Biodiversity and Habitat Loss – Jake Yeates

Loss of habitat is the key factor which causes the decline in biodiversity around the world. It is the main reason why species become extinct.

The key habitat which is lost is forest, mainly rainforests. Ecosystems and forests in the Mediterranean and have lost 80 % of their cover, due to humans’ felling of trees – and human-induced climate change.

Throughout the world, much forestry was lost centuries ago, when it was converted to farmland. Tropical forests are still being chopped down, at the rate of 50 football pitches every minute! This cannot continue unabated.

Pre-the 1980s, clearance of land was done by and for individuals and families, who would clear small areas of land for small farms, houses and cattle. Then global commercial agriculture took over and cleared millions of acres of rainforest and forest, for crops and to grow animals (often to be used for meat). The commercialisation of farming also increased the size of fields, massively reducing the number of hedges. This jeopardises the survival of hedgehogs1, dormice, bats, voles and insects – including bees).

Skylarks and many birds of prey are nearing extinction, as a result of businesses which profit from very harmful factory farming.

Often, people think that rearing “dairy” cattle isn’t so bad, but: there are 1700 factory farms in the UK, of which 789 are “mega-farms”. Each one of these rears a million chickens (in cages), 20,000 pigs or 2,000 cows. None of these animals ever sees the light of day, let alone any fields/their natural habitat.

Of course, the growth of towns (urban sprawl) and increasing road-building removes thousands of hectares of woodland and scrubland.

The solutions to the above are, of course:

Reducing the human population. This is vastly difficult, but can be done. Access to contraception, removing people from poverty and investing in sustainable communities can all help to stem population growth.

Reductions in levels of deforestation – ideally to zero. National governments need to impose (and enforce) limits on this.

There is hope:

We can all take action to promote rewilding, which could help threatened species to recover. Some recently extinct animal and plant groups would benefit hugely from rewilding – and their numbers could increase. Of course, this would impact very positively on biodiversity levels throughout the UK.

Another means by which to support biodiversity is to put pressure on MPs, etc. to enforce limits on such projects as road-building and urban sprawl.

In Scotland, golden eagles still hunt in the highlands. Scottish wildcats are critically endangered (with only 400 left) and the famously beautiful red squirrels are on the brink of extinction. Rewilding could secure the sustained survival of these (and of many other) beautiful animals, which are so important to natural food chain and local environment. Even the Kentish plover could be seen again. Could you become a plover lover?!

1 Numbers of these have halved in the UK since the year 2000.