State of Nature 2016

Today saw the launch of the annual State of Nature report which revealed that 56 per cent of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten – that’s 1,199 species of the nearly 8,000 studied – are at risk of extinction, making the UK one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Loss of habitat and falling numbers, of course, is a trend seen across the world affecting some of the most brilliant, beautiful and recognisable creatures with whom we are truly blessed to share this planet. One of our favourite Davids – it’s official – Sir David Attenborough has again spoken so eloquently, with the passion and knowledge of a man who has seen many species fall to extinction during his lifetime, urging governments, conservationists and businesses to increase their efforts to halt and perhaps even reverse this staggering decline. He believes we can achieve this and, as it’s Sir David, that gives me much needed hope.

George Monbiot, whose books David and Polly personally recommended back in the early days of this website (on the Important Stuff page), in his Guardian column today, puts it better than I ever could. In a piece entitled ‘We’d never kill an albatross or gorilla: but we let others do it on our behalf’, he writes:

People who would never dream of killing an albatross or a whale shark are prepared to let others do so on their behalf, so that they may eat whatever fish they fancy. People who could not bring themselves to gut a chicken are happy to commission the disposal of entire ecosystems.

Embarrassed? Me too. Which is why I urge you to read the article and the comments that follow it. And if the hard facts break your heart that little bit more, as they do mine, you might feel similarly compelled to take his advice and urge others to consider the way we live our lives and to take a larger share of the blame for the widespread destruction of our wonderful natural world.

We cannot wait for governments or schools or the media to deliver a new environmental ethics. Join the groups trying to defend the living planet; learn about the consequences of what you do; demand – from friends, from parents, from yourself – a better way of engaging with the world. By living lightly we enrich our lives.

Of course, governments should be blamed, not least because they could – and should – start banning all the things we’ve long known to be harmful. They could decide, for example, if they wanted to, that we must all go back to buying milk in glass bottles, not huge plastic containers that encourage waste (to say nothing of the ethics of the dairy industry, vegans, I know what you’re thinking). They could limit imports of non-essential luxury food items now available in supermarkets all year round at great environmental cost, much of which ends up discarded anyway, if only to encourage us to eat more locally grown produce rather than being a noble attempt to make a stand against air miles and carbon emissions. Blame them, too, for allowing unchecked capitalism to run rampant for so long, for creating a world of obscene inequality of wealth whereby many millions cannot afford the luxury of making an ethical choice at mealtimes and can only dream of being momentarily conflicted by First World dilemmas concerning almonds or prawns.

The obsession with economic growth is the reason for so much devastation, encouraging overconsumption, allowing corporations to advertise confected wants over our real needs. We need nature more than we need the rubbish we instinctively load into our oversized shopping trolleys and wheel to our oversized cars.

But we are all responsible, no matter how green our credentials. We pledge to eat less meat, to take the train more often, to waste less food, but it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.

‘Nature loss linked to farming intensity’ was one of the day’s headlines. ‘No shit, Sherlock’, as the young people say. We believe we need ever greater quantities and variety of food to (over)feed our growing population, which demands houses and schools and hospitals and roads, so we keep on building. How can sprawling urbanisation possibly fail to wipe out all sorts of native species over time? We replace their vibrant habitat with our very own concrete jungle and wonder why we don’t hear so many birds singing any more.

So, there you have it. I’m even more miserable than usual today. The chatroom is open, if you’re brave enough to visit and keep the conversation about certain concerts that are just a few more days away…

52 comments

  1. Taki

    I’ve given up expecting that politicians or any organisation to change anything. They all have to comply with capitalism rules in order to survive themselves. So if capitalism is what we have to live in, then capitalism it should be. I’m not buying their shit and don’t give them what they want want most: my money. There are plenty of alternatives if one uses his/her brain. Who really needs tenths of pairs of shoes, tomatoes mid-winter, SUV to commute, or all those shelves full of food that gets thrown away daily either in the supermarkets or at home…

  2. Taki

    And of course I am, we are not saint(s). We will fly for a prolonged weekend to London to attend David’s finale at RAH and go once a year on a long vacation. Yet, we still try to keep the impact as small as possible and keep bees and a natural garden at home… Can we compensate what our existence means to the other creatures and plants? I really don’t know…

  3. William Cheng

    I completely agree with you, the hyper monetization society is experiencing dictates that it is OK to do whatever it takes regardless of the consequences to sell one more unit of goods. People will rip others off with no conscience. The influence of the media has gone unchecked for the most part because of the power of corporate advertising dollars. Is the world going to hell? Probably not, because the corruption has been going on for some time. Luckily the advent of the internet (wikileaks, watchdog groups) has made their dealings more transparent. However stiffer penalties and jail time need to be used to punish these criminals who are ripping society off. Fines are a slap on the wrist. It is the only way to keep these crooks in line, the fear of prison might compensate for their lack of ethics. It makes no sense that a crooked executive can walk into another job while a kid busted for weed has his record destroyed. I have seen it too often.

  4. Emilio

    Great post. Embarrassed? Yes. Use more train, waste less food? Yes. Trust Governments? No. I know (for what media want you to know) about some place in Italy where governors and of course mafia people, for money (what else?) and in the middle of industrial expansion in the seventies and eighties, have buried thousands of bins with radioactive waste under the sea, or in THEIR own lands. The first place that you find if you search ‘Terra dei fuochi’ (Fire’s land) is in Campania, between Naples and Caserta. Near Pompeii, sadly, yes. Nobody cares for any recovery, and imagine the consequence for health after all this time. That place is notorious for being affected by tumors. Here in Calabria (as someone reported last year but as always, media are not transparent) we have ‘something’ under our feet too. I bet most places are the same, not only in Italy.

    My point is, OK. I can do my little part, but what about all this shit? A news reported yesterday, says : ‘The Government will not move backwards about recovery in Campania’. But only the Government (and people who were governors at the time) knows the truth. We don’t know it, but I can imagine and it’s not so beautiful to see.

    I know it can seem pessimistic and I’m sorry for this. But a lot of decisions, I think they’re late now. While we’re here, pigs are playing with uranium and bombs in North Korea, for example…

    Where are we going?

    Thanks FEd for the reflections, and for keeping up the attention for what’s really important.

    Ciao.

  5. ash

    Greenpeace in the UK are asking for people to sign up to one of their campaigns to halt the use of microbeads in products we all use every day. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic which are in cosmetics, face scrubs, toothpaste cleaning products. They get washed into the oceans eventually because they are too small to be filtered out of waste water.

    Both President Obama and the Government of Canada has already banned them from use in their countries.

    ash

    • FEd

      Signed, but can’t help but feel that the only reason they care is because they’re eating the fish that have eaten the plastic.

      • laterr

        That’s a very good point. In the Soviet Union, communist leaders ate food that was only bought at special “shop”. So that their fish was not the same fish that ordinary people could buy at ordinary shop or market.

  6. Damian Cunningham

    I have not seen a hedgehog for at least 2 years and they are usually prolific where I live. I can’t remember the last time I saw a hare. I don’t know what it’s like where you are Fed, but up here it’s nothing but tractors holding up the traffic, dozens of them. There are lots of deer, I should know as one ran out onto the M6 last week and nearly took me out. Quite a lot of buzzards. And there are a lot of otters around, I see more of them than hedgehogs.

    Saying all that Cumbria and Northumberland are not too over populated, but Blackpool and Fylde, where I’m from, have really had a lot of greenbelt built on, and when I’m home I see fields I used to walk across and fish the ponds as a kid, gone. That breaks my heart too. I always watch reruns of Bullseye mainly because it reminds me of the 80s and growing up and camping out and fishing on those fields which are now covered in houses and industrial estates, gone forever with the wildlife that once was prolific out there.

    Kind regards
    Damian

    • FEd

      We were talking about hedgehogs in the chatroom, funnily enough. The only ones I’ve seen lately are dead ones: either squashed on the road or dismembered by council workers who drive those ride-on mowers and don’t care what they leave shredded in their wake. (Cans and golf balls, mostly.)

      • lorraine

        I don’t think the urban trend of replacing hedges with fences and front gardens with mono-block parking areas helps much either. Maybe they need to evolve into fencehogs?

        • FEd

          Poor little things. What hope do they have when more and more of us demand off-road parking for several vehicles?

          • ash

            I meant to write yesterday. . . the hedgehog came into my lounge which has a door to the garden, I feed my cats by this door (in the lounge ? I hear you gasp. Yes, these cats had to be re-trained to not eat in the kitchen or jump on the worktops. They haven’t learned yet that there are other reasons besides them, why we open the ‘fridge door 😀 ) and the hedgehog had crossed a draught excluder and a very prickly doormat to get to the cats’ tray. He helped himself to food on the dish and then got his head in a small tin to hunt for any remaining tasty morsels ! He was lovely to watch.

            I felt honoured that this wild animal was visiting my garden. I know he must have come under a fence then walked about 15 metres to get to my back door, along a paved path. This was the day of the thunderstorms so the rain had probably brought lots of slugs and snails out.

            I have a lot of slugs and snails. I’ve been feeding them extremely expensive food for about 15 years, I seek out new flavours for them every year and they always eat these new plants with relish ! 😀 Can you tell I have no success growing perennials and definitely not hostas ? I won’t use slug pellets to protect my plants in case birds eat the poisoned, dying slugs and snails. I’d rather just grow plants that survive a munching now and then. It was expensive finding out which ones though !!! 😀 Hint for other gardeners. . . .copper strips round your pots work to keep them out.

            Anyway. . .back to the honoured part. My house was built on land that had had garages for nearby houses for about 50 years. My house was built on the land about 17 years ago and the plot was a “desert” as far as wildlife was concerned. When I say wildlife I mean spiders, worms, insects, slugs and snails, birds, anything really . . . I did find a toad during my first couple of years here, close to the same fence I think the hedgehog came through. By this time there were slugs and snails living in the long grass round the edges where I hadn’t cut because I didn’t have a strimmer. I was surprised and pleased a toad had visited.

            So, I couldn’t do much in the garden to start with. The soil was very poor and the damned builders had back filled round the garden walls with all their broken or left over bricks, even a bag of cement. I couldn’t dig the ground and clear all the bricks out. I decided I’d raise the level of the soil round the edges instead. I ended up with raised borders which isn’t what I wanted to start with but I decided I liked the idea because we could sit on the walls to enjoy the border plants or the shade they cast. It was easier to work because I could sit but most importantly, I filled the borders with top soil and homemade compost I’d been making like mad for my first few years here. 🙂

            I knew if I fed the ground with compost, any plants would be healthy and wildlife would soon colonise the garden. Gardeners will tell you, we need all the insects in the garden, even the wasps (they eat greenfly pests).

            So, by trying to make a nice garden on a plot of land which used to be tarmac, or concrete and burnt out cars and spilled oil, I created a “habitat” for small wildlife. I mean living things other than frogs, toads, mammals. Birds have been coming for a while and eat the berries on my shrubs, they’ve even started nesting in the ivy I planted to cover the garden wall, it was really ugly.

            There are foxes in the area, we see and hear them and one has visited my garden, along with everybody else’s cats, to drink from my plant saucers. I’m not surprised there are foxes and I don’t mind them being around, at least they are safe from the hunters. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare now the council has introduced wheelie bins.

            Back to the hedgehog, he came to my garden because there are spaces at the bottom of the fences he can get through, he likes the cover provided by the hedges I planted and the other shrubs I’ve put in. He probably forages through the bark chippings I put down on top of my home made compost (I’m still making compost 🙂 ) because there are loads of insects and creepy crawlies underneath.* He likes my fat, well fed, slugs and snails which are thriving really well, I bet if I tried to farm them though, I’d fail ! I imagine this hedgehog and probably others, travel around several gardens. We all seem to have unkempt or overgrown bits and have inadvertently created a nice home range for hedgehogs.

            * The bark chippings also act as a mulch and suppress weeds so plants you want to get the water and nutrients get them but the weeds (competition) don’t.

            I’ve been researching how to make my garden even more hedgehog friendly. . . I might be able to grow hostas if the hedgehogs eat all the slugs ! I’ve been researching how to create a hedgehog house for hibernating in. You can make your own or buy them. The best time of year to attract a hedgehog to the house is in the spring apparently so they have the season to get used to it and with luck, they’ll choose it to hibernate. I’m going to place one or two anyway and see what happens. I’m thrilled and excited to have a hedgehog visit because their numbers are dropping. . . loss of habitat !!!

            Anyway. . .I’ll give you more news as it happens. We haven’t seen him tonight, or last night.

            I forgot to finish of the story of his first visit. 😀 He shook the tin off his head and saw Pixie and I moving and reacting to his presence so he turned and walked out the door whilst we were still scrambling for cameras. . . he crossed the patio and headed of behind the shed. He reappeared and seemed to be investigating something in a border. I crept over slowly with a plate of cat food. He ate it ! You should have heard the sounds he made, snuffling and teeny-tiny chomping. Pixie and I were giggling with delight at the sight and sounds of him.

            Still researching how to welcome hedgehogs. I don’t know if the cats will be a problem to them. I know my dog never won any “contest” with a hedgehog which just rolled up and waited till the dog went or was pulled away. Hedgehogs apparently need their fleas !!! I can’t believe it ! This can’t be true ! My cats could catch fleas (again!)

            ash

            • ash

              Oh yes. . .the reason I’ve spun out such a long, shaggy dog story, is to point out that we can make a difference in small ways by making a wildlife friendly feature in our gardens. Little things like compost or bark will attract insects and worms and woodlice and many many other creatures that birds love and will search for. Plant a climber if you have an ugly wall and birds will live in it as well as more insects, and bees. Yes bees, there are bees which like to nest in climbing plants ! How long have we worried about bees. Let some nettles grow behind the shed because there is a species of butterfly which breeds in them.

              We can all do little things that make a big difference “locally” and get loads of satisfaction from that. Alongside that we can join in with whatever environmental campaigns we are interested in. We should be talking to (writing to, then they have to answer you 😉 ) our politicians. None of us needs to know everything about every endangered species, just choose something and get involved. If we all do little bits it all adds up. I liked the idea about joining the local Wildlife Trust group.

              ash

              • FEd

                Excellent advice, Ash.

                In the UK, and no doubt elsewhere, your local council will give you a compost bin for next to nothing (£5-6), which will pay for itself in no time at all. It’s madness to throw all those precious peelings and clippings away when you can turn them into a nutrient rich soil conditioner with relative ease.

                • ash

                  I know. 😀 It’s Fed’s fault, and the chat room and yours! and my biology teacher when I was a schoolgirl. . .

                  ash

            • FEd

              Well done, you. I’m impressed – and what an absolute delight that must have been, to watch him feed. Hedgehogs are lovely. We can all make the tiniest space animal-friendly with a little time and effort. Hats off to you.

  7. Suzy Smith

    Well FEd,I guess there is a plus side to being financially challenged as I am. I do not have much purchasing power, therefore unable to contribute to over spending of un-needed items that contribute to global destruction.

    I buy many food items locally. I enjoy the farmers markets and their offerings when they are in season. I grew up that way as we would pick crops then can with a frenzy. How delicious the memory of opening a jar of black cherries from the pantry among many, many other canned items. Food was local.

    My downfall is driving. Mass transit is pretty limited or I would enjoy using it. I do feel guilty because I love to drive. I am conservative in my driving. I do as many errands as I can when I go to town. I schedule appointments and tend to my errands on the same trip.

    Although I may not have a car anymore. The beginning of Labor Day a service truck made a left hand turn on the freeway. He turned a sudden left from the right hand lane across the left hand lane I was in to access a median connecting the north and south bound lanes of the interstate.

    I thought I was going to die. My first thought was that I was grateful no one else was in the car with me. I applied my brakes quickly. I could not go into the right hand lane as vehicles were in it.

    The police officer stated in his report that the other driver was at fault. I am very fortunate that I am alive and only in pain. At least you know you are alive when you hurt.

    Just hoping my car is repairable. As it is how I get to my appointments and go North and South to visit family. As I mentioned, mass transit where I live is limited and very expensive.

    So, I try to live without harming the Earth. I have always recycled too.

    Thoughtful blog FEd.

    We are an Island in Space…

    Take care, Suzy

    • FEd

      I’m glad you’re OK, Suzy. That sounds really scary.

      I share your guilt because I also enjoy driving, particularly after years of struggling with buses and trains. Governments could, if they wanted to, give us the finest public transport services known to man. Just think of the jobs it would create. Yet they prefer to build roads.

      • Suzy Smith

        Hey FEd and Fellow Bloggers~

        Thank you for your concern FEd as it really means a lot to me.

        I totally agree that our governments should do much more in regards to everyone’s and all creatures on the planet safety and the preservation of our land, water, and air to ensure that we are able to live in a clean environment so we can strive to be healthy physically and mentally.

        Such as clean energy, mass transit, safe food that is not altered to name just a few concerns.

        It is terrifying to think of our governments actions of burying toxins such as Emilio has mentioned, and as we all know that is just the tip of the iceberg.

        Meanwhile, other than voting and each of us doing what we can, the big picture becomes overwhelming as to what can/needs to be done.

        As the governments do as they please and it is usually for big business as they tend to have stakes in the industry.

        So I enjoy the gifts of the planet while I am here. The sun/moon rises, solar/lunar eclipses, the vistas, the creatures, loved ones, and the gift of being here. We can just do the best we can so future generation will be able to enjoy the same~hopefully…

        Take care, Suzy

        • Suzy Smith

          I forgot to mention, and I do not know how I forgot to mention it; another gift to enjoy is MUSIC. The sound that brings us together.

  8. Damian Cunningham

    Hinkley Point just got the go ahead. Do we really need this? I find nuclear energy terrifying, there are two within an hour’s drive of my doorstep. I would happily sit here with candles than have that shit on my doorstep. The only downer I wouldn’t be able to come on this awesome sight.

    Kind regards
    Damian

    • FEd

      I share your concerns about nuclear energy. There are cheaper, safer renewable alternatives. But hey, what’s £18bn? We can always take a little more from our poor and disabled to give the economies of France and China a boost.

      So much for all that “take back control” Brexit bullshit.

        • ash

          I wrote to my MP about Hinkley urging her to ask the government to not go ahead with it. Her response was a load of waffle about the need for it for the future . . . I had already pointed out to her that it would only ever produce 7% of our national need. For me 7% is just not worth the danger of leaks, accidents, safe storage of waste, terrorists, other countries having control over our national grid ! 7%, I can’t believe it, we are selling our safe future for that paltry amount of electricity.

          I wonder how many roofs could have solar panels for £18bn. I wonder how many offshore wind power generators, that new thing proposed for Cardiff Bay Fed ? Is it to harness wave energy? If houses became self sufficient in electricity generation, we could power electric cars, the oil would last longer thus giving us more time to build safe alternatives. If we went back to glass and paper, as you suggested Fed, oil would again be saved for later use. And there’d be less pollution. It makes obvious sense.

          Do you know why these things are not happening ? Our elected representatives are not doing what we want.

          Power to the people ! So long as it’s nuclear and owned by foreign powers.

          My hedgehog is back in the house again and under a bookcase. . . I spooked him when I tried to entice him outdoors. . . help. . . I can’t sit up all night with the back door open waiting for him to find his way out !

          ash

          • ash

            I waited up until half past one in the morning. . .the hedgehog wasn’t leaving. Maybe having some food and a light being on made him think it was day time and he had to wait for dark to come out. . .

            I put off the lamp nearest to him, I laid a trail of cat food towards the door and a dish of cat food, which also had a slug that came across it, just outside the door. Sure enough, the smell caught his attention and I could hear him eating and moving toward the next morsel. He made his way to the door and as I closed it he was still eating. 🙂

            How can hedgehogs eat slugs and snails ? Remember we were discussing recipes for them Lorraine ? How to get the slime off ? Yuk ! 😀

            ash

            • FEd

              They’re a nuisance – and so much for blackbirds eating them. I’ve put them on the feeding table and they still won’t touch them.

          • FEd

            I’m uncomfortable about the prospect of tidal energy, I have to admit. Like wind turbines, the effect on wildlife worries me. Not that I like the alternatives of fracking or nuclear, either…

  9. Robert Simeone

    Excellent piece. We all could and should do more. Relevant to the wider story is the artist stuck on a bankrupt container ship drifting in the ocean.

    Anyway who makes up David’s new band and will there be a warm gig?

  10. Hannouresk

    Dear FEd, well written and sadly so true. The main trouble is that people think they are environmental activists when they stop washing their cars every week…but eat meat every day, they chuck good food out, they take their car every day to drive to work even if the working place is only five miles away. Changing your lifestyle is sadly one step too far away to do it for most people so why on earth campaigning for nature? It’s a shame. And we are probably the last ones who do see a David Attenborough documentary without asking ourselves “And these species were really living on our planet?”

  11. Michèle

    Yes, it’s sad to see so many hedgehogs and rabbits squashed on the road. On a more positive note, some little things can be done. I love the idea of ‘crapauducs’ (How does it translate? something like ‘toad tunnels’?), built under roads to help frogs and toads to cross the roads, to prevent them from being run over by cars, especially when it’s breeding time.

    There are many of them around Paris.

  12. Mark

    I really don’t see a bright future for mankind. Science was supposed to open up an age of enlightenment, and instead Politics never stepped aside to allow it to take power. You can take any important public policy, for example energy, population control, drug legalization, immigration, etc. and you can see science takes a backseat to politics. For example,

    a) Energy Policy – Nuclear power has been proven to be dangerous, but I’m positive it can be made safe if given enough research,development, and new ideas. We are going to need all forms of power (wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear) if we are going to stop fossil fuel use.

    b) Population Control – When was the last time anyone even had the guts to have an honest discussion of this? Do you really think 12 billion of us buggers running around 50 or 100 years from now is a good idea? At what cost to the planet will this footprint be?

    c) Drug Legalization – Can science guide us to a path where we are looking to have a public policy where managing and reducing overall harm guides legislation? Don’t make me laugh.

    d) Immigration – I won’t even touch this subject, except to say it has politics written all over it.

    I think my time has passed. I enjoy the moments I have left in each day, listening to the birds at sunrise, where I’ve come to know each one as an individual, the bent blades of grass that glisten in the morning’s sunlight dew, that tell me a mother deer and her 2 fawns have passed through the yard during the night, I see and greet the breeding pair of coyotes that hunt the ridgeline of our property, searching for rodents during the night, and the baby hawks that came to visit each morning this summer as they fledged the nest and explored ever widening territories each day as they grew older, returning to their home territory each sunset from the day’s adventures. I’ve seen and appreciated the fine works and arts of man, but I find more beauty and wonder in the flowering weeds growing by the side of the road.

    I don’t suspect that we will ever have a politician in these modern times that is not guided by greed and personal ambition, who will find science as a friend rather than something to manipulate for their own gains. Time for me to join the little shadows that move across the grass as the green leaves dance in the wind.

    • Damian Cunningham

      Hi Mark. Did you write that about the coyotes, the birds and the grass? I thought it was something you would hear at the end of the Waltons, loved it.

      Damian

  13. ash

    I get very excited at nature, it all amazes me so much especially when you consider that it took millions and millions of years to form everything.

    How long in evolutionary time did it take this fish to

    1) attain its physical form (given life started as single cells)?
    2) develop this behaviour?

    Just look at some of these images. I can’t believe it was a FISH that made these !!!! How does each individual fish learn how to do that? Nothing teaches them, they just know.

    And this is just a fish.

    ash

    • FEd

      Good news, but I’m not too optimistic. India will likely have a larger population than China by 2030.