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Reversing the loss of biodiversity - what does it mean for the countryside?

What is driving our living world to the brink and what can be done? Mair Floyd-Bosley, Campaigns and Policy Assistant, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) explores the key changes needed to transform our future so people and nature thrive together.

July 2019

If we continue with business as usual, 1 million species will be eradicated from the planet. The loss of species and habitats poses as much a danger to life on Earth as climate change does. These are the messages of the latest IPBES Global Assessment report, the first major international review of biodiversity since 2005. The UK government has signed up, along with 131 other countries.

The technical term for life on Earth, ‘biodiversity’, is a scientific measure of the variety of species, habitats, and ecosystems across the planet. It is essential for human existence and integral to a flourishing countryside. As well as underpinning the food we eat and the air we breathe, we depend on biodiversity for protection from other threats, like pollution, flooding and climate breakdown.

The report demonstrates that rates of extinction are accelerating hundreds of times faster than usual. The red squirrel, natterjack toad, and turtle dove are all in peril in our countryside, alongside many insects that we rely on. But why? What is driving our living world to the brink? And, most importantly, what can be done?

The biggest driver of biodiversity loss is ‘land-use change’. Specifically, converting and managing wild land for agriculture and development. Agriculture in particular has had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water and a stable climate.

We’ll need to significantly change the way our food is grown to avert disaster. CPRE’s recent report explained how the thin layer of soil covering surface of our planet is critical to all life on earth. Healthy soil hosts an incredible diversity of life from tiny, single-celled organisms to fungi, insects, and animals like moles and badgers. Protecting the nation’s soil is essential, but we must also reverse the trends by regenerating it to health. Farmers should be supported to phase out ploughing, cut down on fertilisers and pesticides, and diversify their crops.

Countryside nature restoration
Restoring nature is critical to reversing the loss of biodiversity. By planting trees, shrubs, wildflower meadows, and reintroducing lost animals it is possible to restore ecosystems. In National Parks and across the countryside, we must stop the draining and burning of peat bogs. Our friends at the Campaign for National Parks recently highlighted exciting peatland restoration going on in Yorkshire. The IPBES report also highlighted the importance of local communities taking the lead in such conservation projects, with benefits for people as well as nature. CPRE’s work on enhancing our Green Belt is set to tackle these issues head on.

Climate change, climate change, climate change
Biodiversity and climate are inseparable, and combined, present the greatest threat our countryside has ever faced. Restoring nature is our primary defence against climate breakdown, and climate breakdown will continue to accelerate the decline of nature. Natural ecosystems suck up 60% of our carbon emissions, and nature-based solutions, like planting trees, nurturing soils, and restoring ecosystems, can provide over a third of the climate solutions needed until 2030 with huge benefits for biodiversity.

All of these changes require big commitments from the Government. CPRE is redoubling its efforts to ensure the government is held accountable – through our work with partners in the Climate Coalition at the mass lobby of Parliament on 26 June, and our work through Wildlife and Countryside Link and Greener UK calling for the Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill to work for nature. Continuing on our current path will lead to staggering losses for the countryside and us all, but by acting ambitiously, we have the chance to transform our future so people and nature thrive together.

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The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.