Why is biodiversity declining?
‘Extinction: the facts’ explores the Ecological Emergency, and how the decline in nature has impacts for us all.
The Climate Emergency gets a lot of coverage. Our greenhouse gas emissions are warming up the planet at unprecedented rates, leading to more extreme weather events, increased sea levels, drought, food insecurity and conflict.
The Ecological Emergency describes the decline in nature we have seen over the last 50 years. Biodiversity is not as healthy as it might seem. Although fundamental to our life, health and prosperity, it is being destroyed at an unprecedented rate.
Globally, extinction rates are way in excess of the average of the last 10 million years and still accelerating – with a million species now at threat. There has been a 60% decline in wildlife populations since 1970.
The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. We have an average of 50% of our nature left, far below the global average of 75%. The UK is in the bottom 10% globally for biodiversity.
Within Cornwall, we take pride in our breath-taking landscape. Millions of people flock to Cornwall every year to visit out stunning coastline. But Cornwall isn’t as nature rich as we think.
Cornwall’s wildlife trends mirror that of the UK’s, with habitat loss and fragmentation leading to a decline in the number of species and the distribution of species.
Over the last 30 years, nearly half of terrestrial mammals and three-fifths of butterflies are found in fewer places. Almost half of breeding birds have declined.
To read about the decline in Cornwall’s nature, read the State of Nature Report 2020.
The decline in nature is linked to climate change, as global warming threatens habitat resilience.
But the Ecological Emergency extends well beyond the climate emergency. If we combatted climate change alone, we’d still face ecosystem collapse. We’ve now broken 4 of 9 ‘planetary boundaries’ all of which are bound up with how we manage our land and seas.
Globally, the main causes of biodiversity loss are deforestation, land-use change, agricultural intensification, over-consumption of natural resources, pollution and climate change.
Cornwall’s ‘State of Nature’ report outlines the key drivers of biodiversity loss in the county:
- Harmful farming practices: 75% of land in Cornwall is farmed, and agricultural practices make a big difference to biodiversity. But there are many superb examples of nature-friendly farming locally. We all need to support local farm businesses to both grow food and support biodiversity. Together we can support them to go further by encouraging more regenerative production, agroforestry, the creation or restoration of traditional features like hedges, orchards and ponds, and better soil, nutrient & grazing management.
- Climate change means the average temperature in the county has increased by nearly 1°C in last 35 years, affecting the migration, reproduction and mortality of different species. All action to cut our emissions and limit global heating will help limit the pressures on our habitats and species, whilst tree planting and peatland restoration can also help us draw down carbon.
- Pollution takes many forms, from noise to light to chemicals. This can harm habitats and species. Tackling pollution at its source, as well as protective action like planting trees next to our rivers can help to limit these pressures.
- Building development has led to land use change and the destruction of habitats. Ensuring more green infrastructure and biodiversity net gain in our developments can help us ensure that we can provide a habitat for humans and wildlife alike.
- Harmful fishing practices and overfishing damage the seabed, unbalance marine food webs and accidentally kill wildlife that is not targeted for fishing. There is some superb action being led by the Cornish fishing industry to limit these pressures, and we can all support them through the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide.
We can only move out of this decline in nature through restoration and enhancement. We can’t rely on conservation efforts alone.
Nature needs to be bigger, better and more joined up. We can all support Nature’s Recovery in Cornwall by:
- Protecting and restoring existing areas for nature.
- Creating more habitats – ‘making more space for nature’.
- Joining up nature-rich sites.
- Restoring dynamic natural processes.
- Reducing pressures on nature and making habitats more resilient.
- Integrating and living with nature
- Supporting nature based solutions for social, economic or environmental challenges.
Check out our toolkit for local councils and communities to see what you can do.