Global assessment

At the beginning of this week, the UN’s Global Assessment has highlighted the impact that we are having on the natural world.

Here in Britain we are inclined to feel that it’s all a long way away and it’s neither our fault nor our business. We sometimes put products containing palm oil back on the supermarket shelf or use our social media to share frightening statistics like this one:

Losses of intact ecosystems have occurred primarily in the tropics, home to the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. For example, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost in the twenty years between 1980 and 2000, largely the result of cattle ranching in Latin America and palm oil plantations in South-East Asia.

but we fail to see the terrible losses happening here in Britain. We actually rank very near the top of the list of countries that have suffered the most long term biodiversity loss, much nearer the top than places like Borneo and the Amazon rain forests.

In the last fifty years, in the UK, we have wiped out more than half our wildlife. It’s no longer just strange creatures and creepy crawlies from far off places that we only see on a screen; it’s species that we all know and care about: hedgehogs and skylarks, red squirrels and small blue butterflies. We even know why these losses have happened and we have known for all of those fifty years: intensification of agriculture and urbanisation.

Here are some scary statistics from DEFRA’s UK Biodiversity Indicators 2018.

In 2016 the farmland bird index was less than half its 1970 value. Short term, between 2010 and 2015, the smoothed index decreased by 9%.

In 2016 the woodland bird index was 23% less than its 1970 value. Short term, between 2010 and 2015, the smoothed index showed no significant change.

In 2016 the water and wetland bird index was 8% lower than in 1975. Short term, between 2010 and 2015 the smoothed index showed no significant change.

Here is an even scarier diagram from DEFRA:

Perhaps the list of things that have contributed to Britain’s biodiversity losses should read: agriculture, urbanisation and apathy.

We have reached a tipping point. The UN Global Assessment concludes that the internationally agreed biodiversity targets that the world’s countries have set themselves cannot be met, that the gains will not offset the continuing losses. It calls for transformative change before all is lost.

At the local level this means holding our local authorities responsible for our environment; it means challenging those with special interests in an economic system that prioritises profit above all else. It means statutory protection for wild places, reserves and country parks, green corridors, that patch of straggly wildflowers and buddleia at the end of the street where the butterflies feed.

We are in trouble and it’s time to take this both personally and seriously.


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