Biodiversity in Europe is gradually being eroded. That’s the message from a report published on 20 May 2015 by the European Environment Agency (EEA), ahead of the European Green Week 2015. According to the EEA, the majority of habitats and species in Europe have an “unfavourable” conservation status, and efforts to protect them remain limited and patchy.
Eastern European and south-eastern Mediterranean countries – including Cyprus, Romania, and Slovenia – have reported the most favourable habitat assessments, whilst northern European countries such as Belgium, the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands are among the worst-performing. As biodiversity degrades, it can have a hugely negative impact on the environment, affecting how ecosystems function and making them increasingly fragile.
But is there anything that ordinary European can do? Or is this something that needs to be tackled by governments and international NGOs? We had a comment sent in by Florence arguing that European consumers can play a key role in protecting biodiversity, but is that true?
To get an answer, we spoke to Valerie Hickey, an expert on biodiversity at the World Bank. How would she respond to Florence?
This is a great question, and I think that one of the most important and direct ways that ordinary citizens can help protect biodiversity is through their consumer choices. We increasingly have sustainability certification systems for products and supply chains, so when you’re buying wood, fish, or other products, try and buy from sources that are certified…
So, ordinary citizens need to educate themselves on what those certification programmes are, and then make their buying choices where they can. Now, not everybody can pay the price premium, but even if you can’t, do some thinking about what you want to buy, look at the various products, and look at the corporate social responsibility profile of the business you’re buying from…
And there are obviously other ways for ordinary citizens to help protect biodiversity. They need to make sure they are talking to their policymakers and representatives and remind them why biodiversity is important, and they also need to go out and enjoy biodiversity. Because, at the end of the day, we need a committed citizenry who can talk about this not just intellectually, but also people who have stories and connection in a very real sense. So, get out into nature and find out just how wonderful it is!
To get another perspective, we also put the same question to Alberto Arroyo-Schell, Senior Policy Adviser on Biodiversity for the WWF European Policy Office. How would he respond to Florence?
Actually, this is quite a common question. In the end, the steps ordinary European citizens can take are not that different from the steps they can take to help tackle climate change. It’s about taking care with your use of energy, use of water, what kind of products you use or eat, what sort of transport you use, the level of consumption you have – all of this helps protect biodiversity.
When you switch off a light because you’re not in that room, it impacts a longer chain of relations that can ultimately help protect biodiversity. In the long-term, it might contribute to your city using less energy, which means there is no need to construct a new dam, or perhaps fewer resources will be used, e.g. so less intensive mining is needed.
And we can also ask our politicians to keep our nature alive, to ensure the legal protection is in place – in these times this is especially important! You can now take action at http://www.wwf.eu/keepnaturealive/
Finally, we had a question sent in by Everybodyknows, who argues that agriculture is a “real disaster” for the environment, and that we need to convince farmers to prioritise biodiversity instead of profit.
The EEA ‘s report suggests that agriculture is indeed the single biggest threat to biodiversity in Europe, with grasslands suffering as farming intensifies. However, Valerie Hickey argues that most farmers understand they have a vested interest in preserving biodiversity:
I think this is a misconception about farmers. What I’ve found is that, in the developing countries I’ve worked in around the world, farmers are our frontline and they’re the folks securing biodiversity. Because they’re the guys who know immediately that if the beehives growing wild around their farms collapse then they can’t grow their food. So, farmers can be our best advocates for saving biodiversity because they depend on it directly. They know that when they have trees on their farm that are creating shade and water retention, this is underpinning their ability to be successful farmers.
We also put this comment to Alberto Arroyo for his reaction. He agreed with Valerie Hickey that farmers should not be demonised, but believed that the agricultural sector represented a huge challenge in terms of biodiversity:
Well, we have to be careful because it’s probably not wise to designate a group of people as the ‘bad guys’. So, it’s true that agriculture is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, especially in Europe, but the agricultural sector is diverse. For example, there are people who are employing sustainable extensive agriculture, or organic agriculture, or other farming techniques that are not necessarily harmful can actually be helpful for biodiversity. That said, it’s true that agriculture is one of the big challenges we face in terms of biodiversity.
How can we convince farmers to prioritise biodiversity? Well, we are working on it… but I have to admit that this it’s not easy. I believe that, in the end, everybody benefits from biodiversity. In other words, there are tangible, socio-economic benefits from protecting the environment. If you don’t take care of what is actually giving you the bread, which is the healthy land and soil, the clean water, then in the end you will have problems. We will all have problems!
What can ordinary Europeans do to protect biodiversity? Do farmers need to be convinced to prioritise biodiversity instead of profit? Or are farmers our greatest advocates for protecting biodiversity? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!