You may have heard of the State of Nature report. Launched in 2013, the report provides an compelling annual snapshot of how wildlife is doing in the UK, in its seas and in the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. It draws on data and expertise provided by more than 50 nature conservation and research organisations to give a cutting edge overview of the state of nature and biodiversity. Around 7.5 million volunteer hours go into collecting the data, from committed nature watchers across the UK to dedicated wildlife monitors as far away as Antarctica and the Indian Ocean.
The results are disturbing to say the least; most notably the headline finding that nature is faring worse in the UK than in most other countries, ranking 189 out of 219 countries in terms of damage to its biodiversity. One of the two main causes of this loss of biodiversity, our intensive systems of agriculture, is already responsible for much of the harm. No wonder British bees feel more at home today in cities than in the countryside. This urban migration is linked to high pesticide use, pollution and changes in habitat affecting the rural environment.
The other major cause, climate change, is already having an effect but poses a potentially even greater long term threat.
Yet all is not lost. While there are some signs of hope in the recent trends, such as the creation of new wetlands through conservation work and as a by-product of mineral extraction and the planting of new broadleaved and mixed woodland, there is also plenty that we ourselves can do.
When I started the Flexitarian blog, I always intended that it should be about much more than just the food. I was aware of the harm being done to nature by our modern intensive farming system. I also knew that people had been talking about organic products and vegetarian or vegan diets for years yet these trends had still not quite managed to penetrate the mainstream of our society. I felt that if more people could take small steps to improving our natural environment through paying more attention to what they eat and where it comes from and particularly to eating less, but better, meat and animal products, we might make progress more quickly.
For me, being a flexitarian is not just about what I eat, even though my own journey has seen me go from being a committed carnivore to following a mostly vegetarian and frequently vegan diet. It is about having a greater awareness of what we eat and the impact it has on both our own health and the wellbeing of the planet. It’s about living more sustainably and in harmony with nature and the environment. So , here are my top five suggestions for helping to restore and bring back and Britain’s wonderful wildlife and biodiversity:
1. EAT LESS MEAT, FISH AND DAIRY – I had to start with this but it’s an obvious one. Our intensive system of farming for all kinds of animal based products is a root cause of many of the problems highlighted in the State of Nature report. Crops are grown intensively to feed to animals that are reared intensively. Small fish are caught to feed bigger fish. It’s not only cruel but it makes no sense and that’s without even mentioning the vast quantities of life destroying chemicals and unnecessary antibiotics routinely used in these industries.
2. PRIORITISE ORGANICALLY PRODUCED FOODS – the chemical fertilisers and pesticides that are so commonplace in our industrial agricultural system are another huge reason why we are losing biodiversity at such an alarming rate. Avoid these by going organic as much as possible. Organic farming directly encourages biodiversity and not only by avoiding the products responsible for the destruction of so much of our biodiversity. Most organic farms actively strive to protect and support habitats for a wide range of species.
3. EAT A VARIED DIET – nature loves variety, yet the majority of the food consumed by the human population worldwide comes from a surprisingly small number of plant and animal species. We could and should so much more to improve the variety of what we grow to eat.
4. GROW YOUR OWN – not only is this the best way to know where your food is coming from, it’s incredibly satisfying. Of course, it’s beyond the means of most of us to grow more than even a small amount of our own food but, conversely, just about everyone can grow something. Whether it’s herbs and salads in window boxes or pots on a patio or fruit and vegetables from a garden plot or an allotment, growing our own without chemicals and fertilisers is a sure way to bring nature back while putting delicious food our plates.
5. RECYCLE YOUR FOOD WASTE – here we can really be in tune with the cycles of natural ecosystems. Nothing in nature is wasted; everything natural is food for something else. So when you save your kitchen scraps and put them in a wormery or compost them you are part of a natural cycle that replenishes our natural systems. Whether it’s the worms in a wormery or the bacteria in a compost bin that so it, your food waste will be broken down and will create new organic matter that you can use to boost the fertility and diversity of the soil and allow you to grow more and better food of your own.
As individuals we all have a responsibility in restoring and preserving British wildlife. Wildlife conservation and research holidays can also be a fun way for the whole family to spend time together while learning about and helping nature around us.
The symptoms of our declining wildlife may be clear for us all to see. How many of us have not noticed the declines in common birds or been moved by the plight of endangered species on popular programmes on TV? However, caring for nature and dealing with the real root causes of our declining biodiversity starts a lot closer to home than many people may imagine.
Intensive agriculture is the single biggest cause of our declining biodiversity by far and we can change that if we can change the way we eat!