Nature in Crisis

A Guest Post by Melanie Oxley

The Climate Crisis is a well recognised phrase, however, the lesser but equally existential threat is the collapse of biodiversity. 

Hand in hand with climate change, the world faces a nature crisis across the world, of unimaginable proportions. The threat to our health from this, the sixth mass extinction, is far more serious than COVID-19: hundreds of thousands of communities will go hungry very soon if the problem is not urgently addressed. It should be made plain that loss of biodiversity will bring about the end of humankind in many parts of the world. In the UK, we ought to know by now we are not immune to global threats.

More than one million natural species are facing extinction: crucially this includes 40,000 species of insects, many of which we rely on to pollinate our food crops. Economists have warned that long-term prosperity is dependent on thriving natural environments, that Government at all levels must act now, and that the cost of not acting now will be huge.

The coronavirus pandemic shows us how natural forces can devastate prosperity. In some ways this is a dress rehearsal for the climate and nature crisis. During lock-down we have seen the importance of green environments for health and wellbeing, and we have witnessed that people are willing to act together to avert a crisis, even to completely change their familiar way of life. At the start of lock-down, people reported noticing wildlife more; the sounds and smells, even the colours became clearer as traffic ceased. There also appears to have been renewed interest in local wildlife. Springwatch could not have come at a better time!

Lockdown gave us something else – something so important to our approach to wildlife. It showed us how nature, given half a chance, bounces back. Verges across Hampshire were left uncut from the start of lock-down until the end of May. Who knew that beautiful, important pollinator plants were hiding amongst the grassy edges to our roads? Their seeds and roots will have been there for years. Ox-eye daisy, white clover, creeping buttercup, dandelion, cow parsley, all common plants, but really valuable for pollinators early in the year, flourished and grew where regular mowing had stopped.

Local authority management of publicly owned land and other open spaces, could be altered to make a huge contribution to the real threat of biodiversity collapse. Many towns in the UK have already declared themselves chemical-free, and whole countries have done it: France banned pesticide use in all parks, streets and other public spaces back in 2017. If we can put pressure on Councils to leave verges and edges of parks un-mown in April, May and June, then to cut and collect in July, local insect populations will boom, and the creatures that feed on them, such as bats and many bird species, will recover their numbers.

A more hands-off approach, such as Plantlife’s ‘No Mow May’ and ‘Just-Leave-It-June’, benefits all wildlife. These are easy wins for nature. Tree and shrub management could also be relaxed to allow nature to take its own course and strong tree protection measures would help mitigate the climate and nature crisis we face.

A YouGov survey of attitudes in March found that 27% of respondents said they now recognise more wildlife. People have become more interested in nature, but we are a very long way from nature recovery.
Wildlife organisations will face huge difficulty delivering their biodiversity objectives due to a fall-off in fundraising events through lock-down. The role of Councils will become more important in efforts to counter biodiversity loss, as both planning bodies and as landowners.

How can you help?

If you are fortunate to have a garden, however small, you can make simple but meaningful changes to help wildlife. Resisting the temptation to be tidy, for example by not mowing in the summer, by not dead-heading or cutting back until well into late winter, by encouraging patches of nettle and comfrey, by adding in good pollinator plants (there are excellent lists of these on the Royal Horticultural Society website, Countryfile website and at Plantlife), and, of course, by not using chemicals, are simple measures that can offer staggering gains. By being less busy in your garden, you will have more time to sit back and enjoy your wildlife, study it and observe the intricacies of species and their life-cycles. You will also have time to write that email to your local councillor to encourage them to make the case for nature.

A Few Words from New Leaf…..

New Alresford Town Council has taken some great steps this year with hedge and tree planting at Arlebury Park, and setting aside more ‘wild’ areas such as the area next to Arlebury Park car park, shown above. On 27th July New Leaf attended a presentation on the new WCC Biodiversity Action Plan which is due in September and will set out their plans to conserve species and habitats locally. Hampshire County Council has started working with Plantlife on their roadside management policy and cutting of rural verges now takes place less often. New Leaf are working to bring members more specifics on timing of cuttings and safety margins. Positive steps are being taken but there is so much more that can be achieved on our doorstep.