Category Archives: Biodiversity Index

The National Pollinator Strategy – some reflections

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After many months of consultation and workshops, the National Pollinator Strategy for England has finally been released by Defra, and can be downloaded from this website.  It reflects an important, wider change in societal attitudes to nature, and specifically the ecosystem services it provides, though the strategy itself is by no means perfect.  I rather wish that it had been a UK-wide strategy, as biodiversity does not respect political boundaries, but such is a the nature of our partly-devolved political system. Wales already has an Action Plan for Pollinators and I hope that the rest of the UK follows, though a strategy for Northern Ireland would surely have to include the Republic of Ireland?

In the following sections I’ve quoted liberally from the summary section of the National Pollinator Strategy, and added a few comments and reflections of my own in italics.  As always, your views and comments would be very welcome.

The 10 year National Pollinator Strategy aims to deliver across five key areas:

1. Supporting pollinators on farmland

  • Working with farmers to support pollinators through the Common Agricultural Policy and with voluntary initiatives to provide food, shelter and nesting sites.
  • Minimising the risks for pollinators associated with the use of pesticides through best practice, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Comment: at the moment many farmers are already pro-actively encouraging pollinators and other wildlife, but most are not.  Will “voluntary initiatives“, including encouraging Integrated Pest Management, be sufficient?  About 70% of the country is farmed and any wildlife conservation strategy has got to include agricultural stakeholders.  But the influence of large agro-chemical businesses should not be under-estimated.  I’ve seen figures suggesting that fields of oil seed rape in this country receive applications of up to 20 different chemicals (biocides and fertilisers) each year.  That represents a significant profit for these companies, who will not want to change the status quo.  Data showing a slow down in the rate of decline of  plants and pollinators in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium may be evidence that CAP agri-environmental schemes have had a positive impact, but I’d like to see more data addressing that question (and not just for pollinators – farmland birds are doing worse than any other category of birds in the UK).

2. Supporting pollinators across towns, cities and the countryside

  • Working with large-scale landowners, and their advisers, contractors and facility managers, to promote simple changes to land management to provide food, shelter and nest sites.
  • Ensuring good practice to help pollinators through initiatives with a wide range of organisations and professional networks including managers of public and amenity spaces, utility and transport companies, brownfield site managers, local authorities, developers and planners
  • Encouraging the public to take action in their gardens, allotments, window boxes and balconies to make them pollinator-friendly or through other opportunities such as community gardening and volunteering on nature reserves.

Comment:  “simple changes to land management” can do a lot for supporting local biodiversity, even in the most unlikely, urban settings, which is the underlying philosophy behind our award-winning Biodiversity Index tool.  Quite a number of local authorities are getting the message that it’s A Good Thing to reduce the frequency of cutting amenity grasslands, both for pollinators and for budgets.  But local authorities are also taking foolish decisions with regard to developing sites that should be protected, and brownfield areas are being specifically targeted for building urban housing, despite the fact that we have long known that they are some of our best sites for pollinators.  How do we reconcile these different priorities?  Brownfield sites by their nature are transitory, early successional habitats, so perhaps local authorities should be encouraged (made?) to have a rolling stock of a minimum proportion of undeveloped brownfield sites as part of their portfolio of land holdings?  Or how about a requirement that all developed areas of brownfield land are replaced by an equivalent area of brown roofs?

3. Enhancing the response to pest and disease risks

  • Working to address pest and disease risks to honey bees whilst further improving beekeepers’ husbandry and management practices to strengthen the resilience of bee colonies.
  • Keeping under active review any evidence of pest and disease risks associated with commercially produced pollinators used for high-value crop production.

Comment:  interestingly there’s no mention of disease risks to non-managed pollinators, yet we know that honey bee diseases can be passed to bumblebees, for instance.

 Actions to support these priority areas:

4. Raising awareness of what pollinators need to survive and thrive

  • Developing and disseminating further advice to a wide range of land owners, managers and gardeners as part of Bees’ Needs.
  • Improving the sharing of knowledge and evidence between scientists, conservation practitioners and non-government organisations (NGOs) to ensure that actions taken to support pollinators are based on up-to-date evidence.

Comment: yes, dissemination of sound, evidence-based knowledge has got to be a priority.

5. Improving evidence on the status of pollinators and the service they provide

  • Developing a sustainable long-term monitoring programme so we better understand their status, the causes of any declines and where our actions will have most effect.
  • Improving our understanding of the value and benefits pollinators provide, and how resilient natural and agricultural systems are to changes in their populations.

Comment: monitoring of pollinators is a real sticking point in the strategy, as there’s still no consensus on what should be monitored, how, where, and how frequently.  This was the subject of a workshop at the Natural History Museum in London that I attended about a year ago, and there’s still much that is undecided.  I know that a partnership led by CEH Wallingford is working on this at the moment, and hopefully a scheme will be in place by next year.  Let’s see what they come up with.

In taking action across these five areas, the National Pollinator Strategy wants to achieve the following outcomes:

  • More, bigger, better, joined-up, diverse and high-quality flower-rich habitats (including nesting places and shelter) supporting our pollinators across the country.
  • Healthy bees and other pollinators which are more resilient to climate change and severe weather events.
  • No further extinctions of known threatened pollinator species.
  • Enhanced awareness across a wide range of businesses, other organisations and the public of the essential needs of pollinators.
  • Evidence of actions taken to support pollinators.

Comment:  “More, bigger, better, joined up…” has been the buzz phrase in British conservation since at least the Lawton Report.  One of the outcomes of that report was the setting up of twelve flagship Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), one of which is the Nene Valley NIA, a project on which my research group has been working.  The Strategy mentions the NIAs several times and states that “extending the monitoring and evaluation framework for Nature Improvement Areas to include pollinators” is one of its interim aims.  But as I recently mentioned, funding for the NIAs finishes at the end of March 2015 and Defra has indicated that there will be no additional government money.  How will this aim be met?  I’d be very interested to know as the Nene Valley NIA is one of the few which specifically focused on pollinators as part of our remit.  It would be a terrible shame to lose the expertise and momentum that we’ve built up when funding stops next year.  As regards “No further extinctions of known threatened pollinator species“, the talk I gave at SCAPE 2014 was on that very topic and a paper outlining our results is currently in press.  I hope to be able to share those findings with the broad readership of this blog very shortly.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Biodiversity Index, Butterflies, Ecosystem services, Gardens, Hedgerows, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Nene Valley NIA, Pollination, University of Northampton, Urban biodiversity

A Westminster pollinator seminar and The Great British Big Bee Count

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In the run up to Defra’s publication of a National Pollinator Strategy, due for release some time before Christmas, the Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology yesterday ran a two hour seminar at Westminster.  It was a full meeting in one of the small rooms, and apparently over-subscribed which doesn’t surprise me: there’s huge interest in pollinator conservation in the UK at the moment.  So it would have been better moved to a larger room to allow more scientists, practitioners, MPs, civil servants and other interested parties to attend.  In any case it was a useful couple of hours, with some interesting updates on what’s happening in relation to British pollinators.

The event was chaired by Sarah Newton MP and was kicked off by Adam Vanbergen from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who got everyone up to speed by giving an overview of the science of pollination, pollinator diversity, and the issues affecting pollinator populations.  In the process he cited our “How many flowering plants are animal pollinated?” paper which has fast become the default citation to use as evidence to support the ecological importance of biotic pollen transfer.  That’s hugely gratifying and is what it was designed to do.  We now have additional data with wider geographical coverage and I hope to update that analysis in the near future.  A lot of the information Adam was using can be found on the Insect Pollinators Initiative website.

Adam’s talk was followed by a presentation by Simon Potts from the University of Reading who discussed how we value pollination as an ecosystem service and how we can safeguard pollinator abundance and diversity.  There were some stark statistics on the economic contribution of pollinators to crops such as apples, including data from a study by Garratt et al. (2014) which suggests that both quality and quantity of apples could be improved by having more pollinators in British orchards.  Perhaps another way of viewing those data is that the UK apple industry is already experiencing the kind of pollinator deficit that conservationists have predicted?

Jane Memmott from Bristol University was next, presenting the preliminary results of the Urban Pollinators Initiative which is the first comprehensive study of the distribution of pollinators in large British cities.  The data look really exciting and it will be great to see the results finally published as it will make for an interesting comparison with Muzafar’s data on solitary bees in Northampton, the first manuscript from which has recently been submitted to a journal.

Finally Chris Connolly from Dundee University talked about pesticides in a presentation entitled “Why pick on the neonicotinoids?” and provided some disturbing statistics on how little we really know about what happens when the c. 350 types of pesticides (plus about 700 herbicides and fungicides) that we use in modern British agriculture combine in the environment to produce synergistic effects.  It’s also worrying that there is little understanding of the amounts of pesticides being applied because systematic data are not collated.  Chris is a neuroscientist working mainly in a medical context and gave the analogy of how combinations of therapeutic drugs can have unforeseen (even deadly) side effects.  Chris also used an image of Nigel Farage to illustrate a point which was a brave thing to do in the Houses of Parliament in the current political climate, but which got him a big laugh.

There followed 30 minutes of questions and discussion, and I managed to get in a plug for the Biodiversity Index when making a point of how difficult it is to get business to engage with biodiversity.  That led to an interesting conversation afterwards with a consultant that I need to follow up later today.

Out into the unseasonably warm London air by about 6.30pm, there were people standing outside pubs and sitting at cafe tables, as if we were in southern Europe rather than England in late October.  It reinforced some of the things I discussed in a post earlier this summer about climate change and current weather patterns.

Coincidentally (or not) Friends of the Earth released the results of their Great British Bee Count, a Citizen Science project designed to augment the monitoring work being done by specialist groups such as the Bees, Ants and Wasps Recording Society (BWARS).  I have mixed feelings about the Great British Bee Count.  On the one hand it’s great to engage the public in campaigns that raise the awareness of the importance of pollinators, and to get them out looking at bees.  But the reality is that the 832,110 records submitted to the count have very limited scientific value, despite what Friends of the Earth might claim.  That’s because it is very, very difficult to identify bees to even broad groups unless you’ve had some training, and (apart from some distinctive species) impossible to identify to species level unless you are a specialist.  I’ve been studying pollinators for 25 years and there are whole groups within our c. 250 native species that I have great problems identifying, and defer to the opinion of real specialists such as Stuart Roberts, chair of BWARS.

Stuart has made public his concerns at the quality of the data being submitted to the Great British Bee Count, and the fact that records cannot be checked because no photograph was taken and (worse) there are no specimens to compare.  The issues are neatly embodied in the fact that four species which were  recorded from Northern Ireland (Tawny mining bee, Hairy-footed flower bee, Red mason bee, and Tree bumblebee) have never previously been seen in Ireland and can all be confused with other similar species.  Of particular concern is the fact that Friends of the Earth expects the National Biodiversity Network Gateway to archive the data.  If that happens the Great British Bee Count data MUST be kept separate from the high quality, verified data on bee distributions that NBN already possesses, otherwise it will completely devalue the latter.  By all means let’s get the public engaged with pollinators and biodiversity more broadly, which is one of the purposes of this blog after all!  But let’s also be realistic about what can be achieved by these kinds of campaigns.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Biodiversity Index, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Pollination, Urban biodiversity

Thank the insects for Christmas (REBLOG)

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It’s become a tradition (ok, only for the past two years, but a tradition has to start somewhere!) for me to post a version of this festive blog entry.  I’ve updated the stats for 2013.  Hope you enjoy it.

Christmas!  A time to relax and enjoy ourselves, to share time with family and friends, and to unwind during the cold and gloom of winter.  Whatever your faith, or lack of it, Christmas should be about taking a break and reflecting on the year that has passed.  We’re helped in that respect by the ceremonial seasonal trimmings: the Christmas tree, strings of flashing lights, baubles and tinsel.  So while you’re kissing a loved one under the mistletoe, admiring that glossy holly wreath, or tucking into your Christmas dinner, spare a thought for the insects.

What in Saint Nicholas’s name”  you are asking ”have insects got to do with Christmas?!”  Well, like the turkey, we’d be stuffed without them:  they play an essential part in providing us with the things we associate with Christmas.  If we had no flies, wasps, bees and other bugs acting as pollinators there’d be no berries on your mistletoe or your holly.  Kissing and admiring would be a less festive affair and that’s just for starters.  These insects also pollinate many of the vegetables, herbs and spices on your plate, as well as some of the forage that went to fatten your roast bird or tender joint of meat.   Not to forget much of what went into the nut roast that’s feeding the vegetarian relatives.

The economic value of insect pollination in the UK was estimated by the recent National Ecosystem Assessment to be about £430 million per year.  In fact this is a huge under valuation because the labour costs alone of paying people to hand pollinate those crops would run into billions of pounds.  This sounds far fetched but it’s already happening to fruit crops in parts of China.  The answer is to encourage wild insects, not artificially  managed honey bees, because collectively the former are far more abundant, and often more effective, as pollinators.  Their diversity is an insurance against losing any one species in the future. The NEA’s valuation is also too low because it only deals with commercial edible crops, and does not include those we grow in our gardens and allotments.  It also does not take account of ornamental crops such as mistletoe and holly, both of which are dioecious species, which is to say that individuals are either male or female, rather than hermaphrodite as are most plants.  This means that the plants cannot self pollinate and insects are absolutely vital to their reproduction and to the production of the decorative berries we so value (a holly wreath without berries is just a big spiky doughnut, in my opinion).

Whilst researching the economic value of the annual mistletoe and holly crops for this blog posting last year I had a conversation with Jonathan Briggs over at Mistletoe Matters and he told me that “the mistletoe trade in Britain is entirely unregulated and not documented in any tangible way”, and the same is true of holly.  We therefore have no idea what the economic value of these non-food crops actually is.  But some back-of-the-red-and-gold-Christmas-lunch-napkin calculations can at least give us an insight.  Auction reports for 2013  show that on average the best quality berried holly was selling for £2.50 per kg whilst equivalent quality holly without berries sold for only 80p per kg.  In other words, pollination by insects increases the value of that crop by more than 300%!   Similarly the high quality mistletoe averaged £1.20 per kg, whilst the second grade stuff was only 40p per kg.  And the best holly wreaths (presumably with berries!) were averaging £7.00 each.

These are wholesale prices, of course; retail cost to the customer is much greater.  A decent holly wreath will set you back between £15 and £30 whilst online shopping for mistletoe is in the £5 to £20 range, depending on how much you want.  The national census of 2011 shows us that there are 23.4 million households in England and Wales, plus there are 2.36 million in Scotland and 0.70 million in Northern Ireland.  Let’s round it down and say there’s 26 million households in the whole of the UK.  Let’s also be very conservative and estimate that only 5% of those households bought one holly wreath and some mistletoe at a total cost of £20.  Multiply that by the small proportion of households buying these festive crops and you arrive at a figure of about £26.5 million!  And that doesn’t include non-household use in shops, offices and businesses.  So there you have it: an industry worth a few tens of millions (at least) all being ultimately supported by insects.

With pollination, timing is everything, and Jonathan also made the point that spring flowering mistletoe and holly can be important early nectar sources for insects.  Therefore despite the poor  summer weather in 2012, that year was a good one for mistletoe berries because the pollination happened before the heavy rains began.  Despite being quite common plants, rather little research has been done on either holly or mistletoe pollination in the UK and it would make for an interesting student project.  The Landscape and Biodiversity Research Group here at the University has for many years been working to understand the ecology of plants and pollinators, and how to best conserve them.  In this blog I’ve referred a few times to some ongoing projects researching how the wider landscape is supporting pollinators in habitats such as country house gardens  (Hilary Erenler’s PhD work which she completed this year) and urban centres (ongoing PhD work by Muzafar Hussain).  There’s also the work completed a few years ago by Sam Tarrant and Lutfor Rahman on pollinator (and other) biodiversity on restored landfill sites.   Plus research that’s recently started by Kat Harrold on how whole landscapes support pollinators in the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area. This is all part of a broader programme of research into the conservation of biodiversity in our region and beyond, including our Biodiversity Index, a contribution to the Shared Enterprise Empowering Delivery (SEED) sustainability project.

Biodiversity matters and its importance to our society is being increasingly recognised by government, business and the public. So if you make one New Year’s resolution on the 31st December, let it be that you will put away your garden bug sprays for 2014 and learn to love the insects (even wasps!) who give us so much and help to support our economy in a very real way.  It costs us nothing; all we need to give them is well managed, diverse, unpolluted habitats in which to live. Have a great Christmas everyone!

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Biodiversity and culture, Biodiversity Index, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Pollination, SEED project, University of Northampton

The strange and the familiar….. (back from) Brazil Diary 8

Monty and the collared dove - Sept 2013

The first bird I identified when I arrived in Brazil on 1st November was a feral pigeon (Columba livia) foraging around the airport; the first bee I spotted, visiting flowers around FUNCAMP, was a honey bee (Apis mellifera).  This tells you a lot about the widespread, near ubiquitous distribution of such species, which have been moved across much of the planet, accidentally and on purpose, by human activities.  For someone who is deeply interested in biodiversity, seeing these species is both humdrum and interesting.  Humdrum because they are so familiar, we see them everywhere we go, they are not exciting and exotic.  Interesting because they tell us a lot about the effects that humans have on their environment, how we are altering it by the introduction of non-native species.

Away from the large cities I saw introduced species such as these less and less frequently, such is their association with humans.  But of course there were also plenty of native Brazilian species that have become associated with human activities.  Some of these had a familiarity about them which transcended the fact that they were species I’d never see in Britain.  Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are the best example.  I would frequently observe them perched on lamp posts in towns, scanning for food or squabbling amongst themselves, and also spotted a huge number feeding on the refuse being piled into a landfill site.  Back home I associate this sort of behaviour with various species of gulls.  Strange and familiar.

Back in Northampton I’ve been reflecting on my month-long visit to Brazil, catching up with colleagues, telling stories that get more impressive with each iteration.  It’s been a packed couple of weeks and Brazil seems a long way away, not just geographically.

The Biodiversity Index did not win the Green Gown Award that it was short listed for, as I previously reported, but it did receive a Highly Commended citation.  Green Gown have asked us to produce a video, so a few days after I returned home, and still with a bit of my brain in Brazil, I took part in a short recording session about the Biodiversity Index, which will be released shortly.  The video is produced by Jo Burns and her company Amplitude Media.  Jo is a graduate of the University of Northampton and this is a nice example of how the University is supporting former students as they develop their careers.

At the end of last week we also got the news that the Biodiversity Index has been shortlisted for a Guardian newspaper University Award in the sustainability category.  More recognition for the work we’ve done on that project, and we are very pleased!  The result will be known early next year.

As of this week our paper on “How many plants are pollinated by animal?“, published in the journal Oikos in 2011, has notched up its 100th citation according to Web of Knowledge.  The less conservative Google Scholar puts it at 164, so the true answer will be somewhere in between.   Clearly peers think it’s a useful bit of work.  And to think it was almost rejected by Oikos, saved only by an appeal.  The idea for the paper arose when I was trying to find a solid figure in the literature for the proportion of plants that are biotically pollinated.  Lots of figures were being bandied about, but once you follow the reference chain back through the papers that cite them you find that numbers which are cited as solid facts disappear into speculation and guestimates.  Like many of the simple and obvious questions, the assumption is that we “know” the answer.  That’s no basis for science-informed policy, but I suspect that it happens all too frequently.

 

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Biodiversity Index, Birds, Honey bees, University of Northampton, Urban biodiversity

Game of three halves – Brazil Diary 3

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Karl Marx famously said that religion is the opium of the masses.  Nowadays I think that role has been usurped by soccer; or at least it has here in the city of Belo Horizonte.  For two nights (Sunday and Wednesday) the streets around my hotel have been full of fans of the local team, Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, which seems to have won at least one Brazilian championship title or other, possibly two (my grasp of football being almost as tenuous as my understanding of Portuguese).  The symbol of the team is the Southern Cross, a great song by Crosby, Stills & Nash, providing a likewise tenuous link back to a recent post of mine.

Both nights I suffered from lack of sleep, but last night was particularly bad. I had hoped that by 2pm the fans would have run out of fireworks, voice and energy; but no, they were still going strong at 3.30pm as I drifted into restless sleep. Today the city has been punctuated by the sound of contagious car horns; as soon as one person starts parping away, it’s followed by the rest of the poor bastards stuck in another of this city’s many traffic jams.  They remind me of the cicadas I’ve been hearing during the more suburban legs of my journey – once one starts, the others follow; a species at FUNCAMP sounds like it’s having the best insect orgasm ever as it delivers a high-pitched “yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes”!

The contrast between the urban, suburban and rural aspects of this trip so far has resulted in different joys and excitements, and has provided the title of this post, an almost fitting soccer idiom.  The Botanical Congress here in Belo Horizonte has been a very urban experience, being based in the centre of the city, over the road to the central covered market, a dense and diverse shopping experience.  On Tuesday I delivered my conference lecture which seemed to go down well with the audience, though it was hard to follow two talks on hummingbird pollinated flowers (by Leandro Freitas and Paulo Eugênio Oliveira) with a lecture on Ceropegia, the flowers of which are bizarre and pollinated by flies that are less than 2mm in length on average.  But I did my best, though it was noticeable that the audience dropped from about 250 to 150 during my talk, however that may have been due to the fact that I delivered it in English.  Maybe…..

The conference has been an opportunity to catch up with Sandy Knapp, a Solanum taxonomist from the Natural History Museum in London.  Sandy delivered two thought-provoking talks in one day, an impressive feat, and has been blogging about her field work in Brazil.  This has whetted my desire to get out of the city and start seeing more of this country’s biodiversity.  So yesterday I travelled with Andre and some of the other Unicamp postgrads to the pretty and historic town of Ouro Preto, then on to a protected State Park at Itacolomi.

At the visitors centre we looked at a small exhibition on the early natural history explorers of the region who followed the Estrada Real (“Royal Road”) into the hinterland of this part of Brazil.  Then we walked a little in the cerrado vegetation, admiring the diversity of plants in flower and talking about their pollination systems.  In an hour we had also spotted 20 bird species, including lekking males of the lovely little White-bearded manakin, which make a very distinct snapping sound with their wings.  The cerrado is a fabulously rich biome and I enjoyed discussing its formation and definition with the postgrads, and look forward to exploring it further in the next few days, as we head out of the city and on to some field work.

Today I headed up to UFMG at the invitation of Marco Mello to give a talk to students and colleagues in his department about our research on pollinator conservation in the UK.  An interesting contrast of perspectives was apparent in the discussion that followed.   The afternoon ended with a walk around the campus nature reserve; few birds, perhaps because of the noise of the nearby traffic and military shooting range in the area where we strolled, but some interesting plants including at least four Piperaceae, a favourite family of mine.

Back home the news is that our Biodiversity Index has picked up a “Highly Commended” citation in the annual Green Gown Awards, another accolade to add to the one we won earlier this year.  I’m glad my colleagues were there to pick it up and look forward to hearing more about it when I return.  It’s now 11pm and the city is quieter than it was last night; time for bed and hopefully sleep, as long as there are no more football prizes to be won.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Biodiversity Index, Birds, History of science, University of Northampton

Conservation: from CSN to CSR

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The history of what might be loosely called “the conservation movement” is a complex one with roots that are both deep and ramified.  In the west, direct antecedents can be found in the work of 19th century pro-environmental writers such as Henry David Thoreau  and George Perkins Marsh, but there are arguably also more subtle influences from other sources, for example the “Northamptonshire Peasant Poet” John Clare  whose natural history inspired verse captured a rural way of life and a landscape that was rapidly disappearing:

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books

The later foundation of organisations such as the RSPB, the Audubon Society, and the precursors of the Wildlife Trusts gave impetus to environmental campaigns focused on specific issues such as species extinctions and destruction of important wildlife sites.  But it was in the 1960s that nature conservation, and environmentalism more generally, began to become of wider concern.  Again the influences were broad but certainly included both popular science writing such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and  the attitudes and campaigning of the counter-culture.   Yet a generation later, as a student studying the subject in the 1980s, it was clear to me that the mainstream had not fully engaged with what was still considered hippy, tree-hugging notions of saving the planet/whale/rainforest/ [delete as appropriate].

Having always been a fan of vintage West Coast rock,  these hippy ideals were on my mind at the start of last week when I travelled to the BBC’s Maida Vale studios to attend a recording of Radio 4’s Mastertapes featuring David Crosby and his band.  As well as playing music from his first solo album, the haunting and majestic If Only I Could Remember My Name, Crosby talked about his life and political activism.  The following evening Karin and I were back in London, this time at the Royal Albert Hall to see Crosby with his compadres Steven Stills and Graham Nash, performing as the incomparable CSN.  A number of songs from their back catalogue feature environmentalism in one form or another and, despite their vintage, they are as in touch with the political scene as ever.

Now, in the first decades of the 21st century, the green agenda has gone mainstream and it seems that every large business discusses the environment in their Corporate Social Responsibility statements.  So with only a few hours sleep I jumped from CSN to CSR, a theme that recurred during  the first Northamptonshire Local Nature Partnership conference held at the University the next day.  One hundred and twenty delegates heard talks that presented environmentalism and nature conservation from the perspectives of citizen health and well being, Christianity, on-the-ground conservation activities, and the needs of business and enterprise.  In the afternoon there were smaller showcase sessions and I presented an overview of pollination as an ecosystem service.  

Every organisation (public and private sector) wants to be “green” these days, which is a good thing of course if it’s genuine and well conceived.  But as David Rolton pointed out in his talk, businesses were few and far between at this event.  During the question-and-answer session I followed up David’s comment with a description of our experiences with the Biodiversity Index.  Despite winning a Green Apple Award, and having lots of verbal encouragement from the private sector, as soon as we explain to businesses that they have to pay to use the Index, all interest dissipates.  These are the same businesses who are willing to invest in green initiatives such as recycling and energy efficiency, presumably because it saves them money as well: it seems that CSR for most businesses does not extend beyond paying lip service to biodiversity, despite an economic input of over £30 billion that the UK receives  from the natural environment every year.  

It took time for businesses and other organisations to acknowledge their responsibilities to the environment, and to develop policies relating to recycling, non-pollution and resource efficiency.  It seems that businesses are only just beginning to acknowledge their societal (rather than corporate) responsibilities with regard to conservation, and it’s an ongoing process that exercises government.  But conservation of biodiversity has got to become a priority; once a species is lost it’s lost forever, and we erode not only a natural heritage that has evolved over billions of years, but also the direct and tangible benefits biodiversity gives us.  In the words of CSN: “It’s been a long time coming; it’s going to be a long time gone.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Biodiversity Index, Ecosystem services, Evolution, History of science, Pollination, SEED project, University of Northampton

A (Green) Apple for teacher (reduce, reuse, recycle part 5)

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At a small ceremony attended by businesses and local authorities on Friday, the team who developed the Biodiversity Index received a Green Apple Gold Award from The Green Organisation.  I proudly accepted the award on behalf of everyone and made a short speech which, in the spirit of my “reduce, reuse, recycle” policy, I’m posting here.  Thanks to Bobbie Lane for the photo, Richard Moore for help with the speech, and Gareth Thomas for the notion of biodiversity as the “fourth resource”.  

 

Ladies and gentlemen.

In June 2011 the UK National Ecosystem Assessment reported to Government that the value of the natural environment to the British economy was at least £30 billion per year in terms of the ecosystem services it provides, such as carbon storage, soil fertility, tourism and pollination.

In contrast, earlier this year the State of Nature Report by 25 of the UK’s leading wildlife organisations, suggested that 60% of animal and plant species for which we have data have declined in the past 50 years.  To add to this, some recent work by my research group at the University of Northampton has shown that 23 species of pollinating bees and wasps have gone extinct in Britain since the late 19th century.

Clearly there’s a contradiction here: at a time when we value biodiversity more than ever, it is declining at an ever-faster rate.  So what can we do about this situation?  How can individuals and organisations help to reverse this trend?  This is one of the aims of the Biodiversity Index.

Energy, water and waste are typically the main resources actively managed by businesses and organisations, but there is growing interest in understanding and managing biodiversity as a fourth resource that is critical for society as a whole.  In contrast to some of the other speakers you have heard today, the Biodiversity Index is not going to make you money.  In fact, if you are in the commercial sector, it will cost you a small amount of cash to join.  But the broader benefits of staff engagement with wildlife conservation, and the positive effect this will have on our country as a whole, are priceless.    

The Biodiversity Index is an interactive web-based tool, developed by the University of Northampton and believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.  It enables organisations with little or no knowledge of biodiversity to undertake a rapid but scientific assessment of the level of plant diversity on their site and suggests ways to improve each habitat.

The Index widens access to the knowledge and tools required to make a start in improving the management of biodiversity on urban sites, with the potential to assist schools and colleges, universities, hospitals, local authorities, SMEs and larger businesses to improve the environment in which we work and live.

The tool was developed as part of the SEED Project and was launched at the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges annual conference in April 2013.  To date the Biodiversity Index has been used by over 30 UK universities and endorsed by several companies including Ricoh UK Ltd, a Global 100 sustainability company.

On behalf of the team that developed the Biodiversity Index I am delighted to accept this Green Apple Gold Award as an acknowledgment of the innovative work undertaken in this collaboration between the School of Science and Technology and the Department of Infrastructure Services at the University of Northampton.

Thank you.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity Index, Ecosystem services, Pollination, SEED project, University of Northampton, Urban biodiversity