People love to grumble about Governments/ Civil Servants/ Legislation and Policies, but if the only laws that got created were those that represented everyone's views, needs and opinions equally nothing would ever get done. Here in the UK we get to vote on who represents us and if we don't like the majority voice we still have the right to speak and have our words listened to, and to campaign to change the things we don't like.
I'm not a big fan (small under-statement there) of the way our current Government is handling wildlife and countryside issues. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs DEFRA) seems less environmentally focused than economically, and while I understand that you can't put the countryside in a pretty box and keep it separate from economic pressures, there should at least be a balance of sorts and I don't see much evidence of that at present. Add to this the fact that ecosystems underpin and support our daily existence, that our reliance on them is well documented and that damaging them costs us economically as well as socially, and I understand even less the failure to protect them.
We won't talk about the previous Sec of State (Ragged Robin and I would spend the entire comments page fuming if we did), and I'm already disillusioned with the New One. At least my local MP has fared better, answering my emails with personal replies and providing follow ups on meetings and Parliamentary debates on Countryside Matters when I have asked her to. She speaks her mind and doesn't tow party lines or repeat party mantras, and I respect her for it. It's a refreshing approach and one that has done much to restore my faith in MPs.
Today I have spent several hours reading the 100 plus pages that comprise the 2010 Lawton Review, a report into the state of England's wildlife and wild places commissioned by the Government that resulted in the publication of the first White Paper on the environment for twenty years. Recommendations from the report have formed the basis for the environmental legislation and policy that followed. I also read the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and it's Follow On (2011 and 2012) which looks more at the economic value of ecosystems and the cost to us in financial and other terms if they are damaged.
I have spent many hours this summer working on a local level on various conservation projects, many of which have involved species that are seriously endangered (sadly, you don't have to go far in conservation these days to come across them). It is sobering and brings home the massive scale of the damage done to our natural environment, particularly in the post war 1950-2000 period. My experiences first-hand this summer are echoed in the report.
I thought you might be interested in the following snippets from it (bonus- you don't now need to plough through all 119 pages :o) )
- 80% of UK citizens live in towns.
- Urban areas account for 7% of the UK land area.
- Between 1950-2000 the UK pop increased by 25% to 62 million.
- The resulting pressure on green spaces was huge- food provision, water provision, resource provision.
- The resulting agricultural intensification chewed up vast tracts of natural grassland, tore out hedgerows, pumped the land full of fertilisers and pesticides and caused the large-scale destruction of many habitats and the species that depended on them for survival.
- People are dependent on ecosystems for their continued survival.
- Ecosystems provide food, water, air. They provide processes that purify air and break down waste. They provide resources and materials such as timber, and space for recreation, as well as homes for wildlife.
- Not understanding how important ecosystems are to our own health and well-being leads to poorly informed decisions being made that result in increases in pollution, species loss, ecosystem loss and damage, habitat destruction and damage to ecosystem processes.
- This results in economic costs which we all bare, as well as more broad costs in terms of survival.
- 97% of enclosed semi-natural grassland was lost between 1930 and 1984 through conversion to arable land
- Semi-natural grassland now covers less than 1% of the UK land area.
- Almost all the UK's remaining lowland calcareous grassland is found on Salisbury Plain. This makes it a very vulnerable habitat so it is in need of conservation at the highest level.
- Enclosed farmland covers 40% of the UK land area and it produces 70% of the UK's food.
- Between 1970 and 1998 the farmland bird index fell by 43%
- 75% of current woodland is productive plantation, less then 100 years old and comprised mainly of non-native species.
- Woodland covers 12% of the UK land area
- Between 1979 and 1997, over 10,000 playing fields were sold and allotments decreased by 10% from peak numbers. This represents broadly a loss of urban green space.
- Between 1984 and 1990, over 100,000km of hedgerows were lost
- By 2000, populations of 67% of 333 farmland species were declining due to agricultural practices (intensification, mono-culture, pesticides, fertilisers, habitat loss)
- Woodland bird numbers have fallen by 14% and farmland birds by 47% in recent years
- Urban birds however rose by 11%
- There are 3473 non-native species in the UK, 49 of these are seen as a high threat to native species as they carry disease or out-compete the native species.
- Between 1957-1980 nitrogen (fertilisers) additions to farmland increased by 300%. The resulting run-off affected all our water courses and the resulting eutrophication messed up our rivers, causing some plant species to out-compete others and altering the biodiversity which had previous existed.
- Of the 87 native UK snail species, 43 are in decline
- Between 1968-2002 there has been a 44% decline in moth numbers
- Between 1990-2006 there was a 16% increase in pesticide use
- 54% of semi-natural areas are still at risk of damage from high emission of sulphur from industry, despite the major emissions reductions of recent years.
- Loss of pollinator services are estimated at a cost of £430 million per annum
- The condition of England's broad habitats has been declining over the past 50 years, with some recovery in the last 10.
The Lawton Review looks towards the next 50 years- I hope it will achieve what it sets out to do, which is to conserve and protect our wild spaces and help them to grow into self-sustaining ecosystems where wildlife can flourish and the natural world can get on with doing what it needs to do.
Hope that was of some interest?