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The Not So Hidden Cost of Biodiversity Loss

The Not So Hidden Cost of Biodiversity Loss

In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund gathered together a group of top scientists from around the globe to produce The Living Planet Report. It explains that, since 1970, we humans have successfully killed off around 60% of all reptiles, mammals, fish and birds on the planet.

According to WWF executive director Mike Barrett:

“If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

While much of our focus goes on climate change nowadays, the impact we have on the natural world around us is equally catastrophic.

All life on Earth depends on this biodiversity and the changes we have caused mean we may be pushing our planet towards 6th mass extinction – the first by a single species, homo sapiens. It’s troubling, therefore, that our attention to this impending crisis has been all too often lacking.

Why Biodiversity is Critical

Biodiversity, from bugs and bacteria to lions, tigers and humankind, is essential for a healthy planet. You have to think of them all as bricks in the wall of life. The more you keep removing those bricks, the more likely it is to crumble.

When we talk about biodiversity, we tend to focus on larger species such as orangutans that are having their habitat destroyed in places like the Amazon. But every creature is critical to the healthy ecology of planet Earth.

For example, there has been much talk about the loss of bee species here in Europe and around the rest of the world. Bees are natural pollinators and they perform an essential role in the ecosystem. You may think that the biggest threat to our wheat supplies is the war in Ukraine at the moment. The truth is that, if insects that pollinate these plants, disappear then so will all our crops and a whole host of other different plants.

According to the United Nations:

“Bees and other pollinators are declining in abundance in many parts of the world largely due to intensive farming practices, mono-cropping, excessive use of agricultural chemicals and higher temperatures associated with climate change, affecting not only crop yields but also nutrition.”

It’s not just animals, however. The trees, wetlands, bushes and even grasslands that we have continually ravaged over the years provide stability, purify the air, create oxygen and stop floods. In some places, mangroves and coral reefs prevent storms from tearing up the coastline and causing major damage.

What Causes Biodiversity Loss?

There are some natural causes of biodiversity loss on a local scale but for the most part, humankind is responsible.

  • Land use and habitat loss: Problems such as soil pollution and approaches such as deforestation have had a huge impact on a wide range of different species. From urbanisation to exploiting resources and cutting down huge swathes of forest, according to the World Animal Foundation, we could be losing as many 137 animal and plant species every day because of deforestation alone.
  • Exploitation: As our population grows, we need more and more resources, whether that’s hunting for food, overfishing our waters or cutting down trees.
  • Pollution: Humans also produce a lot of pollution. Most people both in the UK and Europe were disgusted when it was revealed water companies were pumping raw sewage into the rivers and seas. But pollution from car exhausts and factories around the world is just as damaging.
  • Invasive species: Humans have been responsible for introducing invasive species in various locations around the world over the years and these have had a catastrophic effect on local environments.
  • Climate change: On top of all this, climate change, caused by human activity, is also changing environments and damaging biodiversity. Rising temperatures affect marine life in our oceans, large swathes of forest are being destroyed by fire and in some parts of the world floods are the norm rather than the exception.

What Are We Doing About Biodiversity Loss?

Many governments around the world are beginning to take biodiversity loss as seriously as climate change. The impact it is likely to have on our planet cannot be underestimated but there are few major initiatives in place that are likely to quell any fears. At least for the moment.

A UK government environmental committee report in 2021 professed that:

“Although there are countless Government policies and targets to ‘leave the environment in a better state than we found it, too often they are grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms.”

According to the Guardian in 2020, the UK failed to reach 17 of 20 biodiversity markers and the RSPB also commented that conservation was heading backwards in some areas. This remains the problem around the globe and with different governments and time is, frankly, running out.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now

While none of us can save the world on our own, we can all do things to help promote biodiversity where we live and it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort.

Here are our top tips.

1. Support Local Produce

Intensive farming and mass production has meant that we can get almost any product on our supermarket shelves. This leads to a whole host of problems when it comes to destroying habitats around the world, the pollution we create and the overexploitation of resources, largely because of demand. As much as you can, start buying from local sources like farmers’ markets. Whether you’re buying online or from a local shop, it’s a good idea to check their sustainability credentials before you part with your money.

2. Help the Bees

The decline in bees is largely down to the use of pesticides and the loss of habitats. More and more people are growing bee-friendly plants in their homes. Even if you only have a small garden or balcony, you can easily grow wildflowers that help promote a healthy environment for a whole range of pollinators.

Here’s a quick guide from the team at Kew Gardens on how to promote insects of all types in your garden.

3. Respect Local Habitats

If you have green spaces near your home or are out in the country for a day out, make sure that you treat these areas with respect. That means not leaving your rubbish behind and sticking to the appropriate trails where possible. You might also want to get involved with local groups that are tackling biodiversity, for example, with beach or river clean-ups.

4. Become Politically Active

Write to your local MP and get your friends to do the same thing and ask them what they are doing to help promote biodiversity and what the plans of the government are. The more noise we make, the more likely something will be done.

5. Use Less Water

While your daily shower may not seem a big factor in biodiversity, it is. Low water levels in lakes and rivers affect thousands of different species and the less we use the better.

We can all play our part in helping to promote biodiversity in our local neighbourhoods. Only by acting together can we make a difference.

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