We live in a world that has separated the idea of conserving and enhancing biodiversity from everyday life, so it has become something that happens in nature reserves, woodlands and ‘wildlife gardens’, while in the rest of the world, biodiversity continues to decline. The list of priority species and habitats in UK Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs) was updated in August 2007 leading to over 1,000 species and 65 habitats now warranting priority action1. Under Devon’s local BAP, 135 sites have been notified for their wildlife interest which together with those of geological interest amount to 7.6% of the County’s area. Measures to regulate the management and development on these sites will be stringent. However, outside those areas, in the places where we live, work and walk through every day, biodiversity is not given the same degree of importance.
The story is not entirely negative. Over the last 40 years, many improvements have been seen in the ecosystems of Totnes and District. The River Dart, once highly polluted by effluent from local industries, is now clean enough to swim in, and fish have returned to the river. The air of the Totnes town, subject to ‘pea-soupers’ in the 1950s, is now far cleaner. Many of the woodlands in Totnes and District are managed for nature conservation, and awareness of biodiversity and nature conservation are now far higher than ever before.
However, wildlife is still squeezed out by development and intensive farming, by gardening and urban design practices. The development of the 70s and 80s left large tracts of concrete paved surfaces, and very little in the way of plantings of trees. Totnes Industrial Estate is a good example of a development where wildlife would struggle to get a foothold.
Unlike many of the challenges addressed in this Plan, which require some form of Government help or intervention, the enhancing and nurturing of biodiversity is something which ordinary people can do the most about. Our back gardens and allotment spaces are already the major biodiversity resources in the area. Take a walk over a large open field, or sit in a garden which has been left a bit wild, with trees and shrubs. In which of the two is there more bird song, more activity, and more diversity? If we lose biodiversity, we lose the very web of life itself. We are already starting to see the impacts of the decline in bee populations, with three of the UK’s wild bee species already extinct and a further 12 close to extinction. Albert Einstein once famously said that if the bee population dies out, humanity will experience the same fate within 4 years, so dependent are we on bees for pollination. For the next 20 years that this Plan covers, biodiversity must be central to our planning, thinking and to our actions.
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