Biodiversity creates a balance in the environment necessary for its existence. Low biodiversity in any region disturbs this balance which has serious consequences for the environment. Here we discuss the biodiversity of the UK. What is its importance? Why does the UK have low biodiversity? What is being done about this problem? What does the future of the UK biodiversity look like?
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What is Biodiversity?
The term biodiversity has originated from biological diversity, which refers to the variety of life on earth. It encompasses all levels of life, from genes to ecosystems and the evolutionary, ecological and cultural processes that sustain life.
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is of great importance since it creates a balance in the environment that is necessary and beneficial for all organisms living in that environment.
All species have their role and contribution to the natural world, and these are connected in the web of life. When a particular area faces any species extinction, it can cause a butterfly effect that disturbs all other living organisms and disrupts the balance in that environment.
In a biodiverse environment, every specie has its value, importance and role regardless of size. For example, microorganisms are as important as plants and animals that we see in our environment because the microorganisms help make the soil fertile and decompose organic waste. This is imperative for the survival of plants and animals in that environment. Similarly, insects, birds, and aquatic life have their place in balancing the environment.
Loss of biodiversity can have huge implications on the environment and lead to a catastrophic impact. The increasing human population and human activities that are dangerous to the environment have affected the world's biodiversity.
Biodiversity decline has accelerated in the modern age on a global scale. The population of reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals has declined by about 70% since 1970. Nearly one million plants and animal species globally face the danger of extinction.
Biodiversity of the UK
A recent study conducted by scientists at London's Natural History Museum has drawn up the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which is a tool used for accessing biodiversity by estimating the percentage of biodiversity remaining in individual countries and across the globe. BII technology helps to identify the areas that face loss of biodiversity, and upon studying those areas, scientists can identify the causes of this decline in biodiversity.
According to the study, the safe limit of biodiversity is 90% for the earth to avoid widespread starvation due to ecological recession. However, at this moment, the BII of the planet is 75% which is a pretty alarming situation. This study also mentions BII for UK biodiversity to be 53%, making the UK among 10% of countries with the lowest biodiversity. These researchers identified industrial and agricultural revolutions as primary causes for UK's low position on the BII scale.
Industrial Revolution and UK Biodiversity
The industrial revolution from the earlier 19th century helped the UK achieve significant technological advancements. However, the impact of the industrial revolution on the UK biodiversity and its environment has been devastating. Farming and urban spread triggered by the agricultural and industrial revolutions are primarily to blame for wiping off almost half of the UK's natural biodiversity during the last several centuries. Only 8% of the UK is left for natural habitats, while nearly two-thirds of the land is currently exploited for agriculture.
Key Issues Originated from Loss of Biodiversity in the UK
Loss of biodiversity has led to several key issues in the UK. Several species are on the brink of extinction, including insects such as the cicada, the turtle dove, the natterjack toad, pine marten and the Scottish wildcat. This threat of extinction is not limited to animals; several species of plants, fungi and soil microorganisms are also threatened.
Pollination is essential for plants to reproduce. In the UK, pollinators such as bumblebees are declining due to habitat loss caused by rising urbanization, agricultural intensification, the extensive use of pesticides, and the loss of wildflower meadows. The decline of biodiversity in the UK is the threat of potential widespread starvation due to ecological recession.
What is Being Done About This Problem in the UK?
The introduction of BII and BTE (Biodiversity Trends Explorer uses BII data to provide open monitoring of biodiversity for all) tools is a great initiative for battling against a decline in biodiversity because the first step of solving any problem is its identification, and that is precisely what these tools are capable of. Using these tools, scientists have also identified key reasons for this decline in biodiversity of the UK, as well as species that face extinction threat.
What Does the Future of the UK's Biodiversity Look Like?
The UK is among the most nature-depleted area in the world. The estimated BII for the UK till 2050 in the most generous scenario is predicted to be 56.32 percent which is above the current BII of 53 percent, but it is still far behind the safe value of 90 percent. Although it is necessary for the UK as a country to do its share in conservation efforts, there are also things that people may do on their own. For instance, reducing meat consumption, increasing the number of nature-friendly gardens, and decreasing the use of fossil fuels all may aid the environment.
Solutions and Recommendations
In 2021 British Ecology Society released a report that addressed nature-based solutions to deal with the loss of biodiversity and climate change. In this report, they mention several recommendations for dealing with biodiversity loss, for example, increasing urban green areas with a focus on native species, increasing the amount of agricultural forest, preserving and replanting native hedgerows in agriculturally productive settings, creating more areas of saltmarsh, increasing native woodland, and restoring damaged peatlands.
According to researchers of the Natural History Museum, the governments possess the power to address this planetary emergency, and there is still hope of reversing the loss of biodiversity. However, further delay in action may lead this issue to the point of no return. Therefore, the best time to revive the biodiversity of the UK and the whole planet is now.
References and Further Reading
Ashworth, J., 2021. Analysis warns global biodiversity is below 'safe limit' ahead of COP 15. [online] Nhm.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2021/october/analysis-warns-global-biodiversity-is-below-safe-limit.html [Accessed 27 June 2022].
BBC. 2021. Biodiversity: UK is one of the world's most nature-depleted countries. CBBC Newsround. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/58863097 [Accessed 27 June 2022].
De Palma, A., Hoskins, A., Gonzalez, R.E., Börger, L., Newbold, T., Sanchez-Ortiz, K., Ferrier, S. and Purvis, A., 2021. Annual changes in the Biodiversity Intactness Index in tropical and subtropical forest biomes, 2001–2012. Scientific reports, 11(1), pp.1-13. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-98811-1
Ecology Field Notes. 2021. British Biodiversity in Peril. [online] Available at: https://ecologyfieldnotes.com/category/ecology/ [Accessed 27 June 2022].
Holland, J.E., Bennett, A.E., Newton, A.C., White, P.J., McKenzie, B.M., George, T.S., Pakeman, R.J., Bailey, J.S., Fornara, D.A. and Hayes, R.C., 2018. Liming impacts on soils, crops and biodiversity in the UK: A review. Science of the Total Environment, 610, pp.316-332. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.08.020
Stafford, R., Chamberlain, B., Clavey, L., Gillingham, P.K., McKain, S., Morecroft, M.D., Morrison-Bell, C. and Watts, O. (Eds.) (2021). Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change in the UK: A Report by the British Ecological Society. London, UK. Available at: www.britishecologicalsociety.org/nature-based-solutions
The Guardian. 2021. Nearly half of Britain's biodiversity has gone since industrial revolution. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/10/nearly-half-of-britains-biodiversity-has-gone-since-industrial-revolution [Accessed 27 June 2022].
WWF. The realities of UK nature - in pictures. [online] Available at: https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature [Accessed 27 June 2022].