Protecting Biodiversity – What if everyone did it?

Caitlin Quinn is a BEES student who recently gained work experience with the Biodiversity Office, Clare County Council, as part of her degree. Here she writes about her take on biodiversity.

Sometimes consequences for certain actions cannot be noticed in the most obvious of ways, but certainly if you think on a larger scale, the effect would be far greater.

How do you tell if an action is good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative?  This question pops up every day in our decision making, whether it’s a moral, spiritual, social or ecological matter.  I personally find the best way to tell if an action is good or bad is to ask yourself, what if everyone did it?  Will I plant a tree in the back garden. . . what if everyone did it?  Will I use pesticides. . . what if everyone did it?  Will I build a bird box. . . well, you get the picture!

Caitlin Quinn

People nowadays tend to be affected by the word bad, or wrong, but what about all the good things?  Surely it’s just as important to do the little things that may help and encourage biodiversity, which will not necessarily be negative if we don’t do them.  Simple things like keeping the existing habitats in your garden and neighbourhood such as hedges, ponds and trees but simply planting native species can also be a bit help to biodiversity.

But how can such small actions, which appear so trivial in isolation, have such an impact on biodiversity?  The answer is “ecosystems”.  An ecosystem is how animals and plants interact with their habitats and the other species within that habitat.  For example, a simple food chain could consist of clover that is eaten by a snail that in turn is eaten by a thrush, which may be eaten by a larger bird such as a sparrowhawk.  Food webs, however, are more complex.  They involve several food chains connected together.  The thrush, for example, does not only eat snails but also other insects such as spiders and slugs.  Likewise, hedgehogs, foxes and ducks will also eat snails, creating a more complex interaction.  So, if one small part of this web is damaged or eliminated, huge effects will be carried throughout the system, which is easy to see in the visible food webs of larger mammals and birds, but is equally, and often even more, important in the food webs of insects and other micro-organisms.

All of these plants and animals we see around us need a habitat in which they can survive and grow.  A habitat, however, is not just a place of rest, but anywhere that provides for every need of the plant or animal (food, shelter and reproduction).  Habitats can vary from large woodlands and open bogs to community parks and back gardens, and even small microhabitats that can occur in the cracks and crevices of walls.  People have the ability to create and enhance microhabitats as they occur all around us and this in turn has an impact on the larger habitats they occur in.  Take, for example, a flowerbed, which is home to a huge array of animals.  Worms live in the soil, while the flowers provide nectar for bees and birds.  By planting native shrubs and flowerbeds, creating ponds and other habitats, or simply building bird or bat boxes, we can enhance the diversity of animals in our gardens, and our gardens in turn act as nature corridors to the wider environment.

Many people hate the sight of flies, bugs and creepy-crawlies, and often use pesticides to try to get rid of them; however, these animals also play a vital role in our ecosystem.  These often horrible-looking slimy worms aerate soil, which is essential to make it rich and fertile.  What would farmers and gardeners do without them!  Without rich, fertile soil, crops would not grow successfully.  Spiders are predatory animals; they eat hundreds of flies a day.  So if there were no spiders to keep flies at bay, they would simply cover the place!  And that, in my opinion, would be far worse!

Biodiversity has stood the test of time through millions of years and will continue to be part of the environment in the future.  However, although the concept of biodiversity is durable, individual animals and plants are not.  The thing that is most important to understand about biodiversity is that while it may not completely disappear, it can be severely or even irreparably damaged.  For example, if a monoculture (a single-species crop) was planted in wet grassland, then a limited number of species would still exist there but the hundreds of naturally-occurring species would disappear.

So the next time you’re looking out into the back garden or walking through community woodlands, take a closer look.  You will soon see a huge array of fascinating plants and animals, each one in some way dependent on another, yet each one deserving to be valued and protected in its own right.

And, the next time you’re thinking of doing something, ask yourself. . .What if everyone did it?

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