‘Protecting the Planet’ & ‘Wellcome to the Science of Protecting the Planet’ (WEA courses)
Introduction, (i) on the importance of biodiversity to us (ii) Jane Goodall on the Coronavirus pandemic and wild animals. (See also 3 below - #significance)
2. Causes #causes: Global warming, see 4 below 2.1 #farming and meat production 2.2 loss of #wildflower meadows 2.3 #overfishing 2.4 #deforestation 2.5 #palm oil 2.6 pollution (see Some problems and solutions) 2.7 #population growth 2.8 #war and its impact on the environment
3. Significance for us #significance
7. Insects, plants and food #insects
8. The Sixth Extinction #sixth extinction
9. What can be done
10. Conclusions #conclusion
11. References #references
(i) Why Biodiversity is Important to us: https://www.ecowatch.com/why-biodiversity-matters-2646065739.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
(By Marie Quinney, based on World Economic Forum report)
2. Biodiversity Helps Fight Disease: plants are essential for medicines. For example, 25% of drugs used in modern medicine are derived from rainforest plants while 70% of cancer drugs are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature. This means that every time a species goes extinct, we miss out on a potential new medicine.
Second, biodiversity due to protected natural areas has been linked to lower instances of disease such as Lyme disease and malaria. See (ii) below also...
(ii) Jane Goodall on the links between our treatment of animals and the spread of the Covid -19 virus: Scientists warn that if we continue to ignore the causes of these zoonotic diseases, we may be infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19.
Many people believe that we have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. We need to halt deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats around the globe. We need to make use of existing nature-friendly, organic alternatives, and develop new ones, to feed ourselves and to maintain our health. We need to eliminate poverty so that people can find alternative ways to make a living other than by hunting and selling wild animals and destroying the environment. We need to assure that local people, whose lives directly depend on and are impacted by the health of the environment, own and drive good conservation decisions in their own communities as they work to improve their lives. Finally, we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment.
While there is a justified focus on bringing COVID-19 under control, we must not forget the crisis with potentially long-term catastrophic effects on the planet and future generations – the climate crisis. The movement calling for industry and governments to impose restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases, to protect forests, and clean up the oceans, has been growing.
This pandemic has forced industry to temporarily shut down in many parts of the world. As a result, many people have for the first time experienced the pleasure of breathing clean air and seeing the stars in the night sky.
My hope is that an understanding of how the world should be, along with the realization that it is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy, alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve the exploitation of nature and animals.
Let us realize we are part of, and depend upon, the natural world for food, water and clean air. Let us recognize that the health of people, animals and the environment are connected. Let us show respect for each other, for the other sentient animals, and for Mother Nature. For the sake of the wellbeing of our children and theirs, and for the health of this beautiful planet Earth, our only home.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
1. The problem (historical overview of reports and surveys):
(i) 2013 State of Nature report (by 25 British environmental organisations), of the 3,148 species studied, 60% had declined in the last 50 years; 31% had declined badly and 600 were threatened with extinction. We lost 44m birds between 1996 and 2008. We have lost 99% of our wildflower meadows, half of our ancient woodland, three-quarters of our heathland, three-quarters of our ponds.
(ii) 8th Dec 2015 (Emma Howard reported) Nature Communications article on Declining Resilience of Ecosystem Functions under Biodiversity Loss:
Biggest analysis of British wildlife ever conducted, with researchers from Reading University, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (led by Dr Tom Oliver).
The study builds on the 2013 State of nature report.
It looked at records covering 4,424 species, over the period 1970-2009, and was based on observations by thousands of trained volunteers.
28% of pollinators (bees, moths, hoverflies) à rise in price of food, some crops unavailable
16% of natural pest controllers (ants, ground beetles, hedgehogs)
8% of those supporting decomposition
10% of those helping carbon sequestration
14% of those with cultural value (lesser horseshoe bat, dark green fritillary butterfly, pasque flower) – note this is an important area of loss to human wellbeing.
(iii) The 2016 State of Nature report found: More than one in 10 of the UK’s wildlife species are threatened with extinction. (Damian Carrington 14/9/16). The numbers of the most endangered creatures have fallen by two-thirds since 1970. This covers birds, animals, fish and plants.
Overall 53% - 56% of species declined between 1970 and 2011, but some species increased - this ‘does not look like a healthy, natural situation’ (Mark Eaton, conservation scientist at RSPB) – some species going up very quickly, and others going down equally quickly, so we could end up with ‘50% left’.
(iv) (1-7 Sep 2017, New Statesman, Simon Barnes): According to the Living Planet index, compiled by the WWF and the Zoological Society the world’s wild animals will decline in number by two-thirds by 2020. Of the 85,000 species listed by the IUCN, more than 24,000 are in danger, including lions, rhinos and giraffes. Numbers have fallen by 40% since 1985. Among primates, three-quarters have falling numbers, with 60% threatened with extinction, including gorillas and chimpanzees.
In the UK we have lost 8% of our butterfly species, 3% of our beetles, and the hen harrier is close to extinction. Between 1,200 and 3,180 species will have become nationally extinct in the past couple of centuries.
(The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, is a multilateral treaty. The Convention has three main goals including: the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
The Convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993.
Regular meetings are held, called ‘Conference of the Parties’ – or COP).
The 2018 UN Biodiversity Conference closed on 29 November 2018 with broad international agreement on reversing the global destruction of nature and biodiversity loss threatening all forms of life on Earth. Parties adopted the Voluntary Guidelines for the design and effective implementation of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Governments also agreed to accelerate action to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed in 2010, from now until 2020. Work to achieve these targets will take place at the global, regional, national and subnational levels.
Intensive monoculture and human overpopulation (see 2.7 below) are the two most pertinent biodiversity issues to address.
(vi) 2019. More than 70 environmental organisations and research institutes from across the UK have collaborated on the State of Nature 2019 reported on loss of nature since 1970. (Unlike previous efforts in 2013 and 2016, government agencies were involved). Main findings:
15 per cent of species under threat of extinction and 2 per cent of species have already gone for good.
Average abundance of wildlife has fallen by 13 per cent with the steepest losses in the last ten years.
41 per cent of UK species studied have fallen and 133 species have already been lost from our shores
Butterflies and moths, down 17 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. Numbers of high brown fritillary and grayling butterflies, have fallen by more than three quarters.
The average amount of mammals has fallen by 26 per cent and the wild cat and greater mouse-eared bat are almost extinct
(vii) May 2019 the United Nations report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES):
Almost 1 million species face extinction - the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion. Many species could be wiped out within decades.
There are threats to more than 40% of amphibians, to 33% of coral reefs (around half of all live coral reef cover has been lost since the 1870s), and to over a third of all marine mammals.
(viii) July 19th 2019. IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has published its latest red list. A third of the species that could be assessed are under threat.
7 primates are in decline, and 2 families of ray have been pushed to the brink by overfishing. Total species on the list is now 105,732 (out of millions on earth) none of which had improved in status.
In May scientists found that wildlife populations had declined by 60% since 1970 and plant extinctions are happening at a frightening rate.
More than half the freshwater fish in Japan, and more than a third in Mexico are threatened with extinction – which would deprive billions of people of food and income.
Global heating is included as a cause of species decline in the red list.
20th Jan 2020. Ahead of the 50th Davos World Economic Forum, the new acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Matuma Mrema urges countries to take definitive action. ‘People’s lives depend on biodiversity in ways that are not always apparent or appreciated. Human health ultimately depends on ecosystem services: the availability of fresh water, fuel, food sources.’ [See 3. Below] If the global community doesn’t listen it will have said ‘let people continue to die, let the degradation continue, let deforestation continue, pollution continue, and we’ll have given up as an international community to save the planet.’
Davos has recognised that biodiversity loss is the third biggest risk to the world, in terms of likely severity, ahead of infectious disease, terror attacks and interstate conflict. (Patrick Greenfield)
The acting executive secretary of the Convention, commenting on the Coronavirus pandemic currently raging, has said:
“The message we are getting is if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us,” she told the Guardian.
“It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries. But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people.
“So unless we get alternatives for these communities, there might be a danger of opening up illegal trade in wild animals which currently is already leading us to the brink of extinction for some species.
April 9th 2020: https://www.ecowatch.com/biodiversity-loss-climate-crisis-2645676582.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1 loss of species could occur suddenly when temperatures change...
More than a third of the world’s land surface is devoted to food production, and about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by land clearing, crop production and fertilization, and essential crops are under threat because of years of unsustainable agricultural practices. 23% of land areas have reduced agricultural productivity due to land degradation.
(i) From Conservation International newsletter Jan 2020:
By going meat-free one day a week, you can save more than 325,000 gallons of water per year
Eating meat-free just one day a week can reduce your impact on the planet. It’s easy to not think about the environment when you’re biting into a juicy hamburger, but consider these costs:
If everyone in the United States went meat-free for one day, it would save 100 billion gallons of water.
On veganism, see Ecologist for 10th Jan 2020.
Excellent substantial piece by Damian Carrington on some myths about (i.e. against) vegetarianism:
(ii) From the #reality bubble (2.8 below): One of our biological blind spots is meat slaughter and processed food: ‘anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million chickens a year are still conscious when they are scalded to death in the scalder.’
Pesticides: July 18th 2019. Article by Caroline Lucas: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/17/pesticide-industry-health-planet-mps-ffcc-report-farmers
Quotes the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission after independent two year enquiry. Farming has been about specialisation, consolidation and control over nature – many farmers are simply raw material suppliers to a processing industry. Pesticides need to be reduced, but there is a backlash: half our agronomists (advisors on farming) are employed by agrochemical companies.
We need sustainable agroecological farming. A tax on processed meat (resisted by Dept of Health). Copenhagen has 90% organic food in municipal institutions without increasing procurement costs.
(Letter subsequently argues against meat tax...)
2.2 destruction of wildflower meadows etc: The latest Plantlife research reveals that the 97% loss of meadows works out at 7.5 million acres of wildflower habitat gone and that REALLY MATTERS to bees. Take a moment to consider the startling numbers:
One square metre of a wildflower meadow in June is home to an average of 570 flowers on a single day. So… one acre of wildflower habitat can contain over 2.3 million flowers. Multiplying that up, it works out that we’ve lost 17.3 trillion flowers from our countryside (and to put that into perspective, it’s as if every person in the UK was carrying a bunch of 260,000 flowers). These flowers would produce around 6,700 tons of nectar sugar. That’s tons of nectar sugar. And that would be enough to feed 621 billion bees… per day.
2.3 over-exploitation including over-fishing,( contributing to the fact mentioned above that there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050). Nearly 75 percent of freshwater resources are now devoted to livestock production, and in 2015, 33 percent of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.)
The Sea: the North Sea is almost dead from over-fishing (Callum Roberts: The Unnatural History of the Sea, Gaia Books) Sep 2007 (New St 13.08.07)
May 2020. Who owns our fish? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/52420116?mc_cid=45826e4139&mc_eid=3dd466b44f 55% of the value is owned by other countries.
More than £160m worth of the English quota is in the hands of vessels owned by companies based in Iceland, Spain and the Netherlands, thanks to a practice known as "quota-hopping".
That amounts to 55% of the quota's annual value in 2019.
Taking back control of UK fishing waters was a key issue for many Brexit supporters.
But with fishing still an obstacle in the UK's trade talks with the European Union, the figures raise questions about what taking back control will actually mean.
June 2020: overview of deforestation: https://www.ecowatch.com/rainforest-loss-2019-2646150833.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
May 2020. Pakistan to plant a billion trees, to help the unemployed and to fight the effects of climate change:
May 2020: while the pandemic is keeping people at home, governments are less able to monitor forests and to prevent illegal felling of timber, so the amount of deforestation has increased. https://www.ecowatch.com/rainforest-deforestation-coronavirus-2646072407.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
Rainforest Rescue have launched a petition, and they explain: One of the consequences of Covid-19 has been a huge increase in online shopping – a trend that is likely to last as the pandemic subsides.
A consequence of the boom is that the consumption of paper and cardboard for packaging material has skyrocketed. And the ecological impact of that demand is massive.
Paper and pulp companies are playing a major role in rainforest destruction, especially on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
And it's not just nature that's suffering: The companies don't shrink back from violence against people in their way – on March 4, an Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) subsidiary used a drone to spray herbicide on the fields of a village in Sumatra's Jambi province, destroying the food crops and livelihoods of the villagers.
This is just one of a long string of well-documented conflicts involving APP.
90 environmental and human rights organizations want to hit APP where it really hurts – by calling on buyers and investors to stop doing business with APP until it radically cleans up its act.
Aug. 2019: Brazil. Deforestation and loss of jungle is a concern, especially since the rightwing president – Jair Bolsonaro – has encouraged a surge in logging and clearing. Brazil has closed the Amazon Fund, and Norway and Germany have stopped donating to it in protest at Brazil breaking the terms of the deal. The fund has been central to attempts to limit deforestation – though it is disputed how much effect it has had.
In the year to July there has been a 278% rise in deforestation, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. There has recently been a ‘fire day’ – clearing land for crops, and the number of fires in the area has increased.
2.5 Palm oil.
20th Oct 2019. Palm oil: At National Trust AGM two members argued NT should end its deal with Cadbury’s to sponsor their Egg Hunt. The hunt raises £7m each year, but palm oil ‘is fuelling an extinction and climate crisis’. A resolution to end the sponsorship was defeated when just over 20,000 voted to see the contract out and nearly 13,000 voted to end it. Bruce Cadbury, great-grandson of the founder said the firm had lost its Quaker values. Parent company is now Mondelez. The trust argued it would cost several million pounds to get out of the contract early, and said Mondelez had provided assurances it was addressing environmental issues. Amnesty International has also accuse Mondelez of serious human rights violations.
Link to ‘ethical consumer’ on palm oil:
17th Jan 2020. Palm Oil. (Fiona Harvey) Some of the world’s biggest brands are failing in their commitments to ban deforestation from their supply chains through their use of palm oil, according to reports by WWF and Rainforest Action Network. Kellogg’s, Greggs, Warburtons, et al scored badly. M & S and Co-op scored high. 15 out of 173 were performing well. The Consumer Goods Forum which began in 2010 involved a resolution by companies to reduce deforestation through their supply chain to net zero by 2020. RAN assessed 8 brands involved in south-east Asia (the Leuser Ecosystem) Kellogg’s General Mills, Mondelez, Hershey, Mars, Pepsico, Nestle and Unilever and found none was performing adequately in avoiding ‘conflict palm oil’. Unilever came out best in the RAN report.
12th Feb 2020, from change.org,: Just to let you know that we are looking forward to hearing about Kellogg's progress in the battle against the widespread destruction of orangutans and their habitat.
Nestle are doing some interesting things to ensure the palm oil they use is clean. They are using satellite tracking to identify deforestation so they can take action if it is one of their suppliers: https://www.nestle.com/csv/raw-materials/palm-oil/palm-oil-transparency-dashboard We will go through our original requests and measure any progress made (details below).
x Only use suppliers that involve zero rainforest destruction and zero harm to orangutans – NOT MET.
x Publish complete transparency around the palm oil companies it has relationships with – published in their annual milestones report and will need to see 2018’s when it is published for evidence of progress from 60% not traceable to plantations.
x Publicly support Wilmar on it's recent pledges and continue to apply a spotlight to ensure their actions back up their words – REFUSE TO DO THIS. We thought this had been agreed but Kellogg’s are adamant that they do not take a public stance on such things, despite some hard questioning from Asha who rightly wants to know, if they won't, who will?
x Work with the other 22/26 worst palm oil offenders to adopt the same higher standards as Wilmar has pledged to - HAD NOT REVIEWED SO COULD NOT YET ANSWER.
x Demonstrate progress ie how will we know real progress is being made, as previous promises have not resulted in less rainforest destruction or orangutan harm – IN PROGRESS. In a few months Europe will move to 100% Segregated ie know where the palm oil has come from the milling stage onwards but does not meet our request for traceability to the plantation.
x Lead the change and show the industry and wider world what is possible - use brand weight and influence to make positive changes – NOT DEMONSTRATED.
Items to follow up during the next discussion:
1. The picture for Europe is 98% identity preserved (know which plantation the oil was grown on) and 2% mass balance (source of plantation is unknown). Can the 2% of mass balance be eliminated so it is more sustainable? Europe will be 100% Segregated soon.
. Get more information on where the non-segregated/mass balance palm oil comes from. Mainly in markets where sustainable oil is not available and so need to show leadership and change these markets.
3. What does good look like ie what is Kellogg's plan to move from the current status to completely rainforest-friendly IP palm oil (how can real progress be measured)? They have not been working towards IP nor were they able to provide a plan that the rest of Kellogg’s is working towards globally on the use of palm oil.
4. How can Kellogg's use it's influence to affect change across the palm oil industry? Only want to work behind the scenes with suppliers but this is unlikely to drive forward the real change that is required, at the speed that is necessary.
5. Have there been any palm oil suppliers/traders who have behaved so badly that they have been 'struck off'? Does Kellogg's have any red lines eg child exploitation which mean a supplier relationship must be terminated? IOI were struck off but have now been reinstated.
6. Could Kellogg's help put in place a logo or some way to make it easier for consumers to know which products have IP only palm oil in them? Will investigate putting ‘No Palm Oil’ logo on products with none in and a ‘Certified RSPO’ logo on products with IP or Segregated palm oil.
7. Can Kellogg's find out from the RSPO when greenpalm credits will be phased out ie the industry has had enough time too reform structurally? No answer yet, will find out.
Date? Source? Environmental groups want a company removed from the London Stock Exchange’s investment index of environmentally friendly companies – because of its environmental damage, plus a string of allegations of corruption and unsustainable business practices. Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) is on the FTSE4Good indices. Two of its senior executives have been arrested, and it has been accused of polluting a lake in Indonesia. It also produces palm oil and therefore causes deforestation
2.6 pollution (this includes plastic: Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold)... see Some environmental problems and solutions
Population: global growth: predictions for world population, from 6.5 bn in 2010 to 9.2 bn in 2050; consequences: 50 m new mouths to feed each year (= population of UK/Italy); if China increasingly eats meat, then demand for grain will increase; perhaps also demand for biofuels. So: food prices increase – and hunger unless something done. See WDM report: The Great Hunger Lottery. (Patrick Collinson, G24.07.10) Also notes that it is likely that investment in food is a good bet – but speculation will increase prices further…
Book: Population Ten Billion, by Danny Dorling, (Constable) professor of human geography at university of Sheffield.
NS 10-16 May 2019 editorial: UN report of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – humans account for only 0.01% of (the biomass of) life on earth but we are destroying it. Earth’s population has doubled since 1970, to 7.6 billion. One million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction soon. The biomass of animals has declined by 82%.... ‘We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.’ See next section:
Population growth – Paul Ehrlich strikes again! https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/22/collapse-civilisation-near-certain-decades-population-bomb-paul-ehrlich - ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’ – to start with we must: ‘make modern contraception and back-up abortion available to all and give women full equal rights, pay and opportunities with men.’ This will take a long time to reduce the world’s population, which he estimates should be 1.5 – 2 billion, or 5.6 billion fewer than at present...
However, a letter 28th March, from Prof. John MacInnes argues Ehrlich’s views are ‘discredited’ – ‘the birth rate in the developing world is now lower than it was in rich countries a few decades ago. ... the carrying capacity of our planet ... is almost certainly well above the likely peak of population that will be reached in the second half of this century. Reducing the vast global inequalities in energy consumption will do far more for the environment than the ultimately racist idea that the poor have too many children.’
1st Nov 2018, Michael McCarthy, author of The Moth Snowstorm – Nature and Joy: damage to nature is usually a secondary consideration – except for agent orange spread on 12,000 sq miles of forest in the Vietnam war, or the mass oil pollution from the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait during the Gulf war 1991. In the second world war 60 million people or 3% of the world population (2.3 billion at the time) died... but the amount of shipping sunk in the battle of the Atlantic was the equivalent of about 250 Brent Spar oil rigs (Greenpeace forced Shell not to sink it but move it for breaking up). Professor Tim Birkenhead of Sheffield University, in the journal British Birds, suggests the war badly affected breeding of guillemots on Skomer Island off the west coast of Wales. He estimates there were 100,000 individuals in 1934, but only 4,856 in 1963, a reduction of 95%. Now the numbers have gone up to 23,746. The worst decline was between 1940 and 1946, and oil pollution is the most likely cause. The ocean is far less resilient than we have thought.
2.9 Other thoughts:
(i)‘The Reality Bubble’ by Ziya Tong – (review Nesrine Malik 4th Jan 2020). Our blind spots are responsible for the destruction of our habitat. 95% of all animal species are smaller than the human thumb. 0.2kg of body weight is bacterial cells. One handful of soil contains more microbes than there are people on Earth. One of our biological blind spots is meat slaughter and processed food: ‘anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million chickens a year are still conscious when they are scalded to death in the scalder.’ The drive for efficiency and more profit has swallowed up time, space, ownership, leisure...
(ii) Aug. 2019. Story about rats on an Alaskan island (invasive species...): https://www.hakaimagazine.com/features/the-rat-spill/
3.1 18th March 2020. We have a pandemic caused by a Coronavirus... Covid-19, which probably originated in a ‘wild food’ market in China. John Vidal asks:
“Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.
But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.”
David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”
3.2 Climate breakdown and the decimation of the natural world are connected, and human action is the cause. “The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele (ecologist and Co-chair of the IPBES).
( We can expect opposition to changes from vested interests, but there is still time to conserve natural habitats, if we act quickly to preserve key areas. )
3.3 We are losing both biodiversity and bio-abundance. Though the range of some insects, also lichen, has increased with the improvement in water quality – especially the EU urban wastewater treatment directive. The areas in which freshwater insects were found fell by 47% from 1970 to 1994, but have expanded since, and were in 2015 7% higher than 50 years ago. This shows something can be done... (Damian Carrington 18th Feb 2020).
3.4 We are now going through the sixth extinction. (Palaeontologists agree that there have been 5 major extinctions in the history of the earth (*). The most recent saw the dinosaurs killed off 65 million years ago. )
Importance of biodiversity – rich biodiversity means more stability, chances of survival better for all in the system.
Biodiversity is a crucial resource: for food, medicine, fuel, economic benefit etc and 5 ‘functions’: pollination, pest control, decomposition, carbon sequestration, cultural value.
Without the life-essential services nature provides — breathable air, drinkable water, healthy oceans, a stable climate — humans will not survive.
Nature provides economic and health benefits of about £30bn a year (government 2011 analysis). But public funding for biodiversity has fallen by 32% from 2008 to 2015.
Loss of balance (Simon Barnes): domesticated animals are not declining – and nor are humans (themselves animals!). The balance is changing: whereas 10,000 years ago humans and their domestic animals made up 0.4% of the total, now it’s 96% and rising.
(1-7 Sep 2017, New Statesman, Simon Barnes).
John Burton of the World Land Trust says: ‘We’ll always have rats and cockroaches and their like for company. Which is not inappropriate.’ It is ironic that the species that will survive are those we have always despised. They will survive because they have adapted to live with humans... Meanwhile we are killing off numbers of species because we think of ourselves as superior.
Peter Singer, the ethical philosopher, says we suffer from ‘speciesism’ – we have evolved from only caring about our immediate family, to the tribe, the nation, and now to all humanity (perhaps!). But now we need to extend our ‘circles of concern’ to include animals.
4. Examples due to effects of global warming: (See also Effects of climate change)
May 2015: a ‘meta-study’ of 131 studies of the impact of climate change on biodiversity loss concludes that one in six species face extinction if nothing is done about global warming and the temperature rises by 4 degrees. If the rise in global temperature is kept back to 2 degrees then one in twenty species still face extinction.
Most endangered: those that depend on Arctic ice.
30th April 2017 (Alys Fowler) RHS: Gardening in a Changing Climate:
In the south – prolonged periods without rain, in the north – wetter winters. More extremes, wetter and windier storms and more flooding and water-logging. Hence a longer growing season for some plants, but poor for those that need a cold spell in winter. Earlier flowering will stress pollinating insects (out of sync!) – and some new pests are likely (rosemary beetles are a recent introduction).
NB: Plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere and lock carbon in the soil. Garden soils store almost 25% more carbon than arable soils. Gardens make up 25% of all urban areas and account for around 25,000 sq km of our land.
20th Aug 2017: Sea-birds (Robin McKie)
Our populations of arctic skuas, arctic terns and kittiwakes are in free fall. Colonies are withering away, especially in northern Scotland. On St Kilda: a 99% reduction in kittiwake numbers since 1990. Marwick Head on Orkney – once a home to thousands of kittiwakes - is deserted. Fair Isle puffins are down from 20,000 to 10,000 over the past 30 years. On Orkney and Shetland guillemots have halved in number... in the past 25 years Scotland may have lost half its breeding bird population.
The UK is home to most of the world’s population of some of these birds. The government carries out a census every 15 years but has not taken any action.
The main cause is the 1C rise in sea temperature – this has led to a loss of zooplankton, and sand eels have disappeared from many parts of the Atlantic and North Sea. The birds which only eat sand eels are declining more rapidly.
Antarctica: 1st Sep 2017 Jonathan Watts.
Growth rates of some fauna such as bryozoans moss and a marine worm have been increasing. The moss then pushes out other species and reduces overall biodiversity levels. The area usually has a very rich biodiversity – like coral reefs. We had been more concerned about the Arctic than the far bigger southern ice cap – but temperatures have been rising there
Changing seasons; Al Gore points out (p 152 ff), if the seasons change, then food (plants or insects) will not necessarily be available for creatures when they hatch – since hatching has been ‘timed’ for the point in the year when food is available.
Climate change means more migratory butterflies have been arriving – clouded yellow, red admiral and painted lady have all increased. (Patrick Barkham 15th Dec 2017)
Consequences for sea food: 3rd Sep 2017(Robin McKie):
There will be new fish in our waters as the temperature rises – some will be harmful to other species, others may become new items in our diet, according to a report in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.
Slipper limpets could destroy mussel and oyster beds, but the American razor clam and the Pacific oyster could be valuable for fishermen.
Haddock is being forced north – but sole and plaice have nowhere to go. Cod may be more resilient, but it is being caught more round Iceland. Cuttlefish and sardines are rising in numbers, and red mullet and john dory will become more common.
2nd Feb 2018. Arctic and biodiversity: Oliver Milman - polar bears are sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared. Research by US Geological Survey and Uni of California Santa Cruz, published in Science, shows polar bears have a 50% higher metabolism than previously thought, and so require more prey to meet their energy needs at a time when sea ice is receding. There are some 26,000 polar bears in the arctic today. They are leading a feast and famine lifestyle. The arctic is warming at twice the average global rate, and has declined by about 13% a decade since 1979. In the past 10 years Greenland has lost two trillion tonnes of its ice mass.
11th Dec 2019, Fiona Harvey. The Guam rail has been saved by captive breeding from the IUCN red list. It had been endangered by the brown tree snake, accidentally introduced from US at the end of WW2. The echo parakeet has gone from critically endangered (10 years ago) to vulnerable. There are 112,432 species on the list, of which more than 30,000 are on the brink of extinction. 73 species have declined despite conservation efforts.
In June 2020 the IUCN hold its four-yearly Conservation Congress, and in October the UN Biodiversity Convention will hold a meeting in China. Climate change is the main problem according to the head of climate change at WWF.
7th Jan. 2020. Patrick Greenfield: Nature Ecology and Evolution paper on decline of insects.
The call to action by more than 70 scientists from across the planet advocates immediate action on human stress factors to insects which include habitat loss and fragmentation, the climate crisis, pollution, over-harvesting and invasive species.
Phasing out synthetic pesticides and fertilisers used in industrial farming and aggressive greenhouse gas emission reductions are among a series of urgent “no-regret” solutions to reverse what conservationists have called the “unnoticed insect apocalypse”.
24th April 2020. Damian Carrington. Insect numbers dropped by a quarter in three decades.
May 2020. Bumble Bees trick plants into flowering early: https://www.ecowatch.com/bumblebees-plants-flower-early-2646064252.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4
As warmer spring temperatures cause pollinators to awaken before plants flower, this activity could ensure early-rising bees find food.
And, from (pre)history: the woolly rhino probably died out as a result of climate change!
Whereas it had been believed that humans hunted the rhino to extinction, a ‘study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.’
The Yangtze dolphin (or baiji) was declared ‘functionally extinct’ in 2006. It lived in the dark depths of the river Yangtse, and moved around by sonar. It was the victim of ‘chemical pollution, noise pollution, propeller strikes’ etc – i.e. living among so many people.
Note (15th June 2016, Michael Slezak): the first recorded extinction of a mammal anywhere in the world thought to be primarily due to anthropogenic climate change – the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent from an island (Bramble Cay) in the eastern Torres Strait, that is part of the Great Barrier Reef. The island is off the north coast of Queensland, Australia (340metres long and 150 metres wide) which sits three metres above sea level at most.
It was first recorded by Europeans in 1845 – sailors shot the ‘large rats’ with bows and arrows. In 1978 it was estimated there were a few hundred. It hasn’t been seen since 2009. The sea has risen on a number of occasions and inundated the animals’ habitats. The area of the island above sea level has been shrinking and vegetation cover has been declining. It lost 97% of its habitat in 10 years.
The island is also a breeding ground for green turtles and a number of seabirds.
One other mammal has been driven to extinction recently, but it was wiped out by cats.
A study by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – ‘The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015’ - reports: more than three-quarters of Britain’s 59 butterfly species have declined over the past 40 years. And we have lost 8% of our butterfly species (Simon Barnes, NS 1-7 Sep 2017).
Chris Packham says: this is the final warning bell – if butterflies are going downhill like this, what’s happening to our grasshoppers, our beetles, our solitary bees?
The decline of some rarer butterflies (e.g. Duke of Burgundy and pearl-bordered fritillary) has been arrested by conservation efforts. But:
The high brown fritillary has declined 96% (in occurrence, i.e. on sites at which it is present) since 1976, the wood white is down 88% in abundance, the white admiral down 59% in abundance.
The causes for ‘habitat specialist’ butterflies are clear, but why have once more common species declined? The wall butterfly is now down in both occurrence and abundance (in lower numbers and in fewer locations) – climate change and pesticides seem to be playing a bigger part than previously thought. Packham says we need more funding to find out the causes, though he thinks it is broad-spectrum insecticides and neonicotinoids.
Some species have moved further north, and Scotland sees more common butterflies than England does. The same is true of moths. However, they do not always score highly on both occurrence and abundance.
2nd July 2018. Steven Morris. The high brown fritillary, the UK’s most endangered butterfly, may be getting a boost from the warm dry weather. Over 200 have been seen, after a harsh winter which has helped knock back the bracken, then a warm May and June – all of which is ideal for the caterpillars. The butterfly lays eggs singly on leaf litter on dog violets or among moss growing on limestone outcrops. The larvae hatch in early spring and bask on dead bracken or in short sparse vegetation. It is only found at about 50 sites, such as Exmoor, Dartmoor and Morecambe Bay. The larvae have feathered brown spines which make them look like dead bracken fronds.
The things that have worked against the butterfly include the abandonment of coppicing. Other species which may benefit: heath fritillary, nightjar, Dartford warbler.
But the swallowtail could become extinct soon...
30th June 2018. Patrick Barkham.
The swallowtail, Britain’s biggest butterfly, could become extinct within four decades. It lives on milk parsley only, and this cannot survive in salty water. Rising seas will turn much of the Norfolk Broads into salt marshes. With a sea level rise of 50cm, at least 90% of the current swallowtail breeding sites will become salt marsh. Tidal surges and ‘salination events’ also cause problems. The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads contain 1,500 species of conservation concern, including 66 that rely on the rivers and freshwater lakes.
In Victorian times, marshes elsewhere in southern England were drained, leaving the Broads as its only home. It has also become smaller and is now a subspecies.
It was reintroduced to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire in the 1990s, but without success. Experts believe it needs a wider area.
14th June 2018. Some possibly good news: one new species of micro moth is found every year in the UK. However, their abundance is in decline. There will be a three-day ‘moth night’ – from 14th to 16th June - organised by Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Atropos( wildlife publisher). Some new moths arrived from Australia and New Zeeland, via the horticultural trade. Others come here as a result of climate change. 27 of the new arrivals (out of 125 new species spotted this century) have started to breed here. (Patrick Barkham, Guardian)
11th April 2018. UK Butterfly Monitoring scheme reports that 2017 was the 7th worst year, and for 2 species – grayling and grizzled skipper - the worst ever. (Patrick Barkham) Long-term falls in population are due to habitat loss, but recently climate change, pesticides (such as neonics) and nitrogen pollution have been the causes. UK has 59 native species. Red admiral and comma have increased, and targeted management plus warm spring has helped the pearl-bordered fritillary. Food crops of the worst affected are harmed by increased nitrogen (transport and fertilizers) which helps more vigorous grasses to grow at expense of their food plants.
The hedgehog is vanishing from Britain. There were approximately 1.55 million in 1995 – since then they have declined by a third in urban areas and by 75% in the countryside. They are declining by 3% a year. Modern life seems to threaten them (dogs, cats, machines to cut grass, bonfires, slug pellets, road traffic etc).
Main cause is habitat fragmentation. Females travel an average of 1km every night in search of insects and earthworms, and males 2km. They need good patches/stretches of good land connected to each other. Hugh Warwick has written a book: Linescapes showing how roads etc cut land up. They have been around for 15m years, mostly living near hedges. The enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries actually helped, and peak time was around the second world war. The industrialisation of agriculture changed it all.
Also a small dose of chemicals and pesticides can do serious harm, but banning slug pellets is not as important as providing the right landscape. But they are declining more in the countryside – badgers are seen as the problem. The badger population is growing – the number of active setts in England has doubled since the late 1980s. They share the same diet (earthworms, grubs, beetles) – but if that food becomes scarce, or the badger population becomes more dense, then the badgers prey on hedgehogs. But the changing environment we have created leads to this situation – we need smaller fields and thicker hedges. Between 1984 and 1990, 121,000km of British hedges were destroyed – 22% of the total.
Unusually warm spells in winter can make the hedgehog come out of hibernation when there isn’t food around. Milder winters also lead to more parasites.
Hedgehogs – decline due to our building roads, etc and clearing hedges, though badgers predating them is main cause (they would stand a better chance if we hadn’t changed their environment) Patrick Barkham 2nd March 2017 Guardian G2.
NB the hedgehog is a generalist, but it is still disappearing (it is easier to understand when a specialist has lost its food source). They may not die out completely though.
We notice hedgehogs and then do something about them – what about the creatures we are not aware of?
A report, by the British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and others, says more than a quarter of our birds need urgent conservation efforts to ensure their survival. 15 more birds have been put on the ‘red list’ since the last report in 2009 (meaning they are in danger of extinction or experienced significant decline). The total on the red list is now 67 out of 247.
8 species are in risk of global extinction (Balearic shearwater, aquatic warbler, common pochard, long-tailed duck, velvet scooter, Slavonian grebe, puffin and turtle dove).
Causes: land use change (afforestation [? Deforestation?}, drainage of fields for farmland) – also an increase of predators (crows, foxes), and global climate change that affects migration.
The curlew has declined by 64% from 1970 to 2014 due to habitat loss. The UK supports up to 27% of the global curlew population.
Some species have increased: bittern and nightjar have moved from red to amber, and 22 species have moved from amber to green. The golden eagle has increased by 15% since 2003, and the red kite has been reintroduced, and is now on the green list. These had been threatened by people protecting grouse moors, and others taking eggs.
3rd Aug. 2019: Turtle Dove. More than 40 million birds have disappeared from Britain in 50 years. (Patrick Barkham):
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/silencing-natural-world-can-turtle-dove-be-saved As recently as the 60s, there were 125,000 pairs in Britain. Between 1967 and 2016, their numbers plummeted by 98%. Each year, population estimates are revised downwards: there may be fewer than 2,000 pairs left. Most worryingly, there is no agreement about how we can reverse the decline.
lowland Britain – the turtle dove’s home – is one of the most nature-depleted landscapes in the world. More than half of Britain’s plant and animal species are in decline and one in 10 is severely threatened. More than 40 million birds have vanished from this country in 50 years.
It has been affected badly by recent droughts in Africa and the Mediterranean penchant for shooting migrating birds each spring and autumn (traditionally for food, but now more for fun). It has been estimated that 3 million turtle doves are shot each year. While EU law bans the hunting of birds during periods of breeding and migration, the turtle dove is still shot in many countries during autumn. In addition, BirdLife International estimates that 600,000 are killed illegally each year.
[In Britain] Turtle doves eat mostly grains, living on wild plant and weed seeds. Since the 50s, Britain has destroyed almost all its wildflower meadows, while chemical pesticides have removed arable weeds.
[At harvest there is also hardly any spillage now] We have also removed hedgerows where they nest.
The Knepp estate has 20 calling males and is one of the few places where numbers are increasing.
23rd Oct 2019: Mullion Island – off the Cornish coast – uninhabited, and you need a permit to land there – only conservationists visit to check on sea birds. Found thousands of elastic bands - probably brought by birds that mistook them for worms – nearby is a place that grows flowers and uses the bands to tie the bunches... Probably this has been going on for ‘decades’ The island is home to one of the largest colonies of great black-backed gulls in Cornwall, with up to 70 nests each summer, also about 50 cormorant nests. Ornithologists from West Cornwall Ringing Group found the elastic bands. Gull [populations are declining and the herring gull is on the UK red list for birds of conservation concern. (Steven Morris)
June 2020: a technology solution to fishing problems (especially by-catch) is not enough: https://theconversation.com/catch-22-technology-can-help-solve-fishings-environmental-issues-but-risks-swapping-one-problem-for-another
Aug 2019: the oceans. Gillian Anderson, Guardian 19th Aug. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/19/crunch-point-oceans-treaty. Governments are drafting a global ocean treaty in New York...
The science is clear. Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, which is killing coral reefs and other fragile ecosystems. Plastic pollution is choking marine life and 90% of large fish such as sharks, swordfish and tuna have been hunted from our seas. The lack of effective governance in international waters has left them open to exploitation from fisheries and extractive industries such as oil and gas. Now a new threat is emerging. Leading scientists have warned that our oceans face severe and irreversible harm from deep-sea mining, with companies queuing up to extract metals and minerals from the seabed.
Aug. 2019. Salmon Farm threatens island ecology:
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/aug/19/national-trust-objects-to-plans-for-big-salmon-farm-off-hebridean-isle National Trust Scotland objects to Mowi, world’s largest aqua-culture company, plans to install eight super-sized fish pens close to Canna. To be stocked with 2,500 tonnes of salmon. But there is a rare fan mussel, seal haul-outs, vulnerable sea birds. Even though it is an organic farm, holding less fish than a conventional one, it would still discharge as much organic waste (faces, uneaten fish meal, dead fish) as a town the size of Dumfries each year.
July 2019. 45% of the marine ecosystems on the coast of Australia – that is, 5,000 miles - have been damaged in the last 7 years (2011 – 2017) by extreme climate events such as heat-waves, floods and drought. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). In some cases the damage is irreversible. It can take 15 years to recover from such impacts, and since these extreme events are getting more likely, some areas e.g. kelp canopies off the Western Australia coast, will not recover. Animals that feed on kelp are affected, and then the whole ecosystem.
28th March 2018, Matthew Taylor: Holland and Barrett has agreed to remove krill-based products such as Omega 3 from its shelves, after activists sent 40,000 emails in 24 hours and put protest stickers on products in its shops. Campaigners are calling for Boots and others to follow suit. Boots say that their brands are in line with Marine Stewardship Council products from sustainable sources. Last week Greenpeace campaigners boarded a Ukrainian trawler. (See Facebook https://www.facebook.com/greenpeaceaustraliapacific/videos/10155831450743300/?utm_term=EML2&bucket=Oceans-Antarctic&source=ca_Oceans-Antarctic__
15th Feb 2018, Matthew Taylor – climate change and industrial fishing together are threatening the krill population. George Watters, lead scientist for the US delegation to the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) warns that the penguin population could drop by almost a third by the end of the century because of changes in the krill biomass. (Published in Plos One). Some areas of krill could decrease by 40% in size. Ocean warming is the main problem, but fishing also affects it. Krill feed on algae and are a food source for whales, penguins and seals – they also remove CO2 from the atmosphere when they eat near the surface, and then excrete at lower levels. Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s. Krill is fished for health products, and the industry is growing by 12% a year.
There is a campaign to turn 700,000 sq miles into a sanctuary, protecting wildlife and banning all fishing, in the Weddell Sea. Krill fishing companies say they are only taking 0.4% of the estimated biomass around the peninsula.
10th May 2016 (Damian Carrington) Plants:
One in five of the world’s plant species are threatened with extinction, putting food and medicines at risk, according to The State of the World’s Plants, a report produced by Kew Gardens. There are 390,000 species of plants, and more than 31,000 are used by people.
Of the latter, 57% are used to derive drugs. More than 5,500 are human foods and 1,400 have ‘social uses’ viz. Tobacco and cannabis.
- destruction of habitats for farming – 31% (e.g. palm oil production and cattle ranching); deforestation for timber – 21%; deforestation for buildings and infrastructure – 13%; climate change – 4% (but this is likely to grow).
Note also that breeding crops over a long time to produce high yields means that other genes are lost, such as those that help fight pests and cope with changes in climate. Bananas, sorghum and aubergines now have very little genetic diversity and are therefore vulnerable to new threats. Finding wild relatives is the way to get genetic diversity back.
Moreover, more than 5,000 species have invaded foreign countries, causing billions of dollars of damage each year. Japanese knotweed costs UK £165m a year to control.
Oct 2017 Michael McCarthy Guardian 21st Oct 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers
Scientists tell of alarm at huge fall in flying insects... the biomass of flying insects in Germany has dropped by 75% since 1989. Insects are vital plant pollinators, and the food base of thousands and thousands of food chains. Britain’s farmland birds have declined by more than half because of loss of insects. The grey partridge and spotted flycatcher have declined by more than 95%, and the red-backed shrike is extinct.
We have not noticed partly because we don’t like insects and partly because we don’t (can’t perhaps) count them. In Britain alone there are about 24,500 insect species.
Two-thirds of all species on Earth are insects. They have been present on earth for about 350 million years (humans for 130,000). There are more kinds of beetle than of all plants.
Letter in Guardian, Oct 2017: Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust: insecticide use is responsible for declining numbers. Agri-environmental measures are available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme: conservation headlands (low-input cereal headlands), wildbird seed mix. (Measured less decline (35%) in Sussex than found in Germany (87%), but high decline (72%) in insects (and 45% of invertebrates) that are chick feed for declining farmland birds. Concern about post-Brexit policies...
2018: Insects and invertebrates have declined most dramatically, by 59% since 1970. Thus pollination, healthy soil etc are damaged. ‘They are about the most important things out there’ says Eaton.
‘The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.
The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role.
“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”
Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.
The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.’
If the insects leave the reserves and go on to farmland, then they won’t find anything much to eat, and they may be exposed to pesticides, says Dave Goulson.
Insects: (Damian Carrington G 2nd April 2019):
Woodlands and open grasslands are both affected – woodlands could have protected insects from rising temperatures. Aphids are emerging a month earlier, and birds are laying eggs a week earlier. Animals then become ‘out of synch’ with their prey. On farms, aphids are attacking younger plants because they come earlier, and young plants have not developed immunity.
In farmland, however, insects and birds were emerging later in the spring – perhaps because of changes to habitat: loss of wild areas, and changing crop types, along with declining food availability.
Populations of birds that rely on insects fell by 13% across Europe from 1990-2015, and by 28% in Denmark (which was a case study).
Researchers are increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. In February it was said that these falls could lead to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems ”, and in March there was further evidence of widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades in Britain.
In February, when the weather was unusually warm, rooks were nesting, ladybirds mating and migratory swallows appearing all a month ahead of schedule.
2019: from Plantlife: road verges are home to 45% of our total flora and are the only place species such as wood calamint and fen ragwort grow.
2020: https://theconversation.com/insects-worldwide-study-reveals-widespread-decline-since-1925-137089 - report by Stuart Reynolds, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Bath.
‘... a new study has offered the clearest indication yet of how insects all over the world are faring. The researchers studied data on the numbers and total weight of insects and arachnids (spiders and mites) sampled in 166 long-term surveys. Each of these lasted more than ten years and recorded insects at 1,676 sites in 41 countries on five continents. The earliest record was from 1925, and the most recent from 2018, although most records were dated from 1986 or later.
They estimate that land-based insects, which make up the majority of species, have been declining at nearly 1% per year, or almost 9% per decade. But during the same period, the small proportion of insects which live in freshwater experienced a 1% annual increase, or just over 11% per decade.
As ecologist E.O. Wilson once observed, if you take away the “little things that run the world” then most of the creatures occupying niches further up the food chain will disappear too, and that includes humans.
While the picture of widespread insect declines is becoming a little clearer, we still don’t know the cause. The new study found some evidence that the growth of cities and towns nearby was detrimental to insect abundance. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little evidence for insect populations being harmed by neighbouring intensive agriculture, but this might have been because those sites were already depleted of insects when the study began.
There was also no evidence for climate change affecting insect abundance.’
These conclusions – or rather the lack of conclusion about causes – seem to me to differ from other sources...
First: what helps a species to survive is adaptability – but what helps it adapt varies according to its environment. At one time, being large and strong was valuable in fighting off predators, acquiring food etc. Now it is precisely these ‘megafauna’ that have become the most vulnerable: this is because they have not been able to combat humans, who are quicker and smarter.
Second, even if only a small number of a large species of large mammal is killed, they could die out over time when another factor is taken into account: their reproductive rate. Thus an elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, and they only have one offspring at a time (no twins!). Thus even if only a small number of mammoths, for example, or great sloths, were killed – over several centuries the species would decline and then disappear, as it could not replace the population quickly enough.
Third, extinctions can happen gradually, as humans are not likely to notice what is happening over such a long period of time – especially if they could find alternative sources of food. In North America, while mammoth numbers dropped, the white-tailed deer (which has a relatively high reproductive rate) survived to feed the population. ‘Mammoth became a luxury food, something you could enjoy once in a while, like a large truffle’!
Being able to change what you eat is therefore an advantage when it comes to surviving the present crisis (specialising in your diet makes an animal more vulnerable).
In the current global warming scenario, those creatures that can adapt to the increasing heat – or move! – will be most likely to survive, as will those creatures that have already learned to live with humans, such as rats! And of while we are the most numerous big animal on earth... the next in line are the animals we have created through breeding to feed and serve us’ (quote from Gaia Vince reviewing the book cited next).
Expressing a different point of view to Elizabeth Kolbert, and in fact it seems to me running against the dominant view, Chris D Thomas of York University has written a book: Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction... he points out that while everyone has focussed on the widespread extinctions (which he does not deny are happening), we find: immigrant species (adding to the biodiversity of a location – provided they do not destroy native species), newly emerging hybrids and subspecies exhibiting freshly evolved adaptations. He says that humans have increased the number of species existing everywhere by taking them with us, and the vast majority of introduced species do no harm. Controversially, he warns us that ‘conservation’ may be misguided (e.g. the sparrow is not ‘native’ to this country but came from the Asian Steppes – it was a pest in Tudor times, but now is protected even though there are millions of them!). Re-wilding may also be the wrong approach if it is guided simply by nostalgia: everything has changed over time, so which ‘past’ do we want to return to? Or should we welcome the changes that are happening, since – as Thomas argues – there could be even greater biodiversity in future.
I would, however, agree with the reviewer I have quoted (Gaia Vince, 2nd Sep 2017) – there doesn’t seem to be much point in speculating about very distant futures: ‘Come back in a million years [says Thomas] and we might be looking at several million new species whose existence can be attributed to humans.’
Secondly, the extinctions we are faced with are happening over a very rapid time-scale, compared to ‘normal’ evolutionary change. As with climate change itself, we should be concerned about this – and about ‘tipping points’, beyond which change is not only undesirable but irreversible.
Finally, as Kolbert points out, there are reasons why some species and not others are surviving, (rats and not the great apes): and I don’t feel that Thomas has thought about this argument or the implications of it.
Update, Jan 2020 (from The Conversation) by Arne Mooers: rate of decline of birds is rapid, but there is room for hope because conservation efforts do reduce the rate of decline/extinction. But intervention needs to be early.
John Burton of the World Land Trust says: ‘We’ll always have rats and cockroaches and their like for company. Which is not inappropriate.’ It is ironic that the species that will survive are those we have always despised. They will survive because they have adapted to live with humans... Meanwhile we are killing off numbers of species because we think of ourselves as superior...
9. Possible solutions
(a) Individual, voluntary:
(i) Solutions concerning plants: (Alys Fowler, 30th April 2017, RHS:
Avoid using peat
Grow a diverse range of pollinator-friendly plants - Bee-friendly flowers have less petals
Compost kitchen and garden waste
Make spaces for wildlife
Love your soil: don’t mess with it too much, add organic matter (preferably compost)
Create a variety of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, ground cover, something in flower for most of the year
Use a water butt.
(ii) Good news: people are aware and rescue hedgehogs. We can check before strimming long grass or starting a bonfire, leave patches of dead leaves, long grass or log piles. Best of all, make a CD-sized hole in your fence to let them travel through.
17th Aug. 2020: Trump brings bad news - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/17/climate/alaska-oil-drilling-anwr.html? ‘Overturning five decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States, the Trump administration on Monday finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development.
The decision sets the stage for what is expected to be a fierce legal battle over the fate of this vast, remote Alaska habitat.’
13th April 2020 (Adam Welz). African penguins gather on Boulders beach on South Africa’s Cape peninsula because it is cut off from land-based predators – a ‘pseudo island’. But this penguin – Spheniscus demersus is heading into extinction. In the early 20th century there were about 1.5 – 3 million; in 1956 there were 300,000, and last year 13,300 breeding pairs. The main problem is the decline in small fish – sardines and anchovies – as a result of overfishing. Ocean heating has also pushed small pelagic fish away. The penguins tend to want to be near cooler water. Nesting penguins cannot travel more than 25 miles from the nest when seeking food. Conservation efforts involve setting up another pseudo island on the coast near to sardine stocks. Christina Hagen of Bird Life South Africa has even put up concrete fake penguins to attract birds to breed.
WWF. (Guardian 30th Dec 2019). Tanya Steele is the first female chief executive. The organisations support base grew by 23% last year – partly because of XR. Aims: decarbonising the worlds, ending deforestation, reforming the food system. They have 7,662 staff across 83 offices, and 3,000 projects underway at any one time. Covers advocacy, campaigning, research, fundraising and communication. UK HQ is in Woking. ‘We still have to show milestones or it could be disheartening.’ They recently added Tesco to their portfolio of commercial partners, aiming to halve the environmental footprint of the average shopper’s basket. They also work with John West to reduce the environmental impacts of fishing, and have been criticised for working with Coca Cola on usage of water.
In 2019 it spent £54.5m on charitable activities – members and donations provide £34.9m of its £66.3m income. Corporate donations and sponsorships: £9.4m ‘Fundamentally this is about protecting both these businesses’ supply chains in the future and much of the planet beyond their lifetime.’
Red Squirrels: 2015: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150924-how-conservation-is-saving-our-red-squirrels?
15th Feb 2017 (Zoological Society of London): a group of 14 scimitar-horned oryx (type of antelope) have been reintroduced to a nature reserve in Chad (the size of Scotland!), by the Sahara desert where they used to live. (Driven to extinction during civil unrest 1980s and 1990s). They were bred in captivity in zoos including Whipsnade.
17th Feb 2017 (Hannah Devlin, Guardian science correspondent): scientists are trying to ‘resurrect’ the woolly mammoth (by splicing mammoth DNA – preserved in the ice – into an elephant genome). Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting as they punch through snow and allow cold air to come in. A simulate ecosystem study showed that mammoths in Siberia could bring about a drop in temperature of up to 20 degrees C. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.
Observer, 15th April 2018, review by Alex Preston of Britain: Our Place: can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late? By Mark Cocker. Argues that despite the British love of the countryside etc, we are destroying our wildlife: quoting the 2013 State of Nature report (by 25 British environmental organisations), of the 3,148 species studied, 60% had declined in the last 50 years; 31% had declined badly and 600 were threatened with extinction. We lost 44m birds between 1996 and 2008. We have lost 99% of our wildflower meadows, half of our ancient woodland, three-quarters of our heathland, three-quarters of our ponds. Yet there are 5m members of the National Trust, 1.2m in the RSPB, 800,000 in various wildlife trusts. These organisations are afraid to campaign (and the NT placates the landed aristocracy). The villains of the story are industrial agri-business, moneyed landowners, and the politicians who defend their interest (mostly conservative of course). Monocultures and grouse moors are destroying the natural countryside.
Solutions for the UK:
Paul Wilkinson of the Wildlife Trust which helped write the 2013 State of nature report: we need a 25-year Plan for Nature [check] to stop the loss of wildlife and secure its recovery within a generation.
The government should introduce regulation to ring-fence habitats from farming, and prevent the use of the most harmful pesticides. But recent cuts to the budget for the environment have not helped.
Recommendations for less frequent cutting of road verges – drawn up by charity Plantlife, and backed by highways agencies, Natural England et al: cutting verges only twice a year (instead of three or four times) could lead to there being 400bn more flowers.
97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been destroyed in less than a century. Verges are wildlife corridors – but there has been a 20% drop in floral diversity on road verges since 1990, partly because of too frequent cutting. Clare Warburton of Natural England says: ‘nature on the road verge does a number of jobs like cleaning the air, storing carbon, pollinating crops and providing sustainable drainage.’
Globally: ecological/sustainable tourism to preserve the biodiversity: honey, mushrooms to generate income locally e.g. Mozambique needs to be legally designated as a community conservation area.
(i) Re-wilding initiatives: (Observer 13th May 2015, p 31 Tracy McVeigh): attempts are being made to return wild animals (and plants etc) to areas from which they have died out. Examples: reindeer (extinct since the 12th century, reintroduced 1952, especially in Cairngorms) black Grouse (reintroduced in Derbyshire in 2003), wild horses, wild boar have been re-establishing themselves for several decades (but these have escaped from farms?).
(Observer 26th June 2016 Jessica Aldred): dormice being reintroduced to Yorkshire Dales National Park.
They need managed (coppiced) woodland and hedgerows – England lost 50% of its hedgerows between 1946 and 1993 from an estimated 500,000 miles to 236,000. Dormice need to be off the ground, so drystone walls and woods are essential.
This community it is hoped will link up with another released three miles away. A good species to get people involved with conservation, and what’s good for them is also good for birds, bats and butterflies.
Beavers have improved water (flood management etc) and biodiversity in Devon. 17th Feb 2020 (Patrick Barkham): beavers cut pollution, ease floods and boost wildlife according to a five-year study of wild-living animals in Devon. They were hunted to extinction 400 years ago. Study overseen by Prof Richard Baxter of Exeter Uni concludes that their benefits on the River Otter outweigh small costs such as flooded farmland. Funds were raised by Devon Wildlife. There are at least eight pairs (from two in 2015) – one family has slowed the flow upstream of East Budleigh which is flood-prone. They filter pollutants including manure and fertiliser from the fields. New wetlands have benefited water voles, dippers, and teal etc. There were 37% more fish in pools created by beaver dams, and trout have been recorded leaping over beaver dams.
Some potato fields were flooded, and orchards were at risk of the trees being gnawed but active management (e.g. wire fencing round trees, pipes to increase the flow of water dealt with this. The only problem is that the downstream people who benefit are separate from the upstream farmers who lose water storage.
Government has recently approved dozens of schemes for wild beavers to be placed in large fenced areas in valleys. A scheme is needed to help adversely affected farmers. Next is to reintroduce them to rivers.
Wolves could manage deer, and have an important role to play in ecosystems:
Sea eagles were returned to the Inner Hebrides (but endangered sheep...).
The world’s largest marine park has been created in the Ross Sea off Antarctica – widely seen as Earth’s last intact marine ecosystem. (29th Oct 2016 Michael Slezak)
(George Monbiot on re-wilding the seas, 4th Feb 2017): ocean ecologists want 30% of Britain’s seas protected – we have achieved on 0.01% (off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, Lamlash Bay off the Isle of Arran, Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire). ‘When you establish reserves in which fish and shellfish can breed and grow to large sizes, [you get a] ‘spillover effect’ – fish migrating to the surrounding waters’ – so the policy actually helps the fishing industry.
‘Declaring areas of sea off-limits to the fishing industry would also revitalise other coastal industries [attracting] divers, whale watchers and sport fishers – all of whom tend to bring in more income and jobs than commercial fishing.’
Monbiot says that ‘a rich ecosystem includes many different species of fish, tuna, ‘blue, porbeagle, thresher, mako and occasional great white sharks’, and behind, within sight of the shore, fin whales and sperm whales...’ as described by Oliver Goldsmith in the late 18th century. He saw: ‘[fish] in distinct columns of five and six miles in length and three or four broad.’
Protection of rivers: payments in lieu of fines.
Businesses are paying ‘enforcement undertakings’ as an alternative to prosecutions – Environment Agency says the money will go to charities and projects to clean up rivers etc and for community groups to invest in public parkland. Northumbrian Water has paid £375,000 for pumping sewage into a river, and Anglian water has paid £100,000 twice for 2 pollution incidents which killed fish. 31st Jan 2017Press Association
(d) More controversial re-wilding: Lynx UK hopes to introduce six Eurasian lynxes, imported from Sweden, into Kielder Forest (a nature reserve in Northumberland). Lynx was last seen across Britain in AD700. They would reinvigorate the biggest forested area in Britain and control its herbivore population – their main food is roe deer, which is damaging the growth of wild flowers and plants, and preventing the regeneration of trees. They have been successfully re-introduced in northern Germany. Dr Ian Convery (Univ of Cumbria) says we have lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average and we are amongst the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Three benefits: restoring ecosystems, controlling deer, attracting tourists (as happened in Germany).
July 2019. Letter (Guardian) from Greenpeace board member and President of Campaign to ban trophy hunting: ecocide should be put on a par with genocide, as argued by the late Polly Higgins (environmental lawyer).
Another letter argues that occasional burning of heather (for grouse shooting!) encourages the growth of sphagnum moss – better than carpeting with trees...
(f) Animal rights. Sophie McBain in New Statesman interviews Steve Wise, founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Quotes Peter Singer. India’s supreme court has ruled all animals should have constitutional and legal rights (2014), a judge in Argentina ordered a chimpanzee to be released using habeas corpus (2016), and in 2017 Colombia’s supreme court ordered a bear to be released under the same principle. Bees and wasps can recognise faces; octupuses use tools; grey parrots have vocabularies with hundreds of words; elephants can recognise themselves (in a mirror).
As argued earlier, the point about biodiversity is that ecosystems have more components than they ‘need’ to make the system function – they have a ‘redundancy’. Dicks says: ‘The argument in ecology is that the redundancy is needed for the long-term resilience of the system.’ So it’s possible that the whole system will collapse even if only a proportion of the existing species goes extinct.
Peter Barnes (e.g. https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/capitalism-the-commons-and-divine-right/) says that some people say that this demonstrates the ‘tragedy of the commons’: ‘if I don’t grab it someone else will’. But the cause of this, surely, is that we have been encouraged to only value individual property? We have polluted the air, and the rivers and the sea because we don’t see them as ‘ours’.
‘In my mind, the great challenge for the twenty-first century is to make the commons visible, to give it proper reverence, and to translate that reverence into property rights and legal institutions that are on a par with those we currently give to private property.’
He argues: ‘let me dispel two myths that have obstructed clear thinking about the commons for many years. One is the myth that all commons are inherently self-destructive. This myth is largely the result of a 1968 essay called “The Tragedy of the Commons” by the late biologist Garrett Hardin. Hardin assumed that there is basically only one kind of commons: the unfenced pasture or waste dump with no management system, areas to which individuals can add animals and wastes freely and at will with no limitation. As a result destruction can result. What Hardin overlooked is that there are many kinds of commons and many ways to manage them. For example, you can put a fence around a pasture or you can put a fence around a waste dump and charge a dumping fee; you can have fishing and hunting limits and sell licenses. There is no tragedy if a commons is treated properly.
The other myth is that a commons must always be free and open to anyone who wants to use it. In an uncrowded world, this would be the ideal way to run a commons, but in a crowded world, such as the one we now inhabit, we must not allow unlimited dumping into the air, the water, and the soil. We must put limits on the uses of many of our commons: on the noises we allow into the shared spaces around us, on hunting and fishing, cutting of trees, posting of billboards. We can charge tolls for parking on city streets, for using congested highways, and for driving into the center of cities such as London. All these are legitimate management tools to protect and preserve different kinds of commons.’
As I see it, the great task of the twenty-first century is to build a new and vital common sector that can resist enclosure and externalization by the market, protect the planet, and share the fruits of our common inheritances more equitably than is now the case.
Just as the market is populated by profit-maximizing corporations, so too the common sector needs to be populated by commons-preserving trusts. These trusts should be endowed with property rights that are equal to those of corporations. Their beneficiaries should be all citizens equally, as well as future generations and, at times, the larger biotic community. Their trustees and managers should be legally accountable to these beneficiaries, and their finances should be completely transparent.
There are many models for such trusts, including Community Land Trusts, which were pioneered by Bob Swann, the founder of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, and Susan Witt, its executive director.
Elsewhere [check?] Barnes talks about how it all comes back to population: since 1950 the world’s population has tripled; in 2016 we reached 7.4 billion. As Lynn Dicks says, world population is increasing by 75 million a year... Barnes points out that energy and water use have both increased by five times. ‘Human population growth is the principal driver of the extinction crisis. There are not separate crises going on: it’s all linked. The loss of biodiversity and bio-abundance inevitably ensues.’
Tony Juniper says: ‘solutions are linked. It’s about sustainable economies – if we continue with economic growth, we will trash ecosystems and the soil. We need to end the extinction, reduce CO2 emissions and protect soils.’
There have been five major extinctions in earth’s history (from Tori Blakeman 10th Sep 2017):
Ordovician-Silurian: 443 million years ago. Really two events, separated by hundreds of thousands of years – most life was in the sea at this stage, and 85% of it was wiped out.
Late Devonian: 359 million years ago. Scientists believe that the seas became devoid of oxygen, and shallow seas and reefs were worst affected. It took more than 100 million years for reefs to recover.
Permian-Triassic: 252 million years ago. 96% of marine species and 70% of land species were wiped out. Possible causes are massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia causing global warming.
Cretaceous-Tertiary: 65 million years ago. A giant asteroid caused dinosaurs and many other organisms to perish. Mammals then evolved.
25th May 2019, from 38Degrees:
Huffington Post: Recolouring The Countryside - Why We Need To Put Meadows Back
On The Map:
ITV News: Wildflowers and insects under threat due to vanishing meadows, experts warn:
The Guardian: Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature':
 The Guardian: World's food supply under 'severe threat' from loss of biodiversity:
BBC News: UN: Growing threat to food from decline in biodiversity:
 BBC News: Nature crisis: Humans 'threaten 1m species with extinction':
New Scientist: Destruction of nature is as big a threat to humanity as climate change: