Wildlife, ecology and biodiversity
The welfare of wildlife is of concern to us all, in London, the UK and around the world. What we call Nature is God’s Creation. We should care for it.
There may never have been a time since the Ice Age when wild nature was so severely under threat. It is widely believed that species are facing mass extinction, the sixth such event in the planet’s history.
Wildlife means all living things, those fauna and flora that have not been cultivated – or interfered with – by humans. But we have interfered with practically everything!
Ecology is the scientific discipline that studies species, their habitats, and the networks of relationships between them.
Biological diversity or biodiversity refers to the variety of wild nature worldwide, at every level – eco-systems, groups and individual species, habitats, populations, individuals and their genes.
There is wide agreement that biological diversity is becoming severely depleted, and that individual species are becoming extinct at an increasing rate, largely due to human populations and behaviours.
This may well amount to a mass extinction, already under way.
UK and London policy are contained in:
- The GLA London Plan
- The UK National Eco-system Assessment
- The Natural Environment White Paper (‘The Natural Choice: Securing the value of nature’
- Natural England’s National Biodiversity Strategy
- UK 25 Year Environment Plan
- The UK’s Environment Act which became law in 2021.
The protection and enhancement of biodiversity constitutes a major theme in the UN’s work.
The Church of England was a partner in the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity 2010 (IYB).
International efforts to conserve biodiversity are overseen by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD). In 2019, a major assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Eco-system Services (IPBES) hugely strengthened the knowledge base supporting the work of the UNCBD. This report showed that:
- Nature and its vital contributions to people are deteriorating worldwide;
- Direct and indirect drivers of change have accelerated during the past 50 years;
- Goals for conserving and nature and achieving sustainability if we continue on our present course;
- Nevertheless, nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while other global societal goals are simultaneously met through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.
Wildlife in the United Kingdom
Later in 2019, the UK State of Nature 2019 Report was published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). This laid bear the parlous state of wildlife across the UK. Marcus Yeo, JNCC’s Chief Executive, said that the continuing declines in biodiversity require urgent action from across society, but that conservation is successful when we all work together.
Diocese of London
City of London
The City Corporation has been encouraging the birds and the bees in the Square Mile.
Bees are among the most significant insect pollinators. There are numerous bee species in the UK, most not as well known and loved as the European Honey Bee.
In 2010 hives for honey bees were placed on the roofs of eight buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral.
St Pancras Church in Euston Road (London Borough of Camden) installed a working hive of 10,000 bees on its roof in April 2012.
Since then, St John at Hackney has also installed an apiary on its roof.
St Lawrence Church Little Stanmore also has working beehives.
Bees don’t just make honey; the work of pollination which they share with other insects is vital to life on earth. Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations, probably due to a combination of factors including disease, mite infestation, habitat loss and toxic chemicals.
Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are harmful to bees, were temporarily banned in the UK, but the ban was lifted after lobbying by farmers. A ban is needed even though it is only a partial solution.
Insect diversity more widely is also being heavily affected in the UK – there may be many reasons that are not well understood. High colour temperature LED streetlights seem to be making a contribution.
Apart from cabbage whites and one or two other abundant types, butterflies seem to be vanishing fast.
Nesting boxes for sparrows and swallows have been installed in churchyards in the City and West End and other boroughs. The 2012 City of London Festival included numerous events around the theme of birds.
Swifts are among our most popular and recognisable birds. They spend almost their whole lives on the wing.
When they are ready to build their nests each year, swifts return to their traditional sites, in holes in eaves and other building cavities – only to find that they have often been blocked off. Nesting boxes need to be provided, for example when insulating a roof.
Several churches in Ealing are planning to install nest boxes for swifts.
Hedgehogs are among mammals that are becoming seriously depleted, due to various factors including climate change.
Why not keep an eye open in your garden or churchyards for a hedgehog or its hoglets, who are finding it harder and harder to survive as the climate changes.
For a remarkable speech in Parliament, visit A salute to hedgehogs.
Horse chestnuts (‘conker trees’) come in two varieties, with predominately pink and predominately cream coloured flowers. These trees are magnificent when in flower, and for a month or two after they renew their leaves each year.
Unfortunately, most specimens in London are now afflicted by ailments which turn their leaves brown and mingy by July. These are caused by the fungus Phyllosticta paviae, by the leaf-mining moth Cameraria ohridella, and by a third undiagnosed condition.
So it’s a triple whammy. Fortunately this does not seem to be killing them yet – although the species is regarded as being in significant trouble Europe-wide.
Ash die back
The ash tree is a widespread and much loved feature of British towns, gardens, churchyards and countryside. Now it is menaced by the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus – which has been approaching from mainland Europe and finally reached various parts of our shores.
Can we pay attention whenever we see an ash tree – look out for conspicuous lesions on the stems, and be prepared to report any such signs of disease.
Acute oak decline
This disease affecting mature oak trees has been around for longer than ash dieback, but remains a threat.
Valuable work promoting the welfare of trees in the Capital is also undertaken by the Conservation Foundation.
Churchyards for London
Churchyards and wildlife
Trees in churchyards.
British Hedgehog Preservation Society
Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
UK National Eco-system Assessment
Natural Environment White Paper ‘The Natural Choice: Securing the value of nature’
Natural England’s National Biodiversity Strategy ‘Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services’
UK 25 Year Environment Plan.
UNCBD Nagoya Convention
IPBES Global Assessment
JNCC UK State of Nature Report.
Environment and Sustainability, front page.