Today is International Biodiversity Day – a chance to celebrate the millions of species with which we share this beautiful planet. 

I have always believed in the intrinsic value of species – the right for a species to exist.  It is the primary reason why I work in conservation.  But I also know that nature is fundamental to human existence – helping to provide food, regulate our climate, provide clean water, protect us from flooding and provide inspiration.  So, if you are a utilitarian, you should also support nature conservation.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of access to nature for health and wellbeing has been thrown into the spotlight.  For me, it has been my therapy.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly feeding on corn marigold, Jenny Tweedie (rspb-images.com)

Whilst many of us are fortunate to have gardens or live near wild spaces, sadly for too many people it’s hard to find nature on their doorstep.  The RSPB is committed to restoring nature, so that more people can enjoy the huge benefits of a strong connection to the natural world.  It is why as part of BirdLife International, we are calling for the UN Declaration on Human Rights to include a new right to a healthy environment.  If you have not already done so, please join our campaign here.

But, as it is International Biodiversity Day, I also want to share some good news.  Because conservation is not just about documenting declines, it is about taking action to make things better.

First, the European Commission has now published this its much-anticipated Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies and it was worth the wait.  If implemented, these strategies would radically improve the state of nature in Europe.  Our BirdLife colleagues in Brussels deserve massive credit for working with the Commission to give the products real punch.  They include a series of ambitious commitments for nature including for protection of the best places for wildlife, reduction of pesticide use and establishment of legally binding restoration targets.  The Commission has laid down a gauntlet to all governments including those across the UK to match or exceed this level of environmental leadership.

Second, with WWF-UK we have today published Riskier Business which highlights the growing international footprint of UK consumption.  The headline is that the UK uses a land area overseas nearly as big as the whole of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to satisfy our annual demand for seven key agricultural and forest commodities such as palm oil, timber, soy and cocoa.  This threatens important habitats increasing the threat of extinction of some 2,800 species.   What's more, we know that converting and degrading ecosystems increases the risk of emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19.  (If you want to know more about the relationship between nature and pandemics, I would encourage you to watch the webinar that we convened with WWF last week).  Our report shows a 15% growth in the UK’s land footprint overseas compared with our previous study of 2011-15.  While the scale of impact is clearly not good news, the first step is to understand the problem as only then can you do something about it.  Our report includes a range of recommendations for governments, businesses and consumers.  Crucially, we are calling for a time-bound, legally binding target to reduce the UK’s overall environmental footprint by 2030.  The Westminster Environment Bill – which is due to return to Parliament - is the opportunity to make this happen.

Third, there are some really good stories emerging from this years breeding season.  For example in recent days we have reported corncrake calling on Rathlin Island for the fifth year in a row and the UK crane population reaching 56 pairs – the highest level in 400 years.  Both are proof that targeted conservation action works and I hope to be able to report more conservation successes later in the season.  

And finally, it was lovely to see the media this week cover the story of how we repatriated our staff who had been working on Gough Island when the pandemic hit.  As I wrote in March, Covid-19 meant we had to abort this year’s operation to eradicate the non-native house mice that are pushing the Gough bunting and Tristan albatross to the brink of extinction.  Because South African borders were shut, the only way to get our team home was via a 12-day voyage and an RAF military flight.  My colleague, Andrew Callender (who leads the Gough Island Restoration Programme and worked tirelessly to find a solution to the repatriation challenge) said: “we received incredible support throughout the repatriation process from members of the FCO - the High Commissioner in South Africa and various Administrators and Representatives of the Overseas Territories, especially in the Falklands and the ultimate place of repatriation, Ascension”.  For the avoidance of doubt, we remain committed to trying to mount an operation to eradicate the non-native house mice in 2021. 

Whatever you do today, make sure you give yourself a moment to lose yourself in the captivating beauty of a flower, the wonder of birdsong or be awed by the diversity of life on your doorstep.  It will make you feel better.  I promise.  And remember that conservation, despite all the difficulties we face along the way, can and does make a difference.  Which is why, thanks to the incredible support of our members and partners, we’ll continue to do whatever it takes to save nature.

#BiodiversityDay

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