity Key threats to biodiversity are:

  1. Loss of habitat – deforestation, building
  2. Overconsumption/Exploitation – overfishing, overgrazing, poor soil health
  3. Pollution – chemical, noise and light – possibly physical such as plastics/litter
  4. Climate Change
  5. Hunting/Poaching/Wildlife Trade
  6. Invasive species

How people can help The ways that we can help fall into several broad categories:

  • Don’t kill things or at least keep it to a minimum. This might mean
    • not hunting or poaching but also supporting bans on this, supporting organisations combatting it and not buying the products of hunting or poaching or of the illegal wildlife trade.
    • not polluting or buying products associated with pollution (e.g. by buying organic food, not using pesticides or weedkillers and being extremely careful in the use of fertilisers, choosing eco-friendly products – e.g. eco-cleaners that do not harm aquatic life, picking litter/not littering, not using the liquid application pet flea/worm treatments)
    • reduce/eliminate consumption of fish and meat, support sustainable practices
    • supporting sustainable agriculture or even growing your own food without harmful chemicals
    • reduce plastic use
    • Consider keeping cats indoors or at least put a bell on their collar – unfortunately our feline friends are not great for the local wildlife
    • Regularly clean bird feeders and maintain bug hotels to avoid spreading disease
  • Create/conserve habitats – habitat loss and the degradation of habitat is the single biggest threat to wildlife. You can help by
    • supporting conservation organisations and rewilding projects
    • not buying products linked to deforestation – unsustainable palm oil, hardwoods, some beef and soy (including animals fed with soy)
    • supporting sustainable agriculture
    • having a wildlife garden – including features such as ponds, compost bins/heaps, plants and trees that support other species e.g. plants for pollinators (look out for pesticide and peat free varieties), leaving areas wild
    • leave the mower and hedge trimmer in the shed and let local authorities and businesses know that you would like them to do the same – presently the “tidy brigade” is far more vocal so councils mow grass to avoid complaints
    • eating less meat to reduce land use and overgrazing
    • support sustainable fishing methods, which are not destructive to marine habitat
    • support expansion of marine conservation areas
    • reduce consumption – use less paper, mend clothes and other items, buy secondhand
    • follow the Countryside Code – be careful not to start fires and be mindful or disturbing ground-nesting birds or eroding or trampling areas
    • Promote access and enjoyment of wild spaces in a sustainable way
    • use your voice – sign petitions, lobby politicians and organisations and use your vote – make sure that businesses and politicians know that this is important to you
  • Combat Climate Change – 
    • use less fossil fuels by choosing to walk or cycle short journeys
    • insulate your home and switch to green energy providers
    • reduce consumption of meat and dairy products
    • buy locally produced, seasonal food
    • reduce/eliminate air travel
    • consider family size and number of pets
    • switch off anything you are not using
    • choose energy efficient products
    • reduce your use of plastics
    • reduce waste, especially food waste
    • use your voice – use your vote, make sure companies and politicians know this is a key issue, talk about it with others, share valid peer-reviewed science and correct information on social media
  • Invasive species – be careful about introducing non-native plants to your garden that may spread beyond the boundary (our local park in the UK has a surprisingly large amount of bamboo along the wooded riverbank). 
  • Get “political” – Ultimately, this is an issue that affects all of us and is, at least on paper, recognised as important across the political spectrum to varying degrees. However, it needs to be more than the niche issue it has been in the past and backed with hard action, not just platitudes. The UK government has announced in the past few days a plan to protect 30% of UK land for nature. Currently 26 % of the UK is protected as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but they are struggling with issues such as overgrazing, problematic agriculture and poor management. The message that protected space is important is getting through, but it needs to be followed up with meaningful action and measured against demonstrable increases in native biodiversity. So you can help by:
    • spreading the word – talking to friends and family and on social media
    • supporting conservation organisations
    • peaceful protest
    • using your vote
    • lobbying politicians and businesses
    • signing and sharing petitions
    • vote with your feet when choosing what shops and products to use
    • invest your money ethically – this may not exactly be political, but ensuring your pension, savings etc. are only invested in companies that align with combatting climate change and enhancing biodiversity

 

 

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