Bugs, Butterflies and Beautiful Flowers

Chalk grassland is one of the richest habitats in Western Europe. Now, thanks to agricultural intensification, fertiliser and chemical application, fragmentation and unsuitable management we have lost much of what once was. The UK holds 50% of the worlds remaining chalk grassland, now isn’t that a reason for us to stand up and manage it well?

On average chalk grassland is home to 40 species per m2, astounding! Many of these species are rare plants and animals that can’t live elsewhere. For example, the Small blue butterfly which needs Kidney vetch to lay its eggs on or the Adonis blue which needs Horseshoe vetch. Not only butterflies but reptiles, skylarks, grasses and wildflowers all call chalk grassland their home.

Some of the wonderful plant species found on chalk grassland include: quaking grass, betony, marjoram, harebell, wild basil, eyebright, Deptford pink and milkworts. Not mentioning the wonderful orchids such as the Pyramidal (left) and Bee orchid (right).

 

One of my favourite things about chalk grassland is the closer you look, the more you see.

Chalk grassland is a managed habitat, without human input eventually scrub would take a hold and the area would transition to woodland. So, good management requires some form of grazing (at the correct level), scrub management and rotational mowing at certain times of year to create a mosaic of micro habitats and variation in sward height.

The flowers pictured are two of the more common species of orchid, but there are lots of really diverse and magnificent specimens to look for.

Get out there! Enjoy, admire and protect.

 

 

Biodiversity loss

Healthy and beautiful environments provide me with such a  sense of wonder, it is so special to see a wildlife thrive.But the global trend is one of severe decline; scientists estimate that 10,000 species go extinct every year. These rates are believed to be 1,000-10,000 times larger than the natural extinction rate. Far greater than any other time in the geological record, and unlike any other time, it is caused almost entirely by one species- ours.

In the last 35 years, biodiversity has declined by more than a quarter. Population growth and consumption are the main causes for this loss; creating habitat loss, pollution, climate change and species exploitation.

The Living Planet Report

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Two examples of species currently facing threats are the pangolin and orangutang.

There are 8 species of pangolin found on 2 continents. They range from vulnerable to critically endangered on the ICUN red list. Pangolins are one of the most heavily trafficked animals in the world. Their meat is a delicacy in China and Vietnam and their scales are used in traditional medicines. Over 230,000 animals were seized between 2011-2013, experts believe this figure represents only 10% of the total number of pangolin being illegally traded.

Pangolin Pit  This photo was part of last year’s Wildlife Photographer of the year Exhibition in London. It captivated me; telling such a horrific story.

Orangutang are the largest tree climbing mammal. They are facing threats thanks to ongoing deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. Both species of orang are now classified as endangered (Bornean) or critically endangered (Sumatran).One of the main drivers of habitat loss is demand for palm oil; this crop has many different uses and is used in many of the foods we eat, in food packaging and cosmetics. In Sumatra 10.8 million hectares of rainforest have been converted into palm plantation; destroying the natural habitat of special rainforest species. I have tried to stop buying food with palm oil in it in the hope that I am not supporting this industry.

The State of Nature report was released in the UK last year. The report suggested that between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species in the UK faced population declines. Of the 8000 species assessed, 15% were extinct or threatened with extinction. Agriculture and climate change are the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the UK.

There are a number of UK species that are really suffering.

hedgehog

Natterjack toads are now confined to coastal dune areas and sandy heaths. Only found on about 60 sites in the UK. It used to be quite common in Surrey and Hampshire heaths but is now almost entirely gone.

In just the last 10 years, the numbers of hedgehogs has fallen by 30%. This is thanks to habitat loss and intensification of agricultural practices. They are disappearing from our countryside as quickly as tigers are worldwide.

Watervoles have undergone one of the most serious declines of any native mammal in the 20th century.  Intensification of agriculture, loss and degradation of habitat, degradation of rivers and waterways and the introduction of the American Mink (1990s spread). Between 1989 and 1998 the population fell by almost 90%.

watervole

As someone who cares greatly about the habitats and species around us, I am really saddened to learn about the impact we are having on nature. I am sure together we can do more to reduce species loss.