During my brief lunchbreak today I found myself totally engrossed in the State of Nature Report – a first of it’s kind document detailing the health of the UK’s wildlife populations (available from the RSPB).
It was a beautiful day and I should have been eating outside, away from my computer and enjoying the great outdoors! (that will be my goal for tomorrow)… As it turns out I found some useful insights from this remarkable document, helping remind me that biodiversity loss is not an easy concept to get your head around. The report’s foreword by Sir David Attenborough puts it this way,
“even the most casual of observers may have noticed that all is not well. They may have noticed the loss of butterflies from a favourite walk, the disappearance of sparrows from their garden, or the absence of the colourful wildflower meadows of their youth. To gain a true picture of the balance of our nature, we require a broad and objective assessment of the best available evidence.” (my emphasis)
No easy task. But this recent report does an impressive job at achieving such a broad and objective assessment by integrating species research over the past 50+ years on thousands of species of significance who live in the UK and overseas territories. Everything from the hazel doormouse to the harbour seal is covered in their analysis.
Overall, the numbers and figures are not surprising. Indicator species (particularly of butterfly, moth and bird species) continue to decline significantly. Of total data covering 3,000+ species, 60% have declined and 31% have declined strongly over the past 50 years. I find these numbers difficult to truly grasp. That means 91% of all species highlighted in these studies are in some form of decline?
With a statistic so high, is there room for any good news?
Well, what I would add to Sir David Attenborough’s introductory words is that biodiversity requires science and wonder, reasoning and re-enchantment (something his has always excelled at sharing with audiences). The best surveys in the world will not stop biodiversity attrition alone.
This is partly why we have developed a new internship for students to work towards improving biodiversity right here in St Andrews. In partnership with our local Transition initiative – Transition University of St Andrews – we recruited five “biodiversity interns” to work with us this semester. While we too, like the researchers in this report, will be surveying and accounting for the local biodiversity among the University’s scattered landscape, we hope to also bring as muchring enthusiasm, excitement, and genuine compassion to this topic.
Our first step? To master new survey techniques that allow non-specialists (eg, students, staff and residents) to get outside and map the landscape around their halls of residence, staff departments or academic schools. Our online tool, the Biodiversity Index, guides us novices through the process and includes a concise report at the end that provides a benchmark score from which to improve upon. The report gives suggestions for improving our scores, such as to incorporate less intensive landscaping practises (leaving a wildlife meadow unmown during summer for example) or planting a community orchard in an otherwise unused area. All ideas will be considered which help increase habitat and vegetation diversity – indicators of species richness and the success of specific species of concern such as the common bee.
Our plan is to “divide and conquer” the University’s landscape in Spring 2014 by leading students and staff on multiple mini survey’s of their own, in places that mean something to them. We have high hopes that when people are given the chance to investigate, record, and reflect on their own local landscapes, more creative ideas will be generated with stronger chances for success. We hope you can join us by participating in these surveys as we work towards turning under-used landscapes into beautiful, resilient and healthy places to work and play.
This can only be done to the backdrop of global biodiversity concerns, such as impressively documented in the State of Nature report. I am eternally grateful to those researchers contributing to this latest report on the health of our living community. Let’s also remember that improving biodiversity begins with attention – where better to start then our own doorsteps?
Interested in joining the biodiversity interns on their mission? Signup for Spring 2014 survey updates by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org