Video: Dave Bishop launches his #biodiversity report!

Here’s a WonkyCam video, complete with poor sound quality, of Dave Bishop launching his wonderful Biodiversity Report[see here for link]. And he has kindly shared with us the text of what he said!

I’d just like to draw your attention to the quote which opens my report; a quote from the American Scholar, anthropologist and author, Jared Diamond:

Elimination of lots of lousy little species regularly causes big harmful consequences for humans, just as does randomly knocking out many of the lousy little rivets holding together an airplane.”

Very recently, there have been reports in the press of drinking water supplies being contaminated by a chemical called metaldehyde. This material is lethal to molluscs, such a slugs and snails, and is a key ingredient in slug pellets.

The Environment Agency told the Guardian that between 2009 and 2011 concentrations of metaldehyde, used by farmers to protect their crops from slugs, were found in 81 of 647 reservoirs, rivers and groundwater supplies. The chemical is almost impossible to remove from drinking water using standard treatments.

In November 2012, levels a 100 times higher than EU regulations were detected at a water treatment intake on the River Stour in Essex – the highest level ever recorded.Toxicity of this substance is thought, but not definitely known, to be very low and EU standards of 0.1 micrograms per litre are not set on a health basis but at a near zero value reflecting legislation that pesticides should not be present in drinking water at any level (Amen to that!).

Currently the Environment Agency encourages the agricultural industry to self-regulate on the issue.

But Green party leader Natalie Bennett said that the industry’s inability to control metaldehyde meant a rethink of slug control methods was needed and regulations should be enforced.

“The current voluntary system isn’t working, we’ve got a threat, if hard to quantify, to human and ecosystem health. It’s clear that regulation to protect both is needed,” she said.

Restoring populations of natural slug predators, such as hedgehogs, frogs, wild birds, predatory nematodes and carabid beetles, represented an approach that would work for farmers and for the wider environment, said Bennett

“We clearly have to take a broader view of farms as part of our environment, and understand that they have to work with and support our natural ecosystems, not attempt to manage unfavourable aspects of them with chemical blankets.”

Of course, populations of many of the natural slug predators on Ms. Bennett’s list are currently endangered because of our society’s careless and contemptuous attitude towards nature and the wider environment. Nevertheless, in this example, we have a potential threat to both our water supplies, through contamination, and a threat to our food supplies as a result of a slug population explosion.

So, there’s a possibility of Big Harmful Consequences for humans!

You’ve probably all read about the threats to our wild and honey bee populations? Top of the list are neonicotinoid pesticides which act on the nervous systems of insects. Big monocultures, like those of Oil-seed Rape, are very vulnerable to plagues of pest species. Such plagues require chemical blankets, such as neonicotinoids. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that such lethal poisons might threaten benign insects, like bees, too. Although I suspect it did occur to someone but such objections were dismissed out of hand because nothing must stand in the way of the profit motive – certainly nothing as trivial as a few insects.

Bees are not only threatened by poisons but also by our management of our rural and urban green spaces. They need abundant supplies of pollen and nectar for their own sustenance and to produce honey. But local authorities now, routinely, cut green spaces, in May and June, when all of the wild plants come into flower. There seems to be no good reason for this behaviour – apart from an obsession with tidiness and, I suspect, because local authority employees like to be outdoors in good weather. And the bees can’t even rely on urban gardens any more because far too many of these are being tarmaced over to provide hard-standing for cars.

The loss of bees and other pollinating insects is likely to cost our country dear. A recent report from the University of Reading puts the value of insect-pollinated production for the UK as a whole at £510.2m and North West England alone at £9.5m.

But the loss of bees and other pollinators, and the ecosystem services they provide, are likely to be much higher than the cost of conserving them. The Reading report states that: “To replace pollination services with hand pollination could cost farmers around £1.8bn per year in labour or pollen alone.” This would, of course, render many fruit and vegetables unaffordable. Imagine a world in which such fruits as apples, pears, plums and cherries are expensive luxuries only to be encountered on the tables of such people as banking executives, property developers and mafia bosses!

And it gets worse:

The Reading report also points out that: “Beyond crops, bees also pollinate clovers and other nitrogen fixing plants that are important to improving the productivity of pasture systems for livestock grazing which are themselves major agricultural enterprises in Wales, the Highlands and northern and western parts of England. The economic benefits of this are presently unknown but likely to be high.” So, supplies of such foodstuffs as beef, lamb and milk could also be threatened.

The loss of bees = Big Harmful Consequences for humans.

Currently around 15 diseases are threatening our native trees. There’s a weird, but very persistent belief, held by local authorities, property developers and even conservationists – who should know better – that loss of biodiversity can be compensated for by planting trees; nothing could be further from the truth! In fact planting trees can actually reduce biodiversity (see my report for details).

I believe that, currently, there are few, if any, nurseries in the UK specialising in the growing of tree saplings – so, to satisfy the irrational tree planting obsession, they have to be imported from continental Europe – and lethal tree diseases are probably imported with them. The distinguished tree and woodland expert, Peter Marren commented recently on the origins of the disease, Ash Die-back (Chalara fraxinea), currently threatening our Ash trees:

Future generations might wonder who was to blame for the holocaust of our most graceful woodland tree. They might point a finger at the hapless, failed guardians of our woodland heritage, Defra and the Forestry Commission. They would be wrong. What is about to cause the worst disaster in woodland history is not so much law as love. Everyone loves a planted tree. We thought planting trees was the solution but it wasn’t. It was the problem.”

He confirmed that many of the 15 or so tree diseases that are now running rampant in our countryside were probably brought in on imported trees. He castigated the Woodland Trust, who claims to be, “passionate about [tree] planting”. Ash Dieback has recently appeared on one of their Suffolk estates, in a plantation next to an ancient wood (!) He asked where their plantation trees came from; were they imported?

The Woodland Trust has asked members of the public to report any instances of Ash Die-back that they encounter so that the progress of the disease can be monitored. Nevertheless, a recent survey found that only about a fifth of the population can actually recognise an Ash tree. To be honest, I’m surprised that the figure is that high – so divorced has our culture become from the natural world!

Ash Die-back doesn’t seem to have appeared in Manchester yet – but it will be a disaster when it does. There are thousands of big, mature Ash trees in our streets, parks and gardens. And if they die, they’ll all have to be chopped down – at a cost of millions of pounds.

So, dishonesty, ignorance and greed are leading, inexorably, to Big Harmful Consequences for humans.

At the end of this month, I will be 65 years old – yes, I’ll officially be an old git! For a big chunk of that time, from when I first became aware of what is happening, I’ve had to watch in horror as the world is brutally dismantled around me. The place that I probably know best, the Mersey Valley, has lost a huge amount of its biodiversity in the 40 years that I’ve known it – and much of that loss is down to ignorance, complacency and contempt for the natural world.

I will probably not see the full results of the great, and unbelievably stupid, War Against Nature – but a lot of the young people and children – who I pass in the street every day probably will – they could well grow-up in a bleak, barren, poisoned and denuded world. All of the countless Big Harmful Consequences, added to the dire effects of Climate Change, will render the world unliveable in just a few generations. As people like Marc speak out about Climate Change it’s time that someone spoke out about biodiversity loss too; in the absence of anyone else, speaking out against local biodiversity loss seems to have fallen to me. Please read my report.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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