Walking in a garden, the birds sing, insects buzz, butterflies flutter about, you smell a flower… isn’t nature great! This experience depends upon biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, and the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution.
Scientists have identified less than two million species so far but estimate there could be at least 13 million species in total. Living systems also provide the services we take for granted such as clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, breakdown of natural waste, plant pollination and regulation of climate.
Biodiversity is all around us; it shapes and enriches our way of life. The fruit and vegetables you eat were likely to have been pollinated by bees, and the water you drink is part of a huge global cycle involving you, clouds, rainfall, glaciers, rivers and oceans. Your diet depends almost entirely on the plants and animals around us, from the grasses that give us rice and wheat, to the fish and meat from both wild and farmed landscapes. Biodiversity supports ‘ecosystem services’ including air quality, climate, water purification, pollination, and prevention of erosion.
Our lives are intertwined with nature. But despite this, 50% of our ancient woodlands have been destroyed, along with 50% of our fens and wetlands, 80% of our down-land sheep grazing and 95% of our wildflower meadows. Many species are classified as rare or endangered or threatened, and about 40% of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN ‘Red List’ criteria are now listed as threatened with extinction.
Numbers of bumblebees in Britain have fallen by around 60% since 1970 with three species becoming extinct and seven suffering serious declines. Honeybee numbers have halved in the past 25 years. New research finds a pesticide link to sudden decline in bee population, while three quarters of the country’s butterfly species have also suffered declines.
There are many actions we can take on these issues, the International Day for Biological Diversity is coming up on May 22, but prior to this you can take action in your garden or in your community.
This Saturday, leading up to national gardening week, the University of Bristol is offering the opportunity to take part in a one-day Gardening for wildlife course at the University Botanic Garden; which will provide inspiration and guidance for those wishing to encourage wildlife into their garden.
Sarah Raven’s excellent recent TV series Bees, Butterflies and Blooms attempts to find out how to make British gardens more pollinator-friendly. Good butterfly plants and planting for bees of wild flowers such as red clover, common knapweed and bird’s-foot trefoil will boost their chances.
To encourage wildlife to share our space, we can create mini-habitats like a meadow, a woodland edge, or a hedgerow. One really good idea is to create a pond or a small wetland; even a small one can really make a difference. Wetter areas support a fantastic range of plant and insects. Who can resist wonderfully scented meadowsweet or the bright marsh marigolds?
Right now we can sow annual seeds, plant out some snowdrops or put in some climbers like honeysuckle or ivy to create nest sites for birds. Look around now and you could find nectar-rich bluebells, primroses, grape hyacinths and wild daffodils – all of which can be ideal garden plants. Native plants tend to support the biggest range of flora and fauna but exotic ones like Buddleias (the butterfly bush) can be superb.
There are plenty of sources for information and ideas to start you off, such as the example of the Wild About Your Garden trio who visited Bristol to take on a garden. One really good resource is Chris Baines’ classic wildlife gardening handbook, but more up to date is an excellent book by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ by Adrian Thomas, which has excellent advice on planning and creating a wildlife-friendly garden.
Bristol is a key city for sustainability issues, such local food, fairtrade or organic production. Local biodiversity especially in a time of climate change is another cause we can champion. Some 150 government leaders signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, dedicated to promoting sustainable development.
The Convention recognises that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our global need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live.
Oxfam is campaigning via its GROW campaign for a sustainable food system within environmental boundaries, and Bristol gardens, parks, community spaces, ‘waste’ ground, and roundabouts can all become biodiversity hotspots if we pick up these ideas. How many wildlife spaces can we create before the Bristol Big Green Week that takes place just before the Rio Earth Summit 2012?
Roger James is a campaigner for Oxfam South West in Bristol