This month my topics are habitat loss and biodiversity. They go hand in hand because of the adaptation plants and animals have had to make to live in different habitats. It is worth remembering that many of the special habitats, hay meadows, hedgerows and heathland for example, are man-made, and that those adaptations have taken place over many millennia, nature and agriculture working together in harmony.
National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and nature reserves are all areas recognised to have important habitat and to be deserving of preservation. One of the current themes in wildlife protection is the desire to have connectivity between such protected areas so that the creatures that live there are not isolated nor lose genetic diversity. Creating “corridors” along which species can freely move is now a goal for many wildlife conservation organisations. Beetle banks, wildflower field edges, gardens, grass verges, hedges and woods can all perform this connecting function and many initiatives are in hand to promote them.
Habitat loss reduces both the variety and abundance of wildlife species and much of it is driven by the world population’s need for food and shelter. Clearing the land began back in the Neolithic Age, when agriculture began, but there is a big drive at the moment to plant more trees. Trees take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it into their structures, so re-forestation is a good tool to employ against climate change. Both here in Britain and in Africa projects to plant many millions of trees are in progress. Ethiopia recently set a world record for the most trees planted in a day and African countries are collaborating to create a belt of new forest running across the entire continent, potentially a huge new habitat.
Planting trees also mitigates flood risk by slowing down the absorption of rainfall and preventing soil erosion. Reduced tree cover in the Himalayan foothills has led to soil loss which is now being reversed by tree-planting initiatives. Hopefully the catastrophic flooding which takes place in the deltas of the rivers fed by the snow melt from these mountains will be reduced in the future too. This would prove another direct human gain from creating new wildlife habitat.
Recognising special habitats from oceans to icy wastes and deserts to bogs helps promote their special inhabitants. We need plants and animals more than they need us, but it is incumbent on us to allow them the space to grow. We never know what benefit we may get from our fellow globe-dwellers. Who would have thought that a mould spore entering a lab through an open window would lead to the development of antibiotics? Alexander Fleming certainly didn’t.