Protecting Biodiversity in John’s

By Gemma Bedford, Third Year Natural Science

Photo cr: sciencemag.org

The UN IPBES report released in May of this year showed that close to every form of natural life has been in decline as a result of human activity. In addition to this, an estimated 1 million out of 8 million living species are thought to be at risk of extinction. Behind such headlines lies a tangled web of causes and factors which make this problem difficult to tackle on a global scale.

close to every form of natural life has been in decline as a result of human activity

Some of the worst devastation on land comes from deforestation due to rising cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantations expanding into rainforests in south-east Asia.  However, the oceans are also at risk. A third of the world’s fish stock is harvested unsustainably, with only 2% of the oceans protected from human activity. Furthermore, there has been a tenfold increase in plastic pollution (predominantly from abandoned fishing gear) from 1980, now thought to be harming over half of seabirds and marine mammals.

Closer to home, the UK is set to miss 14 out of its 19 biodiversity targets for 2020. We are failing to raise public awareness about the importance of biodiversity, to protect threatened species (such as puffins, hazel dormice or Scottish wildcats) or to end the degradation of land. Furthermore, Britain still hasn’t ended unsustainable fishing or stopped the arrival of invasive alien species such as the Asian tiger mosquito which can carry dengue fever or the oak processionary moth caterpillar which strips oak bare and leaves it harmful to people.

the North East contains at least a third of the UK’s priority habitats.

Photo cr: John’s Eco Soc

Although the United Kingdom is not exactly a biodiversity hotspot, containing few endemic species as opposed to somewhere such as Madagascar, the North East contains at least a third of the UK’s priority habitats. In particular, the North East is renowned for its varied and high-quality rivers and streams (which I’m sure John’s students can attest to, being situated right by the River Wear) which support wildlife ranging from kingfishers to otters to salmon. Increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are expected to impact this biodiversity.

In Durham, we are lucky enough to have the Botanic Garden! Most notably, the garden contains an outcropping of magnesian limestone flora which only grows in a few areas of North East England. The Botanic Garden is also surrounded by woodland native to the British Isles, and there are trails you can follow running through it, stopping by streams and a meadow as well!

John’s Eco Soc has secured funding to replant the Principal’s Walk in college.

So, what can we do? John’s Eco Soc has secured funding to replant the Principal’s Walk in college. Currently it is very overgrown, with steps covered by plants, although the land itself extends all the way down to the river. They hope to begin planting in the spring next term, first planting a hedge wall of sorts by the river to secure the area and then redoing the garden beds, hopefully filling them with native plants as well as bee and insect-friendly plants. Hopefully, the area will become a lovely spot to walk through and relax in, especially during exam season.

Having a pond or water source in your garden is actually one of the most helpful and important things you can do to boost biodiversity.

Durham University Botanic Garden

More generally, gardens around the UK can be of great help in fighting biodiversity loss! Lawns can be turned into meadows (a very important habitat for bugs and flora while also rich in biodiversity) but rock gardens and longer grass can help as well! Having a pond or water source in your garden is actually one of the most helpful and important things you can do to boost biodiversity. It’s effectively incorporating a whole new ecosystem into your garden, allowing for certain bugs, flowers and even animals to make their home there.

We are currently living in a time of mass extinction which is largely human made. This is biodiversity loss on a massive scale, such that a term for a new geological epoch – the “Anthropocene” – has been coined to describe this change. While it is true that the destruction of richly diverse habitats is largely out of our hands as John’s students, every little helps.

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