Saturday, March 13, 2010

Farming is mainly to blame for the loss of UK native plants and wildlife

Robin McKie in the Guardian (UK): England was given an uncomfortable reminder last week of the impact of its swelling number of inhabitants. Over the past two millennia, hundreds of its native plants and animals have been rendered extinct because the human population has risen from about one million to more than 51 million.

Victims have ranged from the great auk and the lynx to the humble blue stag beetle and Davall's sedge. More to the point, 480 of the 492 species made extinct since Roman times have disappeared in the past two centuries. Rates of eradication are rising, a trend that bodes badly for the future of the countryside, a report states.

Produced by Natural England, the government agency responsible for the countryside, "Lost Life: England's Lost and Threatened Species" focuses only on wildlife on English soil, although it has broad lessons for all of Britain. We live on "a fortress built by Nature for herself", Shakespeare claimed. If so, she is now paying a heavy price for its construction, as the study makes clear.

According to the report, a total of 24% of butterfly species and 22% of amphibians have been wiped out in England, along with individual types of wildlife such as Mitten's beardless moss; York groundsel, a weed only discovered in the 1970s; and Ivell's sea anemone, which was last seen in a lagoon near Chichester. Add to this the wolf, the wildcat and other large mammals and the level of devastation of our wildlife becomes chillingly apparent.

…The report highlights a number of culprits, though it is emphatic about the worst offender: habitat loss. The great inroads made into the English countryside by farmers and builders has had a devastating effect on our wildlife, destroying food sources, shelter and homes for hundreds of species.

"Urban spread is one cause of habitat loss, of course, but farming has had the greatest impact by far," added Dr Tew. "We have ploughed over the landscape, ripped up woods and drained our wetlands – and rare mosses, damselflies and corncrakes have disappeared as a result." Intriguingly, analysis shows extinctions occurred in two main waves, both based on farming revolutions…..

Cullaloe Wildlife Reserve, formerly a reservoir, just north of Aberdour, Fife. Cullaloe is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rare plants, including Mudwort. Shot by Simon Johnston, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license


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