Tuesday 30 June 2009

The Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count

The Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count is a fantastic event that takes place between Saturday 4 July and Sunday 12 July. It aims to do what the name implies – to encourage people to engage in the identification and counting of butterflies in Brighton and Hove. To take part, you can pick up a butterfly identification guide and recording form at any library in Brighton & Hove or follow the link on the Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count web site.

Butterflies are easy to identify and are sensitive to changes in their habitat. They are, in most of their characteristics, typical insects, and the impact of environmental changes on butterflies is probably similar to the effects on many other insects. So by counting butterfly numbers we have a measure by which we can easily monitor the rest of biodiversity.

Much of this information you can pick up from the BBBC web site, but I also asked Dr Dan Danahar, who is leading this project, for some further information for me to post on my blog. I expected something about butterflies and just how nice they are. What I received was an excellent articulation of nature conservation philosophy! So rather than plagiarise it and claim the credit, I thought I’d quote it directly – so here it is…..

If you were born during the 1950's you belong to the first generation of human beings to see the world population double during your own lifespan, which is of course part of the exponential growth pattern currently happening to the human population.

Of course if you were born in the fifties, many of you will be coming up for retirement soon and will have had a pretty good life, if you lived in the west. As it currently stands 6.5 Billion people live on the planet and it is estimated that global human population will plateau at between 8 & 10 Billion by 2050. This is rather worrying when you consider that most young people know no other life than one of consumption, utilising natural resources at an ever increasing rate.

Since around 68% of the worlds terrestrial ecosystems have already been damaged by human activity, and around 75% of our marine fisheries are unsustainably harvested, only a small proportion of the earths natural ecosystems remain intact. As we destroy more and more of the worlds natural ecosystems so we also degrade the invisible environmental services that they supply, free of charge.

Ultimately this can lead to one of two possible scenarios. Either keystone species will become extinct and the planet will suffer ecosystem collapse and the sixth mass extinction or the earths biodiversity will become increasingly impoverished, so that when you travel from one part of the planet to another you will only ever see the same species of animal and plant, the weeds that can cope with what humans do to their environment.

So, one of the reasons why we are running the BBBC is to encourage people to become interested in biodiversity, wildlife, to make them bio-literate because we believe that we all need to be as aware of our local biodiversity as stock brokers are aware of the stocks and shares on the stock exchange.

We hope that by looking people will become involved in the fascinatingly complex life histories of our local natural history. We hope that people will learn to value biodiversity.

Let me put it another way:

TRY NOT TO READ THESE WORDS. Of course this is a paradox - as soon as you have read them its too late, because you had to read the instruction to be able to realise you weren't meant to read them. If you can read it is impossible to look at any words with out comprehending their meaning.

So what if it was in some other language that you can't read, like Chinese? Then the information would be concealed until you became familiar with Chinese. Reading the natural world is pretty much the same thing, we have become so unattached to our local environment that we no longer have any real sense of how to read it.

Becoming familiar with local biodiversity is rather like learning to read. So, if you are new at this, the BBBC is like your first reading lesson. Your ABC to Biodiversity if you like. If you can't, read how can you be adequately informed about what's happening in your world?

Of course it’s also true that butterflies are great indicators of environmental change because they are easy to identify, there are currently only 45 species in the Sussex. They are sensitive creatures to, dependent on subtle changes in microclimate, habitat structure, etc., as are most insects.

So by identifying and recording butterflies we hope to make two gains:

1) increased knowledge about year on year changes in our local environment and

2) an increasingly bio-literate populace, a community that values the natural world more that it currently does."

Well done Dan!! Butterflies are nice to look at and a world with them is far better than a world without them. But we all need reminding now and then about the deeper need for nature conservation and the need to re-engage with the natural world.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Climate Change - a major report indicates what we can expect in the UK

Climate change is on the agenda again today (indeed it is such an important issue that is should never be off the agenda) as Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, launched the UK Climate Projections (UKCP09). These give detail to how we might expect the climate of the UK to change in coming decades. for an introduction to these projections go to http://ukcp09.defra.gov.uk/

No-one should be surprised!
Predictably, the projections are not good news, but they should be no surprise to anyone. A “greenhouse effect” was first proposed about 200 years ago and carbon dioxide was identified as the main greenhouse gas around 100 years ago. By the 1970’s it was very clear that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (by burning coal, oil etc), while at the same time damaging the earth’s ability to react to these changes (i.e. by damaging biodiversity) was bound to change the balance of this greenhouse effect - hence global warming. After 30 or 40 years of procrastination at least the subject of global warming is mainstream even if our reaction to it is sluggish.

Inevitable change – adaptation is as important as reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
The government claims that it will pursue a concerted action programme to address climate change. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case, but they have set out a broad 5-point plan and I am glad to see that “preparing for the future” (i.e. adaptation) is included. Temperatures are very likely to increase by around 2 degrees before 2050 even if we react responsibly now (which we probably wont!), and continue to grow even further after that point. I am not convinced, however, that predictability can be that precise. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if our current relatively amicable climate changed into something that was much more unpredictable, with perhaps wide swings between hot and cold, wet and dry.

A healthy environment must form the basis of any future strategy for climate change.
Whatever happens, our environment must be able to adapt. Consequently we need a long-term vision for land-use. We need a healthier environment where the best sites for nature are conserved, enhanced, expanded and joined up to make the natural environment more robust, allowing people and wildlife to adapt to these changes. For a better idea of what we mean by this see our climate change strategy at:
and see our Living Landscape documents at: http://www.sussexwt.org.uk/conservation/living_landscapes/page00002.htm

Furthermore, restoring the natural environment will enhance our essential ecological services, such as carbon storage in peatlands, purification of water through reed beds and flood management in wetlands.

A brave new approach is needed.
However, the current approach of fiddling around the edges of existing policies has failed us for too long. Without a long-term vision for the future of our land with joined up decisions on agriculture, planning, water management and more, the future looks very bleak.

Furthermore, the impacts of climate change on wildlife are not restricted to land. Marine wildlife also needs the flexibility to adapt to climate change. More than 50% of the carbon dioxide we produce is absorbed by the sea which is why we must act now to ensure we manage our marine environment sustainably.

A brave new approach with a large-scale vision is what we are seeking from government.
The Government must now show political will by investing in large-scale habitat restoration and creation. It is vital for the natural environment to be placed at the heart of adaptation programmes.