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The biodiversity problem with our neat lawns

You won’t find many neater lawns than those at Wimbledon.  But while immaculately mown and weed-free grass might be perfect for a spot of tennis or soaking up some sun in your garden – it’s doing very little for biodiversity, says Adriana de Palma, a researcher in Life Sciences at the Natural History Museum.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse came within the top 10 lists of risks in terms of both Likelihood and Impact, making it one of the biggest threats facing humankind today.  And the report concluded: “Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.”

In May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report found that a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.

While Wimbledon’s team of ground staff ensure there are plenty of flowers throughout the All England Club to attract insects, there are things all amateur gardeners can do to boost biodiversity.

Here Adriana de Palma, a World Economic Forum Young Scientist, explains exactly why the most manicured gardens are not havens for wildlife – and what more needs to be done at an individual and national level to save our species.

Why should we care about biodiversity?

Biodiversity provides us with everything we need to live: clean air, clean water, it creates healthy fertile soil for growing crops and it pollinates crops. So if you like your coffee in the morning or an afternoon apple, we need biodiversity, to survive and to have a good quality of life.

What are the main threats to biodiversity?

People, unfortunately. Climate change gets a lot of attention and rightly so – it has the potential to harm millions of species. But right now, the biggest threat facing biodiversity is habitat loss and degradation, so humans pulling down natural landscapes, forests and grassland and converting them into urban areas, creating more agricultural land, and managing that land in an intensive way that doesn’t provide enough space for biodiversity to survive inside it.

That’s the big one, but exploitation of species, pollution and invasive species are also threats. So species are expanding their ranges because of man-made transportation links and climate change, and making it into areas they didn’t exist before. And the native species have never learned how to deal with this new threat.

The Earth could be facing a sixth mass extinction – what impact will this have on humans?

We’re going to see the impact long before global extinctions. When a species goes extinct, across its entire range of the whole globe, that’s the end point. But before that, we’ve got these huge declines in how many individuals of that species there are, where they exist in the world, and those changes in the abundance of the species. At a smaller scale, that’s going to be what really hits us.

A lot of my work has been on pollinators. A lot of our calories come from things like wheat and rice that don’t actually require animals to pollinate them. But in terms of getting a healthy, varied diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, pollinators are absolutely key. We’ll end up with huge amounts of malnutrition through these changes in biodiversity.

I think a sixth mass extinction would be catastrophic for humans. We don’t have the technology to make up for the losses. We don’t have the manpower. There’s really no way around it other than to prevent the mass extinction happening, because once we’re there it is really too late.

What more needs to be done by governments across the globe?

The key thing, that many of us in this field are working on at the moment, is finding ways of balancing food security, climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection. For instance, there’s been a lot of interest in biofuels as a climate change mitigation process to try to move away from using fossil fuels.

But if we’re not careful, we essentially end up moving biofuels onto agricultural land, which has implications for food security. And how you manage that biofuel plantation has huge implications for biodiversity. So there are really difficult trade-offs that we’re trying to work out – and hopefully, we’re providing some evidence that can help inform some of these decisions.

We live in a global community now and when we import products from overseas, we can essentially export our biodiversity damage. So we can maintain our national commitments to biodiversity, but at a global scale, we’re still causing huge amounts of damage. Often that leads to biodiversity losses in some of the poorer areas of the world – where the local communities rely on their natural biodiversity to a much greater extent to survive.

If our biodiversity damage crosses borders, then our commitment to biodiversity protection has to do that as well.

Source – World Economic Forum

Verde Environmental Consultants provide expert advisory, monitoring and assessment services from our offices in Wicklow, Cork, Mayo and Galway in soilairwaterwasteenergynoise and ecology disciplines

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