Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Are Hedgerows the real corridors of power? - Biodiversity in decline

As residents of our country and our planet I believe that we are custodians, and that we have a duty to pass on to the next generation a world in a better state than when we inherited it.  That means conserving our biodiversity, and conserving the energy fuel reserves.

I wonder then, why our politicians, who are supposed to be our leaders, spend so much time bickering about whether Ed Miliband sounds too nasal, or whether or not Nick and David are getting on.  Surely they should be focused on making our country a better place in their short term of massive influence.

Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiveristy is the full range of species, both plant and animal, living within a habitat.  Every habitat is enormously complex, with every species impacting on every single other species.  Everything is interdependent.  A loss of one species in a habitat can have unforeseen consequences for many other species.  This is important for us as humans because greater biodiversity of plant species leads to a wider variety of crops being grown.  The interdependence of life means that the greater the biodiversity, the more sustainable the system is.  A healthy, biodiverse ecosystem is better placed to recover from natural disasters and setbacks.

What's happening to biodiversity in our country?
According to a report by Natural England in 2010 over 500 species of animals and plants have become extinct in England since 1800, with a further 943 species at precariously low levels.  Biodiversity loss is patchy, in some counties one plant species is becoming extinct every two years.  The main cause seems to be intensification of agriculture, with overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, and ploughing of grasslands

Subsidies for farmers to support biodiversity... changes?
It's interesting to note that last year's reforms of the EU farm subsidy policy (the CAP - Common Agricultural Policy) watered down environmental requirements that farmers needed to meet, such as leaving land fallow, growing at least three different crops and maintaining pasture land, all of which would have an impact on biodiversity, were watered down.

What about hedges?
Hedgerows make a massive impact on biodiversity.  They act as corridors for our wildlife to travel between territories, to move safely around our countryside.  They provide food and shelter.  Where hedgerows are removed, wildlife has less shelter and less sustenance, becomes more isolated and vulnerable, and biodiversity is reduced.

Protection of hedgerows is actually enshrined in law, with many hedgerows (not garden hedges) being designated "important" (see Hedgerows Regulations 1997) if they are over 30 years old and meet certain other criteria.

It's also good to see an organisation called Hedgelink working with the government (through Defra) to help educate and support people in maintaining and growing new hedges as part of a Biodiversity Action Plan.

But there's much, much more that can and should be done to protect the valuable biodiversity of our little island.  These discussions should be front and centre of political discourse alongside the economy, after all, we're talking about the future sustainability of our countryside and our agriculture.

So why aren't these hedgerows, these corridors of power, which can have so much impact on the wildlife in our country... why aren't these discussions featuring in key debates in the run up to next year's election?

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