Today we saw the latest Countryside Survey published, which is “a unique time series of data which incorporates measures of soil, water, vegetation and landscape made at the same locations in 1978, 1990, 1998 and 2007”, about which more anon. The report’s authors talk about “ecosystem services”, which I think is nice – “the potential of natural and semi-natural ecosystems to provide for human requirements both currently and in the future”. As they point out, it’s a bit vague, but the more we get used to ascribing an economic value to the environment the better. I can’t say I understand the Conservation Credit system, but is something like it worth a try? A forthcoming UN Report,The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, is about exactly this topic. According to the Guardian:
In all, the report concludes, the world is losing natural capital worth up to £3 trillion every year – mostly due to deforestation, and far more than the one-off cost of the recent financial crisis.
The trouble is that the costs are invisible to conventional economics. “Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice,” says Pavan Sukhdev, the banker who led the study. “And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.”
The first step is to make the costs visible, he says, since “what isn’t measured, isn’t managed”.
So what was the main take-away from the Countryside Survey data? There was a significant decline in plant diversity – an 8% reduction in the number of species recorded from 1978 – 2007. Declines in nectar plant diversity were widespread across a number different habitats. The report sees this in the context of terrestrial plant species diversity reduction in the wider countryside, most of which “remains unexplained”. Gulp.
As a non scientist I have to think we don’t need to look much further when trying to understand the steep long term declines in populations and species of pollinating insects here. Caroline Spelman doesn’t have to travel all the way to Nagoya to hear about catastrophic, and costly, loss of biodiversity – it’s happening in her back garden at home.
Perhaps it’s just not sexy enough for people to be interested. In the absence of fetching pictures of large mammals, Press coverage of our domestic conservation issues seems to swing between the indifferent and the bizarrely alarmist. For example, I have seen the “crash” in our honey bee population ascribed to, variously, mobile phones, the wrong sort of bees, new pesticides, mystery viruses, and intensive beekeeping – which may or may not be contributory factors*. Sure, honeybees have their own specific problems, most notably the Varroa mite, but wouldn’t it be sensible to work to make people more aware of the long term problem faced by all pollinators here, rather than looking for the next “bee killer” headline? Even more frustratingly, this is something anyone with a back garden can do something about. And of course it’s not just the pollinators like butterflies and bees which are being affected; this plant loss will cost us all dear.
*It turns out honey bees have had rather a good year in the UK, by the way, according to the BBKA; mine certainly did much better, principally because it didn’t rain all summer. And don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly sympathetic to a couple of these issues. Oh, and incidentally, next year’s “bee killer app” will almost certainly be Asian Hornets. We’re all doomed.