We're excited to announce the launch of School of Crawl, our first creative educational programme.
School of Crawl is designed to teach students about the local biodiversity surrounding their schools, with the aim of broaching wider issues of biodiversity loss on a UK and global scale, and inspiring a sense of responsibility.
Working in partnership with GiGL (Greenspace Information for Greater London) visiting with the Royal Parks Foundation, we will be exploring the relationship between human activities and urban wildlife in London; the main contributing factors, and how we can reduce our impact.
The week of activities will be packed with visually aided learning, an outdoor activities session with the Royal Parks Foundation Education Centre in Hyde Park, and T-shirt designing and printing.
Just like our Crawl Arts clothing, we will be assisting the students in making their own up-cycled and “activated” T-shirts, enabling them to wear their own stories. Based on the wildlife they share their space with, their personalised garments both target the fashion industry’s excessive waste problem, and weave environmental consciousness into their daily lives.
Helping young people engage with the issues that will define their lives, we’re inspiring the next generation of
Biodiversity literally means the links and variety between all living things on the planet. It’s constructed from three intertwining components, often referred to as the “web of life”:
1) Ecosystem diversity: Communities of living things are different from each other, populating habitats across a landscape.
2) Species diversity: The variety and population abundance of species in an ecosystem.
3) Genetic diversity: The variety in genetic make-up across a species.
The more intertwining there is between these elements, the more resilient the web becomes.
ACROSS THE WORLD...
Over millions of years, our ecosystems have evolved to produce incredibly diverse and sophisticated biological communities. These communities have adapted to, and lived in harmony with their environment. For the relatively minute period of time that us humans have been knocking around, they have provided us with a great many renewable and non-renewable natural resources - “ecosystem services” or “natural capital” - that have enabled us to survive and thrive. To name a few:
- Providing essentials, such as food, fresh water and clean air and medicine.
- Protection from natural disasters.
- Regulation of our climate.
- Purification of our water.
- Pollination of our crops.
- Controlling pests and disease.
- Influencing aesthetic, spiritual and religious values, crucial for the formation of culture and identity.
- Improving mental and physical health.
THE GREAT ACCELERATION
Since the industrial revolution in 1750, and particularly over the past 100 years, the size and scale of human activities have rapidly expanded. These enterprises have caused changes in the Earth System, including greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation, habitat loss, and consequently, biodiversity deterioration. Thanks to increasing studies and reports over the last 60 years, we now have a large and growing encyclopedia of evidence for this explosive increase in human pressure on the
natural world, and a greater understanding of both the complex consequences, and our
In response to these environmental shifts, Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, along with others, proposed that as a direct result of human activities, we have stepped out of the Holocene and entered a new geological epoch: the “Anthropocene”. Amongst the prime culprits are unsustainable farming and agriculture, fisheries, mining and logging. Our climate is changing at an unprecedented speed, and the capacity of our planet to accommodate modern human society and wider life forms is being called into question. Across the world, we are witnessing what many argue is the sixth mass extinction event, which, unlike those before it that spanned across thousands to millions of years, is measurable across the span of a human life, and as a result of the collective impact of just one single species.
COUNTING OUR LOSSES
The evidence for these circumstances is revealed across various monitoring systems and scientific research. The Living Planet Index, which measures levels of biodiversity abundance, shows an average decline in monitored species population abundance of 58% between 1970 – 2012.
In the last couple of years, major studies have shed critical light on the realities, complexities, and contributing factors behind declining global biodiversity levels. In 2015, the first global analysis of human impacts on local biodiversity was undertaken collaboratively between the Natural History Museum, United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and British universities. The research assessed changes in biodiversity from 1500 to the present day, and considered data from every continent, covering more than 26,500 species in over 70 countries.
Their findings reflected decreases in species in local ecosystems that measure an average of 14% across the world, with the majority of loss occurring over the past century. This places us dangerously close to the widely acknowledged 20% tipping point, beyond which we can no longer rely on our ecosystems to perform the vital services that sustain both themselves and us.
A study published in 2016 adds steam to these findings, looking at the effect of habitat loss - in grasslands, savannahs, shrublands, forests and woodlands - to surmise that the decrease in species diversity has reached unsafe levels across 58% of the world’s land surface. This fast approaches a point at which human intervention is required to revive these ecosystems.
To better understand our role in biodiversity loss, and the changes that must be made, it is important to consider the wide and complex range of factors and systems that structure the ways we live. Patterns of unsustainable consumption, production, finance and governance are underpinned by the values, social norms, laws and policies that govern our lifestyles. They also reflect social imbalance, with exploits in wealthier countries often disadvantaging human and natural communities elsewhere.
We are at a critical point, and our responses to the challenges faced by biodiversity loss require a transition to sustainable and resilient modes of production and consumption, particularly in relation to food and energy. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development surveys these challenges, placing crucial emphasis on protecting the Earth’s natural capital and it’s ecosystem services. What happens next is up to us.
IN THE UK...
The UK has one of the longest and richest histories of biological recording in the world, with data stretching back to the 1700s and a diverse family that counts fleas amongst flying foxes. Our rolling landscapes cover sand dunes, salt marshes, grassland, upland, woodland and more, and are home to many thousands of wild plants and animals.
Our vast library of environmental data results from wide and varied recording efforts from national and local government, non-government and wildlife-related organisations, and perhaps most significantly, from volunteers and individuals. Included amongst this assorted group are scientists, geologists, artists and many others. It is through their collective endeavours that a sprawling network of conservation initiatives have helped to preserve both our natural and cultural heritage.
Just last year, a report showed that over the last 50 years, 56% of species in the UK have declined, while 15% are at risk of becoming extinct. Between 2002 – 2008, eight priority species were lost entirely from the UK, and recent analysis revealed that over 40% of priority habitats and 30% of priority species are dwindling; birds, butterflies, plants, and in particular countryside habitats.
In 1994, the UK became the first country to produce a national Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). This was a response to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), signed in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which reflected the world community’s commitment to address the global issue of biodiversity loss and pursue sustainable development. The BAP surveyed our biological resources and detailed plans for conservation initiatives to revive and protect those species and habitats most vulnerable. Regular national reports illustrated its progress, and assessed how the plans were contributing to the UK’s reduction of biodiversity loss set out by the CBD. The most recent report was published in 2012, in response to both the ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ set out in Japan in 2010, and the launch of the new EU Biodiversity strategy in May 2011.
The best picture of our national biodiversity came from the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) in 2011, the first complete survey of the country's natural resources and benefits. It revealed to us more clearly than ever before how our natural world, including its biodiversity, grants us services that are fundamental to our wellbeing and economy. What it also highlighted, however, was the consistent oversight of nature in decision and policy making, and - unsurprisingly - an increasing decline in many of the vital functions it performs.
THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Thanks to conservation efforts there have been some success stories, including the recovery of red kite and re-introduction of large blue butterfly, but these are rare. Much of our wildlife is constantly threatened by policy-driven agricultural intensification, climate change, pollution, and invasive species.
Further obstacles arise within disjointed environmental policy, where decisions are made across a host of disparate bodies, often based on little dialogue, and fewer resources. The risk of this fragmentation is the dismissal or downplaying of our social and cultural reliance on wildlife, as well as its intrinsic value. The advent of Brexit is another source of uncertainty when considering the future management of biodiversity in the UK, as we step away from “probably the most complete and influential body of environmental law and policy in the world” established by the EU.
Whilst many political, economic and social factors somewhat obscure the stability of biodiversity in the UK, what is clear is the necessity for stronger public awareness, education and involvement in the protection of our wildlife. Through School of Crawl, we hope to inspire this sense of individual and collective responsibility and concern amongst a younger generation, to help ensure a less ambiguous future.
RSPB, State of Nature, 2016
Defra, 'Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England's wildlife and ecosystem services', 19 August 2011
Defra, 'Biodiversity 2020: simple guide and progress update', July 2013
Psst... If you're keen to explore the history of British flora and fauna further through a myriad of beautiful artworks, check out The Art of British Natural History exhibition on currently at the Natural History Museum, open until July 1st.
Over half of the world’s population now reside in cities, and each second two people join that demographic. To get some perspective, that’s over 77 million people gravitating from rural to urban areas each year - more than the entire population of the UK. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to biodiversity, it’s in these most densely populated places where the greatest changes are occurring.
According to a UN definition, London can actually be classified as a forest, boasting 8.4 million trees – almost one to each of us 8.63 million city dwellers. In fact, close to half of our total area is green and blue space, covering a broad diversity of habitats from nature reserves, wetlands and chalk downs to rivers, marshes and woodlands. Amongst these, 1,500 wildlife sites have been recognised as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs), comprising almost 20% of the Greater London area. We share our home with 13,000 species of wildlife, 1,500 different flowering plants and 300 species of bird. But as our numbers continue to grow and our climate becomes unstable, London’s natural abundance faces increasing pressure.
The RSPB’s 2013 report, State of Nature, confirmed that 59% of urban species has declined, amongst them various familiar birds such as the house sparrow, mistle thrush and song thrush, as well as butterflies, hedgehogs and the garden tiger moth. Our dwindling friends are accompanied by an estimated loss of 3,000ha of vegetated land in the city’s gardens between 1999 and 2008 – roughly two and a half Hyde Parks disappearing yearly. We’re at a ‘pivotal moment’, according to the London Wildlife Trust – the only charity dedicated exclusively to protecting the capital’s wildlife and wild spaces – where opportunities to protect our natural heritage must be understood and acted upon widely and without delay.
The city’s sprawling ‘green infrastructure’ serves many vital functions that underpin its social and economic wellbeing. Foremost, it provides spaces for species that have adapted to an urban environment, many of which are rare and rely upon particular habitats like chalk grasslands and heathland, vestiges of a pre-urbanised landscape. We too rely on ‘natural capital’ for a great many goods and services. Countless reports have proven the psychological benefits of spending time in natural green space, from improving our mood or self-esteem, to actively combatting mental illnesses and obesity. This is especially true for youngsters, positively impacting their cognitive development and stress management in later life, as well as instilling a greater lasting respect for their environment.
In more quantitative terms, many of our city’s ecosystem features actively reduce our environmental impact and protect us from imposing elements; providing clean air and water, healthy soils, food production, flood management and climate regulation. Services from urban trees, for example, are manifold; conserving energy by regulating the temperature of nearby buildings year round; increasing property value by as much as 15%; filtering pollution and improving air quality; reducing greenhouse gases by storing carbon; and the list goes on. Our network of rivers - around which London was built and many of which have since been pushed underground with urban development and growth – are also key for creating resilience to extreme weather.
Whilst the benefits provided by our natural spaces are many and varied, there is a general lack of awareness and understanding of their full range of functions and values. This is compounded by the reality that natural capital is rarely marketable; data, inventories and resources are limited and of poor quality; and there have been significant reductions in funding. It follows, predictably, that inappropriate decisions are frequently taken over its management and maintenance.
Amongst the list of other risks posed to London's wildlife, urban development comes top. With our rapidly expanding population set to hit 10 million by 2030, demands for housing and schools are prioritised over parks and green spaces. Much has already been lost, with more affected by construction works occurring in close proximity. For many remaining SINCs, the majority of which are multifunctional, their ecological wellbeing is reduced to accommodate for other uses, like temporary festivals and sports pitches. This damage and loss to important habitats has meant a rapid decline in many species. Hedgehogs, for example, have virtually disappeared across most of the city, their population falling from three million ten years ago to less than one million today.
An issue that has bobbed closer to the surface thanks to recent surges of media attention is air pollution. Just five days into the New Year, London managed to break its annual air pollution limit for 2017 – largely the result of emissions from diesel vehicles and the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas from individual to industrial processes. The environmental and public health consequences are drastic, with around 9,500 lives claimed each year in the capital and a changing climate that predicts more extreme weather like heavy rainfall and heatwaves, threatening the stability of our wider ecosystems.
From the collective effort of many charities, organisations and volunteers, a large network of conservation initiatives are currently helping to restore and preserve biodiversity across the city. The London Wildlife Trust is collaborating with a wide range of partners and local communities to educate and inspire people about the future of their natural surroundings. Their London’s Living Landscapes initiative, for example, aims to protect, conserve and enhance the city’s wildlife by connecting disjointed natural green and blue spaces to form vibrant landscapes that allow ‘wildlife highways’ and support species richness.
Mayor Sadiq Khan’s London Plan has stipulated various measures including protection of the Green Belt, intensive development at key locations (such as Old Oak Common and Tottenham); natural capital accounting; embedding an integrated green infrastructure and promoting active citizenship. With what degree of commitment these plans will unfold, however, is uncertain, and the wider socio-political context of Brexit developments offer little reassurance. Just today the uncovering of UK plans to ‘scale down’ climate change and illegal wildlife regulations in a bid to secure post-Brexit trade is a worrying sign.
Whilst organisational and legislative measures provide a framework, they cannot succeed without wide involvement from the public. The participation from volunteers in gathering varied and valid environmental data has surged in recent years, and its continuation is vital for conservation efforts. Aside from information gathering, there are many other ways that individuals can help. The London Wildlife Trust’s 2015 publication Spaces Wild provides useful information and guidelines for why and how we should be protecting our greenspaces, from raising awareness of the importance of SINCs, to participating in local planning processes and getting acquainted with the over 500 local ‘friends of’ groups in London.
For those with gardens or land, there are various ways the space can be used to benefit wider wildlife. Rain gardens - shallow planted basins - are an inexpensive and effective way to divert rainwater from buildings and hard areas into wildlife oases. Planting your own green roof acts as a sponge, absorbing rain and creating habitat for pollinators, insects, and the birds that feed on them. They also help to cool urban areas and improve air and water quality. For rare and endangered species like the Hedgehog, a simple trick to help improve accessibility to a wider green network is by digging small holes under garden fences and walls.
i-Tree study, Valuing London’s Urban Forests, Treeconomics London, 2015
RSPB, State of Nature, 2013
RSPB, State of Nature, 2016
Psst… Check out how a Green Alliance Pledge could ensure a more environmentally secure future for the UK, and urge your MP to support it: http://greeneruk.org/pledge.php
SPOTLIGHT: CHRIS PACKHAM
We live in a multi-species world, made up of diverse and intricate ecologies. But as human activities continue to place increasing pressure on our environment, we are radically undermining the unique and vital role that each species plays. Chris Packham is trying to change this. Naturalist, Wildlife television presenter and nature photographer, he has dedicated his life to conservation. He is a leading voice in the UK and beyond and many of his inspirational ideas are ones we share in the making of School of Crawl.
In 2016, Packham released Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. The metaphorically titled book, he explains, is a fascinating and unique memoir of his ‘childhood discovery of the extraordinary richness of wildlife and the natural world’. He captures in it the innocence and wonder of his experience, introducing the beginnings of the incredible passion that drives his work today.
Packham promotes nature as something to immerse oneself in - a passion, a hobby, a daily wonder to enjoy and be a part of. In his own words, the natural world represents ‘a vast repository of riches’, and the experience of this ignites something that no television show, photograph or book can. Such experiences in childhood remain with us, and can result in a lifelong commitment to protecting these riches. The importance of instilling this in younger generations is such that the existence of many species - including us - depends upon it.
Packham’s unwavering respect for the beauty and diversity of UK wildlife is inspiring, and his fascination with animals has set him apart. But what distinguishes him further is his willingness to speak the truths that most don’t want to hear. His direct and often blunt approach has seen him branded as a somewhat controversial figure, but this honestly is crucial. Now more than ever, we need individuals like him, with the passion and compassion to shout out about threats to our increasingly fragile biodiversity.
We live in a society where the notion of humans as separate from Nature is deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. The narrative that has dominated in the West for hundreds of years, and continues today, has privileged human existence, positioning Nature as the singular “other”. Packham is keen to remind us that we are inextricably connected to our natural world, both affecting, and affected by everything around us. More than just co-existing, we must see ourselves as both “participants” and “custodians” of the vast and varied ecosystems that support the rich and vital biodiversity of life.
Central to Packham’s environmental advocacy is his emphasis on local, community-based nature conservation. As we gear up to teach our first School of Crawlers about the biodiversity that surrounds them in London, we couldn’t agree more.
With British wildlife declining at an alarming rate, refocusing our attention towards our immediate surroundings is becoming increasingly urgent. The Biodiversity Action Plans, he explains, are indispensible for determining priorities and identifying where resources can be used most effectively. But responsibility is not restricted to government, local councils and conservation organisations. The general public have a critical role to play, whether with window boxes, hanging baskets or balconies, in your own garden, or in local greenspaces.
Whilst the plight of charismatic megafauna like pandas, tigers, polar bears and whales tend to receive the greatest attention, Packham stresses the importance of appreciating the wildlife that surrounds us. This is not to detract from the importance of recognising those issues that are out of sight, particularly in areas most disadvantaged and imminently threatened. Valuing the supposedly ordinary and overlooked creatures on our doorstep, however, can remind us of the reality of species connectedness and the fragility of ecosystems. As he puts it so succinctly, ‘no species exists in isolation, and the true beauty is the way that it interacts with all of the other species in its community’ – we would do well to include our selves in this thinking.
During the last half century, it’s estimated that half of the world’s wildlife has been lost. Packham is 54. He has witnessed this shocking decline over the course of his lifetime alone, but manages to remain hopeful and persevere. Reflecting on the loss of British species and habitats in 2015, he simply asserted his commitment to "try harder while I still have the time". I was lucky enough to hear Packham speak at the Natural History Museum last year, and took the opportunity to ask advice for young people confronted with such stark realities. His response was encouraging and should keep resounding: “stay positive and never give up”.