Biodiversity in Decline!
I guess, because I wasn’t there and know no one who was, that in prehistoric times there was far more wildlife in Nidderdale than what we see today. Strangely, perhaps I base this totally unscientific view on native Amazonian Indians. They seem, if David Attenborough is to believed and I certainly believe him more than our politicians, for example, that these Indians sit around most of the day, indulge in a little swimming, carefully avoiding the piranhas and other nasties, and every few days someone says let’s go off and catch some meat. Well before cultivation surely something similar happened in Nidderdale and the available ‘meat’ was certainly more variable than it is today. For example we know from Stump Cross Caverns that wolverine were around. These are nasty pieces of work, very aggressive, very dangerous and very carnivorous. That implies there was plenty of meat for them to catch and probably plenty for any prehistoric humans as well. Some of this food would include reindeer and bison, both sadly missing from today’s Nidderdale fauna. For the vegetarians amongst you I suspect the flora was equally diverse and different. Indeed our wildlife may well have declined because the plants at the bottom of the food chain also disappeared for whatever reasons, but what might these reasons be?
The Evil Quartet
Jarved Diamond, an eminent biologist, coined the phrase ‘the evil quartet’ to describe the four main human-induced causes of extinction: habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, introduction of exotic species and over harvesting. This has obviously resulted in a Nidderdale far different to that enjoyed(?) by prehistoric humans and there have been winners and losers in wildlife terms. Woodland destruction probably did for the bison and elk although today the roe deer seems to have worked out how to survive, no doubt aided and abetted by a lack of predators. The wilful introduction of mink seems to have seen the end of most water voles, although Wind in the Willows’ Ratty still hangs on in a few places. Vast fields of rye grass are great for feeding cattle but provide very little nutrients for many of our birds and small mammals and even field margins offer little refuge for native wild flowers. There is now only one really wild lady slipper orchid in Britain, cause habitat loss and collectors.
Let’s look also at other factors, the vast grouse industry provides excellent cover for, well, grouse, but at what expense? Our towns are flooded because of the lack of trees, and fast flowing grips. Predators are disposed of and some, such as the hen harrier, are driven to extinction. We all need to travel and to do so we choose pollution emitting cars and buses and then wonder why our children suffer from asthma and the like. Have you ever considered what effect this might have on our wildlife? If asthma can affect humans how can a small bird cope? How does an important pollinating insect manage? Environmental issues are a global concern, not just a national one. I doubt there are any wood warblers any more in Nidderdale, a species that has disappeared in the past 10 years. These birds are migrants and travel amazing distances but is every step of the way (well wing beat) fraught with danger? A generation ago corncrakes were a common sight in Nidderdale but today they have all gone, locally extinct. Not so many years ago a drive up Nidderdale resulted in plenty of cleaning to remove the dead insects from the lights and windscreens, much less so nowadays. Insects and plants are the foundation of the food chain. Climate change plays a further role as our creatures fall out of sync with each other. Are our migrants arriving too late for the rich source of food they once relied upon? Our sea birds, favourites like puffins, are finding their source of food, sand eels, not as readily available as in the past probably because sand eels have moved further north as the seas warm up.
What can be done?
Well we can all play a part in helping our flora and fauna but before I make a few suggestions may I make an important point. It’s easy to blame our farmers but they have a living to make, they have to compete with competitors at home and abroad and we demand cheap food, we want our wheat and to eat it cheaply. Supermarkets demand much of the farmers because allegedly we want straight carrots and round tomatoes – why? We can help by providing a wildlife habitat in our gardens, especially if our neighbours do the same. Don’t spend £4,000 turning your front garden into a car park, that amount of money could employ a gardener for years to mow the lawn. Lobby politicians to protect our wildlife, especially now to ensure we continue to support and enhance the EU Nature Directives. Support local and national wildlife groups, they all do sterling work in not only conserving and enhancing species but also engaging you and me and our children in nature. Some of what they do works very well, take the many successful individual species plans. Locally red kites is a fine example, but nationally we can see success across all wildlife orders. Help our wildlife, realise the problems.
Nidderdale Climate and Environment Group
I will be giving a talk entitled ‘Biodiversity in Danger – Our Declining Flora and Fauna’ to the group on July 11 at Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses at 7:30pm and for those interested there is a short exploratory walk from the same place starting at 6:00pm searching for flora and fauna. Everyone is very welcome to join me. It’s free and your support would be welcome. I look forward to seeing you then. There may even be refreshments involved.
Nigel Heptinstall (Outdoors2015)
Stan has been contacted by someone who does a wild life blog. Here is the link, it has some nice images you might enjoy a peep.
How Stean Blog June 2016