As custodians of our landscape heritage we all need to play an active part in its future.
I read with concern, two BBC news stories last week that really brought that notion home to me . All of us who work in the land-based industry should be more proactive in maintaining and preserving our unique bio diverse habitats and landscapes for future generations.
Please read for yourself the two articles that we should all be concerned about.
Some key facts from the articles state that:
- Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes
- Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world's arable land has become unproductive due to erosion
- 95% of the Earth's land areas could become degraded by 2050
These matters are close to home for British politicians, the authors argue, with the average population sizes of the most threatened species in the UK having decreased by two-thirds since 1970. The UK is described as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
- Some 2.2 million tonnes of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17% of arable land shows signs of erosion.
- Nearly 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years.
- A scientific review of insect numbers suggests that 40% of species are undergoing "dramatic rates of decline" around the world.
The study says that bees, ants and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles. But researchers say that some species, such as houseflies and cockroaches, are likely to boom. The general insect decline is being caused by intensive agriculture, pesticides and climate change.
Insects make up the majority of creatures that live on land, and provide key benefits to many other species, including humans.
They provide food for birds, bats and small mammals; they pollinate around 75% of the crops in the world; they replenish soils and keep pest numbers in check.
Many other studies in recent years have shown that individual species of insects, such as bees, have suffered huge declines, particularly in developed economies.
The researchers found that declines in almost all regions may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades. One-third of insect species are classed as Endangered.
"The main factor is the loss of habitat, due to agricultural practices, urbanisation and deforestation," lead author Dr Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, from the University of Sydney, told BBC News.
"Second is the increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture worldwide and contamination with chemical pollutants of all kinds. Thirdly, we have biological factors, such as invasive species and pathogens; and fourthly, we have climate change, particularly in tropical areas where it is known to have a big impact."
I am sure many of us who work within the sports turf and amenity sectors are acutely aware of these issues and have in recent years have been trying to address the decline of wildlife, insects and habitats. However, there’s no doubt we should be doing more.
When was the last time you saw a hedgehog roaming outside your house? I have not seen one for a couple of years, mainly due to the loss of ground cover and hedgerows. Most new housing estates have much smaller gardens and many home owners have replaced their front gardens with gravel drives for parking. Hence a loss of habitat for local wildlife.
There are plenty of opportunities for us to halt the decline by taking action and improving the diversity of our neighbourhoods and places where we work.
Bob Taylor and his colleagues from the STRI, along with many dedicated greenkeepers have for many years being improving the biodiversity on golf courses. This mentality now needs to be driven to other land owners.
When I worked for the MOD as a grounds maintenance officer (GMO) we had great support from wildlife and habitat specialists to help preserve ecological important sites such a SSSI sites and historic woodlands.
English Heritage and the National Trust have also recognised the value of their properties and over the years have increased their management and maintenance regimes to increase the biodiversity of their sites.
Parks and green space professionals are constantly searching for potential new approaches to managing public land in response to shrinking budgets and diminishing resources. Whilst it is hard to maintain enthusiasm for innovation when urgent cutbacks are the priority, the challenge of this generation of parks managers is to maintain quality whilst seriously cutting costs.
The movement to manage parks and green spaces more as nature reserves rather than gardens, has encouraged the development of longer grass and ‘wildflower meadow’ regimes in urban green spaces especially following the publication of the National Pollinator Strategy (2014) guidance. This management approach allows ecological and biodiversity quality to take precedence over either horticultural standards or the on-trend ‘cleansing’ approach to managing open spaces with its emphasis on tidiness.
Alongside, and in addition to, recent changes in mowing regimes, the past twenty years or so have seen the emergence of naturalistic, ecology-based, sustainable planting styles and maintenance regimes as an alternative approach to horticultural displays. These were developed early in Germany and the Netherlands and are now, at last, gaining some momentum in the UK - particularly following the stunning success of the Olympic Park planting for London 2012.
Several local authorities are also developing strategic wildlife corridors that run through their towns and cities creating a joined-up wildlife highway.
The key to all this is having a better understanding of what assets you are managing, taking time to learn about the topography and wildlife you have on your own doorstep and getting the right advice to manage these assets in way that sustains and increases its biodiversity.
We now have a vast array of tools and machinery at our disposal to help us maintain our land. We need to evaluate our assets and deliver a sustainable future for our wildlife and insect populations for the future.
There is great potential to enhance our land assets by evaluating and changing our maintenance practises to accommodate and increase biodiversity in many of our urban areas.
There are many tracts of urban open space that incudes schools, hospitals, industrial estates and road verges that could be enhanced to encourage more wildlife activity.
It is a time for change. We must start now! Each and everyone of us could make a difference by managing our own land space in a way to increase its biodiversity for the benefit of our wonderful urban wildlife, insects, flora and fauna.