Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a comprehensive 2019 report 1 . Indeed, the impacts are being felt as seriously here in the British countryside as any other places on earth, with the UK now ranked as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world 2. Even here in our “unspoilt environment”, the level of environmental degradation and species decline is genuinely alarming.
Improving our ability as a community to engage proactively with the challenge has to start with an awareness and acceptance of the issue at hand. The Watlington Climate Action Group recently expanded its remit to include recognition of the ecological emergency, helping to bring into focus community initiatives to increase understanding and combat the decline of the natural environment. This action follows SODC’s declaration in which they state they will ‘incorporate the climate and ecological emergencies and nature recovery as strategic priorities in planning policies.’ 3
The link between climate and ecology is both intractable and reciprocal. Climate change directly impacts the health and function of ecosystems and, as noted by another 2019 paper, ecosystems around the globe are rapidly changing in response to climate change and other human-induced stressors 4. In almost all cases this results in a negative trend. Yet ecosystems themselves are a major part of the solution given their ability to
mitigate climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere - with an estimated quarter of emissions from human activities being absorbed by and stored in the plants and soils of terrestrial ecosystems 5.
Although under siege by human activity, ecosystems are fundamental to addressing the drivers and impacts of climate change. Nature-based solutions designed to protect, manage and restore our local environment not only help to meet the challenge of climate change but also play a vital role in supporting biodiversity, improving social wellbeing and engaging communities such as our own in objectively positive and forward-looking initiatives. If Watlington wishes to preserve its “unspoilt rural character and environment for future generations”, such thinking needs to be brought to the forefront of strategic decision making.
Since 1970 the most at-risk species have decreased by 60% while farmland bird populations have fallen by 54% 6. Now more than one in seven native UK species face extinction 7. Climate change is driving widespread changes in the abundance, distribution and ecology of the UK’s wildlife, and will continue to do so for decades or even centuries to come.
Such local-level initiatives are set against the backdrop of national and international declarations, policies and bills, including the recent Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill) 8, highlighting the growing consensus and imperative to act with greater knowledge of, and empathy for, what is left of our natural environment.
Climate change is here, and within the next few decades, societies and ecosystems will either be committed to a substantially warmer world or major actions will be taken to limit warming to moderate levels. Ecosystems play a major part in both of these future scenarios. 9
1 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2019: www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment
2 State of Nature 2016: www.bto.org/sites/default/files/publications/state-of-nature-report-2016-uk_0.pdf
3 SODC Ecological Emergency declaration: https://www.southoxon.gov.uk/climate-emergency/ecological-emergency-declared-by-south-oxfordshire-district-council/
4 Climate Change and Ecosystems, 2019: https://royalsociety.org/-/media/about-us/international/climate-change-and-ecosystems-2019.pdf
5 Global carbon budget 2018, Earth System Science Data, 2018
6 State of Nature 2019: www.bto.org/sites/default/files/publications/state-of-nature-2019-report-uk.pdf
7 Is this the future of UK nature? WWF: https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature
8 Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill: https://www.ceebill.uk
9 Royal Society, 2019
Author: - Tom Robinson