Biodiversity in the news…

Our graduate ecologist Gavin shares his thoughts on biodiversity in the press.

Every now and then the environment takes a front seat in the media. Last year, plastics as a waste material took centre stage and this theme is still active to some extent. Thank you, David Attenborough. Climate change surfaces regularly, usually after a damning international report, and then drifts away quietly. A few weeks ago, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reported that humanity has wiped out 60% of the world’s vertebrate animals in the last 50 years – it was the turn of biodiversity.

Similar to climate change, biodiversity loss is not new to the media glare, but it is often a single species or habitat that is the focus; scenes of smouldering rainforests or polar bears balancing on tiny ice floes spring to mind. It is becoming more common for biodiversity in its full meaning to be the topic. But why is it important? As ecologists, we get asked regularly why bats, Great Crested Newts, badgers and all their other furry or scaly friends warrant so much time and money.

From a human perspective, a diverse natural environment is essential to sustain food supply, process our wastes, clean our air, help prevent flooding, regulate climate and produce medicines. We gain from the beauty of nature as can be evidenced in huge tourism economies around the world. And then there’s the question of the intrinsic value of nature.

As ecologists we are, of course, extremely interested in biodiversity. The starting point for our work is a good understanding of the existing ecology of a site. Our survey work feeds into the decision-making process of how to avoid biodiversity loss and then moves on to how we might make biodiversity gains. Much of our work is based around connectivity. Prey species tend to avoid open spaces and so hedgerows linking to woodland are important for Dormouse populations, for example. Bats, although aerial, are very much reliant on linear features with which to navigate around their range and even a short section of hedge removed for a road may cut off a bat from important foraging areas. We work best when involved from an early stage so that our results can feed into the design process.

By the time this article goes onto the website, delayed inevitably by more pressing work matters, the WWF report will probably be long forgotten by the media and the general public. But, just as Mr. Attenborough continues to highlight environmental issues through groundbreaking television, ecologists around the country will continue to work in their own way for the biodiversity cause.

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