Wildlife, ecology and biodiversity
This page is just an introduction to these very large subjects.
They are relevant to life in the UK and London as much as anywhere, and of concern to us all.
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.
UK and London policy are contained in:
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. Significant progress was made at the UNCBD’s Nagoya Convention in 2010.
Wildlife in the Diocese of London
City of London
The City Corporation has been encouraging the birds and the bees in the Square Mile.
In 2010 bee hives 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.
St Lawrence Church Little Stanmore also has working beehives.
Bees don’t just make honey; their work of pollination 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. See Buglife.
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. Apart from cabbage whites and one or two other abundant types, butterflies seem to be vanishing fast. See Butterfly Conservation.
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. For a wealth of advice, see Swift Conservation.
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 hedgehogs?
For a remarkable speech in Parliament, visit A salute to hedgehogs.
See also British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
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. See the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) for an explanation all about it, and what to look for.
Acute oak decline
This disease affecting mature oak trees has been around for longer than ash dieback, but remains a threat. See the Woodland Trust.
Valuable work promoting the welfare of trees in the Capital is also undertaken by the Conservation Foundation.