Humans ‘threaten one million species with extinction’

mountains and lake

On land, in the seas, in the sky, the devastating impact of humans on nature is laid bare in a compelling UN report. 

One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction.

Nature everywhere is declining at a speed never previously seen and our need for ever more food and energy are the main drivers.

These trends can be halted, the study says, but it will take “transformative change” in every aspect of how humans interact with nature.

From the bees that pollinate our crops, to the forests that hold back flood waters, the report reveals how humans are ravaging the very ecosystems that support their societies.

Three years in the making, this global assessment of nature draws on 15,000 reference materials, and has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It runs to 1,800 pages. 

The brief, 40-page “summary for policymakers”, published today at a meeting in Paris, is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how humans have treated their only home.

It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars.

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Credit: BBC (image: Getty Images)

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UK Parliament declares climate change emergency

climate change protestors

MPs have approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.

This proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was “a huge step forward”. 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate “emergency” but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one.

The declaration of an emergency was one of the key demands put to the government by environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, in a series of protests over recent weeks. 

Addressing climate protesters from the top of a fire engine in Parliament Square earlier, Mr Corbyn said: “This can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe.

“We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

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Credit: BBC (image: Reuters)

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Serious decline in Britains’ pollinators

bee on flower

Wild bees and overflies lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980, study shows. The study was based on more than 700,000 sightings of bee and hoverfly species from 1980 to 2013. 

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which scientists say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature.

The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11.

A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.

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Credit: The Guardian. 

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Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline

Why are insects in decline, and can we do anything about it?

The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.
 The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

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Credit: The Guardian. 

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Kids are going on strike to save the planet


The grown-ups have failed miserably on climate change – so us kids are going on strike to save the planet.

This is what we owe to ourselves and the generation still to come. We simply can’t stand by and watch the world and our environment collapse around us.

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Credit: The Independent.

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How hyper-manicured public spaces hurt urban wildlife

Urban trees
File 20190122 100285 1xm9p73.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Nowhere for wildlife to Hyde. I Wei Huang/Shutterstock

Colin Tosh, Newcastle University

I walked my kids to school recently through the pretty North East English village of East Boldon and saw a red cross on a beautiful old rowan tree. I thought it might be the diesel haze of nearby commuter traffic confusing my senses, but no.

One email to my local councillors later and my worst fears were realised. The rowan tree, a species which feeds flocks of birds each autumn with its berries and whose only crime is to be old and gnarly, is for the chop – and the birds’ autumn lifeline with it.

Rowan trees are native to the UK and their berries feed birds and insects. Colin Tosh, Author provided

In the email to my councillors I pointed out that two of the three trees slated for removal in that particular copse do not need to be cut down, they just need a bit of remedial work. One is a small tree smothered with ivy that simply needs to be stripped away.

The third is dead and I suggested in my email that the grounds team cut it into logs and scatter them around the small woodland – allowing them to rot for the benefit of fungi and insects, instead of their usual annihilation in an industrial grinder.

As a lecturer in ecology with 25 years of experience and over 30 peer reviewed papers published, I expected my suggestions to be taken seriously. While the councillor was prompt to reply and polite, it was made clear that grounds management is none of my business.

Clean and tidy is bad for wildlife

From my experience in the UK, grounds management teams employed by local councils seem unresponsive to expert advice. They also appear unsure how to reconcile having wild areas which are safe for human use but which remain useful for wildlife.

New Zealand cabbage trees are planted in parks in the UK, despite being non-native. Sue McDonald/Shutterstock

The small patches of wild and semi-wild areas in cities have been mostly stripped of their value to wildlife by over-intensive grounds management. Anything that has the vague look of irregularity is removed. No wood is allowed to lie on the ground, it must be tidied away. A 2013 report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reviews the dramatic loss of wildlife habitat in the UK in great detail, emphasising the need to improve the semi-wild urban areas we still have for wildlife.

The wildlife value of a particular tree species in cities is often disregarded when a decision is made to remove it. In parks, plant species which are exotic to the UK such as the New Zealand cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) are intentionally planted because no native wildlife can use them, so they are low maintenance.

Pansies and other colourful flowering plants used in urban park borders are often useless for pollinators. This is due to modifications made during breeding of such plants which restricts access to the nectar producing organs and sometimes leads to lower rates of nectar production.

Though pretty, flowerbeds are often planted with little thought to their ecological value. LeonP/Shutterstock

Petals of many ornamental plants are bred to enclose the central nectaries – nectar producing organs – and sexual parts of the flower that produce pollen and are of use to pollinators. This breeding gives the flower a beautiful ball shape but limits their use to insects. I suspect such plants are only put in urban parks in the first place to please the aesthetics of pensioners – a key voter demographic for local councils.

Leaves are swept up immediately before their nutrients can return to the ground and the insects that lay their eggs on them are doomed to certain death. Road verges are cut back to the bone several times each year and the clippings are left lying, minimising their use as a habitat for wild flowers.

It doesn’t help that grounds management is often subcontracted to private firms in the UK. In these cases, grounds management is more likely to be insensitive to expert advice as the function is out of the hands of the democratically controlled body and with a private company that needn’t care what the public thinks.

Wildflower meadows are a riot of colour and species diversity – exactly what pollinators like. Debra Anderson/Shutterstock

Only a few UK councils that I am aware of are making progress in wildlife-sensitive grounds management. Councils such as Burnley, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, East Sussex and Bristol have developed comprehensive pollinator action plans and are taking measures like allowing grass to grow longer in public areas, planting native, bee-friendly flowers and mowing verges less frequently.

The irony of it all is that measures to improve public areas for wildlife essentially involve less effort overall. All that really needs to be done is to allow public areas to be a little more unkempt, because unkempt areas are what nature likes. If local councils allow this to happen, the public shouldn’t berate them. We must be sympathetic to having natural and semi-natural areas that don’t look like Tellytubby land.

But I am sceptical. Local councils in the UK seem a long way from taking wildlife seriously. Unfortunately, the focus on human ideas of “neatness” at present dominates any love for nature. I fear that green spaces in urban areas will continue their decline as wildlife habitats.

Colin Tosh, Lecturer in Ecology, Evolution and Computational Biology, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.