State of Nature – BII

stateofnatureThe UK is ‘one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth’ was one of the headlines that the media took away from the State of Nature report. This sounded new and worrying to me, although entirely believable, so I was interested to see the evidence on which it is based. You’ll find that on pp 70-71 of the report.

This striking statement, which appeared widely in the media, and was talked about at the launch (by people who didn’t know where it came from) is based on taking the long view and assessing how much of a nation’s land area is covered with natural habitats. Since we cut down our forests a long time ago and continue to pour concrete over the rest of the country the UK has, in fact, the 29th lowest Biodiversity Intactness Index on Earth (and Wales does better than the rest of us, and NI is worst of the four UK countries, apparently). This is all very rough and not-so-ready for policy use it seems to me. Take a look at the map of BII for the UK on p70 of State of Nature and you will find, unless my eyes deceive me, that Kielder Forest is one of the places where you might find a lot biodiversity intactness in this country and it’s rather better for biodiversity intactness than the New Forest. Now, there are many good things to be said about Kielder’s massive conifer plantations as far as wildlife is concerned but it isn’t the place where you go to find the most intact biodiversity in the UK, I would suggest.

It’s a good job that the NFU doesn’t really engage with data otherwise they’ll be pointing out that it might be rather difficult to get our BII up very quickly and that there might be some implications of trying to do so. But the farming lobby is a data-blind bunch so they can be relied upon not to engage in this way.  There is a bigger chance that someone in the Forestry Commission will have noticed this map, but they are far too sensible to suggest that the solution to the Secretary of State’s desire for biodiversity is to make the New Forest more like Thetford Forest and Kielder Forest.

I bet you want to know which are the 28 countries on Earth that have trashed their biodiversity more than we have, don’t you? So do I, but they are in a scientific paper which is not yet on public view so I can’t reveal all.  Would you guess that the Netherlands and Japan might be ahead of us in losing their intactness? I’m not sure but I am a bit intrigued.

We have, it is true, trashed our biodiversity. One of the signs of lack of intactness of our biodiversity is the lack of top predators, both mammals and birds. Over much of western Europe large mammals and large birds of prey had a tough time at the hands of farmers and shooting interests with, very roughly, their populations reaching a trough in the 1970s. Over much of Europe they are coming back: walking back in the case of wolves and flying back in the case of eagles, and increasing in numbers because of better protection and sometimes reintroductions in the case of other species.

Wolves have strolled back into the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark although they aren’t yet established in those countries but in neighbouring France and Germany they are (and see here – free access but requires registration). White-tailed Eagles have spread back to the Netherlands too.

An index of loss of top predators from a country might be an interesting measure of biodiversity intactness. We’d not do too well on that index either.

A solution to this nature-deficiency would be to create much larger areas of much wilder land – our National Parks (very low scores on the BII map and very low on ‘my’ TPII (Top Predator Intactness Index) might be a good place to start.  Where are the bold initiatives from government? Where are the bold challenges from the NGOs?




8 Replies to “State of Nature – BII”

  1. Kielder is not just conifers – also has amazing mires – and birds. Some of these datasets probably included in BII model.

  2. I am not sure the map is any sort of sensible reflection of ‘intactness’ on the ground. It looks like the large upland blocks in the southern half of the Cairngorms National Park NP, and in the Monadhliath to the north-west, are considered about as intact as a major conurbation. That is unlikely, given that are extensive areas of ground above the potential tree line.

    It is from a global map, and is low resolution etc etc, but it looks very suspect to me. The idea is interesting, but there must be some flaws in the underlying data or model.

  3. No, I don’t think you’ll be getting a rush from FC to support the idea that Kielder beats the New and it is clear this measurement perhaps needs a little work before it really flies.

    However, it does get you thinking and it is hugely relevant that the immediate reaction is the usual sectoral one – farming, conservation, urban, ‘good’ forest, bad ‘forest’.

    Worth taking a step back and looking at some of the components – grazing (including overgrazing), use of insecticides, persecution of birds of prey. Is it possible that forests may be scoring high on some counts simply because they are the only extensive areas where insecticide use is close to zero ? How important is not persecuting birds of prey ? Well, Kielder clearly scored on that this year with 2/3rds of England’s HH on the slivers of moor above the planting line. And foresters in Kielder (and elsewhere) are pulling back upper margins (and clearing bogs) because there is no prospect of growing economically viable trees. Compare and contrast to farming where the only response to places where it might be best to fund and exit strategy is to demand more money and defend indefensible intensification. Gives one to think.

    1. I wouldnt be too sure about the FC not using pesticides…. a hint of a spruce bark beetle and they would would be throwing gallons gallons of the stuff out helicopters. Its been done before.

  4. Actually the BII map looks not unlike the human population density map, hence the reference above to Malthus, I assume. England (not the UK as a whole) is now the most densely populated country in Europe (apart from minnows like Monaco), having overtaken the Netherlands a decade ago.
    I suspect, when the index of countries is eventually published, it will have a degree of conformity with human population density lists.

  5. Circus, it has, but not for spruce bark beetle which was controlled using a predator – the sort of ecological approach we could do with a lot more of, don’t you think ? Insecticide was used against Pine Beauty Moth in the far north, and more recently against Oak processionary moth – but that was mainly because this nasty pest had dared invade the commuter belt. It is worth reflecting that more insecticide has drifted onto UK forests than has ever been used in them, by far.

Comments are closed.