“The Rock on Which You Stand”

“…You have the possibility of finding 284 different insect species scattered over individual oak trees”- Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trust

Winter at London Zoo is rather wonderful. For once the animals seem to outnumber the people, there are no queues, you can freely talk to zoo keepers and volunteers and take your time reading about all of the rather curious creatures that you’ve come to stare at. If you have a spare £18 or so, i’d recommend it. This post, however, is not about the zoo and I don’t intend to debate the value of locking up wild animals in the middle of London either. If I was to give one argument for Zoo’s it would be to say that, for me as a individual, London Zoo has inspired me to write about something which is by no means my specialist area: Biodiversity.

Some facts:

-There are an estimate fifteen million plants and animals on earth

– Of the animals we have actually registered 1.4 million species and expect to find 8.4 million more (mostly invertebrates) (ZSL)

We have, here on our small planet, an incredibly rich and bio diverse eco system and the effects that humans are having on it often go unnoticed. The Zooological Society of London and others are working tirelessly to ensure that biodiversity is at the top of governments’ agendas but, like many in the climate change movement, they seem to be getting in return for their efforts only hot air. Let there be no doubt that governments know what is going on but, like all environmental issues it seems, biodiversity has been discarded to the periphery of our politicians’ agenda.

But bio diversity, some may argue, is a luxury that we enjoy, a chance to see lots of different animals and not of particular importance to the 21st century human. To answer this charge without delving into the philosophical arguments surrounding the intrinsic value of other species is surprisingly easy. Quite aside from animals and plants having a value of their own we must quickly learn to realize the huge value they have to our own species. We rely on Biodiversity for, among other things:

-Ensuring we live in a stable, human friendly environment. Biodiversity helps to keep our climate and natural environment relatively stable.

– Protecting us from disease

– Allowing us to have a certain amount of food security (through pollination of crops and maintenance of genetic resources)

– We rely on biodiversity to directly provide us with food (About 100 million metric tonnes of aquatic life, including fish, molluscs and crustaceans are taken from the wild every year)

– Providing us with the base materials for life saving drugs.

The huge diversity on this planet is not, we must realise, only a fact to be appreciated by London Zoo and David Attenborough- it matters to all of us. We must, it would seem, be a species that simply hasn’t quite got to grips with the quite dramatic reliance that we have on our relationships with the natural world. It is estimated that between 0.01% and 0.1% of species become extinct every year at a rate estimated to be at least 1000x the natural extinction rate. We may well rely heavily on the biodiversity of the world around us but that doesn’t mean we take care of it. On top of the terrifying rate of extinction that we are facilitating we have also destroyed of degraded 76% of the worlds primary forests. 50% of the world coral reefs, which are incredibly rich in diversity, are at risk of being destroyed.

The worldwide attack on biodiversity, which comes hand in hand with habitat loss and extinction, can be traced to a number of human induced changes to our natural world. Climate Change, which could cause temperatures to rise by 3 degrees centigrade this century, has had and will continue to have serious effects on biodiversity. Climate change will cause extinction to some species, the sudden and possibly catastrophic migration of others and the bleaching of coral reefs to name a few consequences. It is not just our addiction to oil that threatens biodiversity but also our seemingly insatiable appetite for rainforest destruction (at up to 26 000 square kilometers in the Brazilian Amazon alone),  and our inability to fish sustainably (88% of European fish stocks are overexploited and 30% have collapsed) to name a few of our less admirable traits. We are, by using too much when we have too little and through leading lives quite often completely disconnected to the natural world, slowly biting the hand that has fed us since time immemorial.

As you may well expect we can’t rely on governments to fix the problem either it seems. According to George Monbiot last years Convention on Biological Diversity ended without so much as a binding agreement:

“It strikes me that governments are determined to protect not the marvels of our world, but the world-eating system to which they are being sacrificed; not life, but the ephemeral junk with which it is being replaced. They fight viciously and at the highest level for the right to turn rainforests into pulp, or marine ecosystems into fishmeal.”

Yet from here we must do anything but give up when it comes to preserving the rich mix of species living on our planet. The good thing about biodiversity is that it is something you can help yourself. For every tree we plant, native species we preserve and bird feeder we put out we are making a small but positive difference to Britain’s biodiversity. Each time we avoid beef, especially that fed on Amazonian soya, we are helping halt rainforest destruction and each time we take action to tackle climate change, both through and against our government, we are helping to curb the imminently worrying mass extinction we may have on our doorstep.

Let me just end with this:

If you are going to follow this post up in any way please sign this petition against the coalition privatising our forests. It’s utter madness.

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