Here Today. Gone Tomorrow?

logoIn conversation recently, Edward Wilson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, reminded us we are stewards, not owners of the biosphere.  Wilson is a primary authority in the disciplines of sociobiology and biodiversity whose career spans more than sixty years, and it is from this vantage point that he cautions “the attack on biodiversity, in an attack on ourselves”. Wilson was in the UK to promote his latest book, The Meaning of Human Existence, and launch the MEMO (Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory) Project.  MEMO’s mission to inform, to educate, and inspire action to protect biodiversity. The monumental stone building spiralling out of the ancient Jurassic Coast will embody images of species lost to extinction in recent times.  Species extinction rates are more than a 1,000 times the background rate, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that more than 22,000 of the 73,600 assessed species, are threatened with extinction.  Assessed species represent only a fraction of the 1,889,587 described species. Without assessment we can not know the full extent of the damage, but we do know biodiversity ensures resilience.

The main threats to species are from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss and degradation, introduction of alien species, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and climate change.  Awareness of the fragility of our ecosystems, is growing, but action is lagging.

ApsaraLast week as part of Sustainability Week @theHospitalClub, a private members club in London, the Marine Foundation launched a short film celebrating   Apsara, Spirits of the Sea, a living sculpture in the sea, inspired by ancient, beautiful, dancing Hindu spirits.  9am was early for a private view, but the audience were drawn by tales of mermaids and sea nymphs.  Celia Gregory, founder of the Marine Foundation and artist, knows we are visual creatures.  Images trigger an emotional response and can shift a mindset in a way that statistical lists can provoke scepticism.

The sea nymphs’ freedom and beauty belies their threatened habitat.  Coral reefs are among nature’s most diverse, breathtaking and critically endangered eco-systems, with 33% of reef building coral threatened.  Often damage to the oceans is unseen, hidden from view below the surface, or lost in its great scale.  Reef balls, eco-stars and coral nurseries are some of the techniques that have been used to rehabilitate reefs damaged by storms or human interventions.

unnamedEchoing another quote attributed Wilson, “You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand”, the Marine Foundation works at sites with where the coral reefs has been damaged, but there is eco-tourism potential, and crucially, the local community is involved. Ongoing management and marine spatial planning (removing predators, transplanting corals, controlling anchoring, establishing fishing restrictions, and opportunities for guardianship) are vital for restoration to be effective  Fishing restrictions around the reef create safe breeding grounds for fish and improve the catch nearby.  Sharing knowledge and information from the nearby Karang Lestari Biorock Coral Reef and Fisheries Restoration Project in Pemuteran, winner of the UN Equator Award for Community-Based Development and the Special UN Development Programme Award for Oceans and Coastal Zone Management in 2012, engaged the fishing community, who arranged for a blessing ceremony for Apsara (pictured above) and helped sink the sculpture.

Opening the same day, Here Today, curated by Artwise, celebrates the 50th Anniversary of The IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species, and supported by Baku Magazine.  Works of world famous artists such as Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol, Gavin Turk, Peter Blake, United Visual Artists, Douglas Gordon, and Julian Opie are interspersed with those of newer talents, all implicitly asking whether our endangered species will be gone tomorrow.

The first chapter entitled Human Footprint brings us face to face with some of our impacts.  Ocean plastic pollution is a relatively new problem, but vast: the UNEP Year Book 2014, states, “plastic waste causes financial damage of US$13billion to marine ecosystems each year”; the largest of four giant gyres (whirlpools of water trapping rubbish) is estimated to be the size of Texas, and contain 3.2million tonnes of plastic; 44% of all documented seabird species are found with plastic in their stomachs.  The Midway film shows the painful death throes of young marine birds fed plastics.  Alice Dunseath’s Plastic Shores Animations, (seeht3n at the SustainRCA Show) reminds us that these same micro plastics are entering our food chain.  Leyla Aliyeva’s experience Life, places a beating heart in the centre of a monochrome room of trees.  It is immersive and invites contemplation.  Chris Jordan and Rebecca Clark’s Silent Spring depicts 183,000 birds, the estimated number of birds that die in the United States every day from exposure to agricultural pesticides.  As with the 888,246 ceramic poppies planted for the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation the representation of an inconceivably large number is powerful.
ht1Stephanie Quayle‘s Congress, gathers clay sculptures of one of our closest, and most intelligent relatives, orang-utans in casual human poses, but bound for a gallery in shipping crates: for us to marvel, or because their habitat has been destroyed? The chapter Unsustainable Sea and Changing Landscapes explores the pressure that humanity is putting on nature with poignant works inspired by the disappearance and death of the Caspian and Aral Seas. ht2 Sayyora Muin’s Listen to the Silence of the Lost Sea, is a circle of women silently biding farewell to the Aral Sea, and their way of life  The world’s fourth largest saline lake until the 1960s when two rivers that fed it were diverted for agricultural use, and the sea has slowly desiccated since.
ht4The final chapter, Here for the Future, shares the six key policy solutions outlined in the WWF Climate Solutions Report,  next to Alicja Patanowksa‘s Plantation, an installation made of ceramics and discarded glasses,a n urban garden accessible to us all.  Plantation is one of the innovative, engaging responses from recent graduates of the Royal College of Art curated by Julian Melchiorri. melchiorriMelchiorri’s Silk Leaf made of a biological material made of silk protein and chloroplasts. Silk Leaf absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen and organic compounds through photosynthesis. Melchiorri envisages building clad in photosynthetic facade breathing life into our cities.  Other works revive materials turning ‘waste’ into luxurious textiles (Neha Lad), or human poo to clean fuel (Shruti Grover).  The works are too numerous to mention, but Here Today, is at The Old Sorting Office, 21-31 New Oxford Street, WC1, until 17th December, so go be inspired!
“The next millennium, if we are to avoid catastrophe, must be the green millennium…And the best,  most dramatic  and most reliable motivator of human behavioural change is beauty”, Elizabeth Farrelly.
Image credits: IUCN; The Marine Foundation

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/07/23/sustainrca-show-and-award-2014-finalists/

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Sowing the seeds of biodiversity

bbka_album_12_1364148653_thumbSpring is in the air, and the birds and the bees are a buzzing.  But the cacophony is more subdued than it once was.

We have known for sometime that our ecosystems, globally, nationally and in many cases locally are in decline.   The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, concluded “over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and more extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel.  This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.”  Our own UK National Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2011, found that about 30% of our ecosystems services have been assessed as currently declining, with many others in a degraded state.

All of this matters, as we rely on these ecosystem services for our survival.  Provisioning services of food and fuel can be easily understood, and valued.  Others are less tangible: regulation services such as trees providing local cooling and carbon capture (yes a shady tree); or the non-material benefits we derive from cultural services (put simply, enjoying a walk on the beach); and  supporting services, such as soil formation and  nutrient recycling (or composting).  Biodiversity underpins all of these services, and the greater the biodiversity, generally the more resilient the systems are.  The Lawton review, Making Space for Nature, (2010) concluded unequivocally that England’s wildlife sites are too small and too fragmented to provide a coherent and resilient ecological network.

bbka_album_12_1393322838_thumbAs for bees, over the last 20 years there has been a 50% decline in honey bee colonies, while at the same time, the areas of crops dependent on insect pollinators grew 38%.  84% of European crops rely on insect pollinators, and pollination is worth £440mn per year to UK agriculture (The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature, DEFRA, 2011).  So it is worth our while in every sense to act.

What is more, as 80% of our population live in urban areas, the green in our cities matters, but over the period, 1999-2008, London alone lost, on average, 500 gardens each year (London: Garden City? ,2010, London Wildlife Trust).  Some of the loss was due to development, but changes in garden design and management are also responsible, with a a 26% increase in hardstanding over the same period.

OlympicParkImage1-1A wide range of evidence suggests that contact with green spaces improves our well-being, so incorporating green infrastructure into urban design reaps wide social benefits.  Speaking at Ecobuild, Blanche Cameron, Founding Director of RESET, reminded us “Nature in cities is something we can all do – and is everyone’s job to do” as cities provide great opportunities to support biodiversity by integrating nature into our habitat.  Given the shortage of ground, choosing living roofs and walls, rain gardens, tree pits, or even a window box, are a great way to provide some green infrastructure to punctuate the grey.

As Toby James from Wildflower Turf, suppliers to London 2012 (pictured left), noted at Ecobuild, green roofs help filter air and water pollution, provide opportunities for rainwater capture and harvesting,  and reduce energy demand by providing insulation, creating better public and private spaces where we can all thrive.  They are also low maintenance, needing a trim only once a year in the autumn, and watering only in case of drought.The wildflowers also provide essential fodder for pollinators.

IMG_2009So what can you do to make space for pollinators, in gardens and on roofs?  The London Wildlife Trust‘s Garden for a Living London campaign has come up with six gardening actions to turn your backyard into a mini nature reserve.  They have ‘how to guides’ for each available for free download, from planting a mixed hedgerow to ‘wild up’ your decking.  RESET run one day masterclasses on DIY small scale green roof construction, or suppliers such as Wildflower Turf can provide installers’ details.  A video on Wildflower Turf UK’s website shows how quickly the wildflower turf can be established.

As Jane Moseley of the British Beekeepers Association says, “We don’t all have to be beekeepers, but we can all be keepers of bees”.  In London, for example, there are plenty of bees, but not enough for them to eat.  Just mowing the grass less often so that clover, dandelions and other pollinator fodder can flourish, would help, and how lovely to be implored to be lazy for a change!  BBKA provide a range of resources and advice on how to help bees and beekeepers.  Here are their top 10 ways to help the Honey Bee:

1. Adopt a beehive

seeds12. Make a bee-friendly habitat.  Plants they like include sunflowers, larkspurs, and foxgloves.  Vegetables like peas and beans, and the flowering herbs, such as mint and rosemary are also popular, along with most native wildflowers.

Perfect-for-Pollinators_RHS_P4P_LOGO_LWLook out for the RHS Perfect for Pollinators symbol at your local garden centre, or ask for advice, as now is a great time to sow your (wildflower) seeds.  I am not sure we followed all the instructions on preparation, but  Thompson & Morgan, and Sutton Seeds both stock pollinator-friendly mixes.  Packets of wildflower seed mixes make a great party bag filler and thoughtful alternative for wedding favours. Or sign up for your Bee Cause, bee saver kit from Friends of the Earth.

t440_7ace90caf718423162690a916f788d22Provide bees in your garden with a home.  Wildlife World have a whole range of options, from a simple bee log  (pictured right), via the functional Kinsman bee nester (made from rice husk and bamboo  and priced £18.99) to the palatial Highgrove Solitary Bee House, which is inspired by the design of classical temples in the Highgrove gardens, there is an option to suit all tastes!

3.  Encourage your local authority to cultivate bee-friendly, wildflower spaces. Local authorities manage a huge amount of space, so a policy change can have a real impact.  Eastbourne Borough Council has formally backed the Bee Cause and planting in all their parks and gardens now aims to be pollinator-friendly.

bbka_album_52_1375983647_thumb4.  Consider letting  a local beekeeper use your spare space. Your garden will get a boost from good pollination, and you might get some honey too!  Contact your local beekeeping association to find out more.

5.  If you spot a swarm, report it to the police or a local authority.

6. Do not keep unwashed honey jars outside as overseas honey can contain spores and bacteria very harmful to honey bees.

7. Contact your MP to urge their support for research into the decline of honey bees.

8. Invite a beekeeper to your local school or club.  Bees have been on Earth for around 30 million years, and cultivated for around 5,000 years.  Quite a history!

9.  Buy locally-produced honey.  It will taste different to foreign supermarket honey, and the flavour will reflect your local flora.  It is also a boost to pollinating local crops.

10.  If it sparks your interest, try a beekeeper for the day taster course, or become a beekeeper’s buddy and see if you are keen to take on a hive!

Simply let some native colour back in!

2012_london_olympic_park_wildflower_meadow

Photo credit:  British Beekeepers Association, Gardenvisit.com, Wildflower Turf UK, Wildlife World