The below is a guest post from an occasion ToS contributor and concerned citizen who uses the pseudonym ‘Jeremy Hughes’. He takes a wry look at the new trend towards establishing tiny pockets of biodiversity while the bigger picture is one of relentless decline.
IN THE Catholic Church, an indulgence is a way for a person to reduce the punishment from God for their sins. The recipient of the indulgence has to perform a good act to receive it. They became notorious during the Middle Ages when indulgences could be bought from clergy to atone for sins and the sale of indulgences eventually led to the Reformation.
Biodiversity areas have sprung up in many towns, villages and parishes but I’m wondering if they are the eco plenary indulgences of modern times – a good environmental deed designed to make people feel better about their excesses and wipe out sins of their consumer lifestyles that are wreaking havoc on our natural environment.
This is not to denigrate or knock the hard work of many committed volunteers and environmentalists who toil to create these areas. Their work and commitment is welcome and we need more of these people.
But when I see trees in local biodiversity areas sponsored by a person or a company, I wonder if they are doing it for environmental reasons or is it purely for the optics and to ease their consciences? It’s an easy way to convince yourself that you’re doing a good act for the environment while your lifestyle suggests otherwise. Sponsor a tree and you can justify that flight to Florida. Plant a few wild flowers and nobody can question your environmental credentials when you upgrade the car again or buy another 40 inch flatscreen TV to replace the 36 inch one you got last year.
Any wildlife area is welcome but given the tiny size of many of these biodiversity areas, are they just window-dressing? The problem with these actions – as welcome as they are – is that they reek of tokenism and are a sticking plaster for the gaping wound of biodiversity loss and the ecological crisis all around us. Are they box-ticking exercises by town councils and parish committees to show they’re on message? Are they the ordinary person’s equivalent of carbon off-setting to allow them to continue living their not very eco-friendly western lifestyles?
A harsh judgement maybe, but close scrutiny of wildlife or biodiversity areas around me all have a common theme. First of all, many of them are too small, isolated and disjointed to be effective for wildlife. Despite large parks and common areas being available, biodiversity areas are usually located in a small area in a corner of public land, looking more like an insignificant afterthought.
Secondly, the scale of destruction going around many of them makes their contribution negligible. For instance, one particular wildlife area close to me takes up less than 100 square metres. This summer, a similarly-sized natural wild area of grass and scrub across the road from it was heavily sprayed with weedkiller. And a little further down the road a new home owner tore out the hawthorn hedge and replaced it with beech, while the substantial grass verge bordering this hedge, again an area of similar size to the biodiversity area, is now routinely mowed to putting green level.
Effectively, an area twice the size of the biodiversity area has been destroyed since it was established. And I’m sure this isn’t an isolated situation. This isn’t progress – it is regression. Establishing a wildlife/biodiversity area doesn’t give a carte blanche for business as usual.
But the bottom line is that we need bigger and bolder measures to address biodiversity loss – something along the lines of the “wild belts” being proposed by the Wildlife Trusts in the UK. The Trusts are calling for the inclusion of areas of land or “wild belts” to be specifically designated as places for nature recovery. The wild belt areas were needed in towns, cities and the countryside to ensure that 30 per cent of England was in nature recovery by 2030, according to the Trusts. Chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts Craig Bennett described the wild belts as “our only hope” in helping nature recover rather than just talking about slowing its decline.
So if we’re serious, in reality, towns and villages should be setting aside at least half of park areas as biodiversity areas and parishes should be looking to providing bigger spaces, perhaps crowd-funding to buy land from local farmers for rewilding – and an acceptance of letting this land go wild, rather than having to be managed. Nobody has to strim around the trees and cut margins or thin out scrub – just let it be and watch nature return. The only human intervention could be the creation of an artificial pond as a water source for animals.
It’s time to end the environmental plenary indulgences. It’s time for a biodiversity reformation.