New Reintroduced Species stamps from Royal Mail. Biodiversity in the UK has been progressively eroded over the last two centuries. It is disturbing to think that more than 400 species of animals and plants have become extinct in this relatively short period of time. Urbanisation and intensive agricultural practices have largely been to blame for the losses.
Biodiversity in the UK
Crucial habitats for wildlife including field margins and hedgerows have been progressively removed. A disturbing 97% of wildflower meadows have disappeared from the landscape since World War II and any refuges for wildlife which remain have become increasingly isolated from each other, preventing the movement of insects, birds and mammals across the countryside.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
The problem is now a serious one and without wishing to sound too dramatic, it is important to remember that our own futures are dependent on biodiversity. Meadows and grasslands support a huge range of wildlife. They are complete eco-systems on which many of our native species depend. The loss of these vital habitats has led to a frightening decline in the various species including many insects which provide food for birds and other animals but which also pollinate plants, including crops.
90% of all plants require a pollinator in order to reproduce. When the pollinators have all gone, there will be no plants left to sustain wildlife. If both plants and animals disappear we will be unable to produce food for ourselves and as the flora begins to dwindle, oxygen levels in the atmosphere will decrease. Humanity will be unable to survive this scenario. The loss of a few species may not seem significant but it is a warning sign of a catastrophe unfolding around us. We drastically need to reverse the fortunes of the birds and the bees!
Restoring the Environment
When conservationists began voicing their concerns over biodiversity, their warnings initially fell on deaf ears. But in recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that something must be done to reverse the disturbing trend. Many species remain in decline and some are threatened with extinction, but moves are afoot to restore the natural environment. There was a time when biodiversity was an issue that the media largely ignored, it has now become headline news.
Agricultural stewardship schemes have been introduced by the EU and the Government in the UK. These provide payments for farmers who reinstate field margins and other habitats for wildlife. It is ironic that farmers were rewarded in the war years and succeeding decades for introducing intensive practices so that more food could be produced but that they are now being paid to farm less intensively. The drive for more food endangered the very future of our food!
In addition, Organic farming is becoming more common and does not pollute the landscape with pesticides or remove insects from the eco-system. Better still, local authorities now prioritise wildlife when considering new planning applications.
The reintroduction of species is an important aspect of the fight to restore biodiversity in the UK. There have been several successful reintroduction programmes which have taken a variety of flora and fauna from other countries and restored them to their native lands. However, these programmes can only succeed in the long term if the necessary wildlife habitats are also restored and maintained.
Every wildflower meadow, pond and garden which is planted and maintained to promote biodiversity makes a vital contribution to the process. As more habitats are created or restored, the spaces between them diminish. If wildlife corridors are created in the shape of field margins, grass verges and hedgerows, the various species can move between habitats, diversifying their gene pools and enlarging their populations whilst always being able to find sources of food and shelter. Pollinators will help diverse flora to spread around the countryside and so biodiversity will gradually improve across the nation.
A Reintroduction Too Far?
Whilst the reintroduction of beavers and birds has met with almost universal approval, there are certain conservation projects which have sparked considerable controversy, notably the Lynx UK Trust’s ambition to bring back the Eurasian Lynx to this country. This glorious big cat was a native of the British Isles but had disappeared by around the year 700. Humans were killing off our wildlife even then!
The idea of such a large predator wandering around the countryside has disturbed many farmers and they have voiced their opposition to the plans. For their part, the Lynx UK Trust insist that the solitary and secretive nature of the species means that the cats do not represent a threat to humans and it is exceptionally rare for them to prey on farm animals.
Inspired Idea or Feline Folly?
The Trust claim that the reintroduction of the lynx would restore a vital natural function to our environment, helping to control the number of deer and so protecting forestry from the deer damage caused by overpopulation. Most landowners would acknowledge that deer damage has become a troubling issue for them.
The lynx has already been reintroduced to other European countries. Managed programmes have ensured that eco-tourism has flourished in the rural communities where the cats now reside. The same benefits could be enjoyed by Aberdeenshire, Argyll, Northumberland, Cumbria and Norfolk and biodiversity improved at the same time, if the lynx is restored to the UK. But landowners, farmers and gamekeepers remain largely opposed to the plans. No decision has been made at the time of writing regarding the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx.
How would you feel about the Eurasian lynx coming to a forest near you? Is this an exciting prospect or could the cats signal disaster for your animals?
The Stamp Issue
Celebrating fascinating species which have been successfully reintroduced to this country, the latest issue from Royal Mail features striking wildlife photography. The six stamps are as follows:
1st Class – Osprey
1st Class Large – Blue Butterfly
£1.40 – Eurasian Beaver
£1.40 – Pool Frog
£1.57 – Stinking Hawks-beard
£1.57 – Sand Lizard
The issue also includes a stunning presentation pack written by none other than television presenter and naturalist Chris Packham. It provides background information regarding the extinction of many of the UK’s animal and plant species and the efforts being made by conservationists to reintroduce them. The pack also includes a “Spotter’s Guide” if you fancy getting out and about!
Don’t miss the first day covers and stamp cards which are also features of the Reintroduced Species issue.