‘Time to realise the true worth of what we are destroying’ - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

‘Time to realise the true worth of what we are destroying’

A Veterinary Practice correspondent explains what the International Year of Biodiversity is all about

AS promised in the last article, this
month we’re going to look at the year
2010, the year declared by the UN to
be the International Year of
Biodiversity (IYB). All very grand and
symbolic but what does it really mean
and what can we all
do to ensure that it
doesn’t just slip past
and on into the
background?

The UN
Convention on Biological Diversity
came into force on 29th December 1993.
It has as its three main objectives:

  • to conserve biological diversity;
  • to use biological diversity in a
    sustainable fashion; and
  • to share the benefits of biological
    diversity fairly and equally.

The year 2010 was set, back in 2002,
to be the year by which a significant
reduction in the current rate of
biodiversity loss at the global, regional
and national level was to be achieved.
Hundreds of partner oganisations across
the globe have now come together to try
to make that aspiration something of a
reality.

Wide partnership

In the UK a website has been created by
a wide partnership of institutions to
support the IYB. This partnership was
launched at the Natural History Museum
in London in November.

The website headlines a number of
somewhat scary statistics and statements
such as: “… the need to take action to
preserve biodiversity is exemplified by
the statistic that the rate of species extinction may
currently be 1,000
times the natural
background rate”; “It
is not too strong to
suggest that there may
be a biodiversity
catastrophe occurring
on a parallel to that which killed off the
dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.”

Food for thought!
The website also gives examples of where simple management changes at a
local level can have a real and worthwhile
impact on biodiversity; it’s really just a
case of trying to modify our own
behaviour to take into account the needs
of the wild species that surround us. If
we are able to provide what they need,
nature will, quite literally, do the rest.

For instance, “Conservation Grade” farmers agree to use 10% of their land
to develop wildlife habitats and in return
receive an increased price for their crops.
These habitats can include things like
hedges and ditches (which can also assist
the farming enterprise), as well as ponds,
wildflower meadows and areas of natural
grassland.

Producing results

Does it produce results? Well at one
such Conservation Grade farm in
Yorkshire, monitoring between 1999 and
2003 demonstrated a 41% increase in
bird numbers; an 800% increase in
butterflies with 22 species recorded
overall; a 1,300% increase in
bumblebees; and an astonishing 3,000%
increase in small mammals in certain
habitats on the farm.

So the answer is an unequivocal,
“Yes, it does work”, and it demonstrates
that it is not too late for many species
and that such species need only a tiny bit
of encouragement to really boost their
numbers.

One of the really interesting initiatives being highlighted by IYB-UK
is a greater appreciation of the
economic value of nature.

Natural, living systems provide many
of the services that we take for granted.
Things like fresh water, the breakdown
of waste material, the pollination of
crops, and the regulation of climate, are
just some of them.

Imagine how much these sorts of
things would cost if we had to use man-
made technology to deal with the issues
– assuming we were even able to devise
such technology (robotic bees?).

Trying to put an economic value or
financial cost on such things helps
policymakers and businesses to value
them more realistically, which in turn
helps lead to better informed and
genuinely cost-effective policy decisions.
That’s the theory at least.

As a way ahead, The Economics of
Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a
global study which seeks to evaluate the
costs of losing biodiversity and the
services provided by ecosystems, and
compare that with the costs of effective conservation and sustainable use.
In the capitalist world in which we live, it might just be the thing that brings
everyone to their senses by making
them realise the true worth of that
which we are destroying.

If you go to the IYB-UK website at
www.biodiversityislife.net, you will find
information about events that are
occurring in the year ahead and ways
that you can get involved.

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