Friday, June 01, 2018

Nature is Losing

 Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

Over a quarter of all British birds are under threat, eight species are almost extinct. Three-quarters of all flying insects have disappeared since 1945, including a staggering 60 different moths. Orchid ranges have shrunk by half; two species are gone. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.

A combined effort by more than 50 nature conservation and research organisations, the report went on to reveal that 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline. Over a quarter of the hedgehog population has disappeared in a decade. Toads are down 68% in 30 years, water voles are no longer found in 94% of the places where they once lived. Likewise mountain hares are in steep decline, as are rabbits. Even that great survivor, the fox, has lost over 40% of its population.

A Natural England report from 2014 pointed the finger at the use of artifical fertilisers. Farmers like them as they can increase silage production, but the downside is that wildflowers cannot cope.

The State of Nature 2016 report declares: “The intensification of agriculture has had the biggest impact on wildlife, and this has been overwhelmingly negative … farming has changed dramatically, with new technologies boosting yields often at the expense of nature.” Those new technologies include a formidable armoury of artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and insecticides, all poured liberally over the British countryside since the second world war. On top of that are all the other industrial chemicals that find their way into the food chain.

. There are commitments to eliminate by 2025 the use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs – used in sealants, coolants and paints), and five years later to achieve negligible emissions of persistent organic pollutants (Pops) – harmful chemicals that resist environmental degradation. Both types have been linked to serious environmental damage. The Pop lindane, for example, was first recognised as a lethal insecticide during the second world war. Subsequently, an estimated 600,000 tonnes were sprayed on crops worldwide before an EU ban in 2009. By then it had been connected with everything from human cancers to a drop in the otter population.  In 2003 blood samples from 14 EU ministers were analysed. All 14 were found to be contaminated with Pops, PCBs and flame retardants. No doubt the rest of us are also contaminated.

 the herbicide paraquat, banned in Europe in 2007. The US Environmental Protection Agency describes it as “extremely biologically active and toxic to plants and animals”. Hares and small mammals are particularly sensitive. Spraying of potato fields in the UK often caused mass deaths of hares before the ban came in. Despite this, around 41,000 tonnes of paraquat are still manufactured annually by Syngenta in Huddersfield, all for export.

Currently, the most popular poison of all is Monsanto’s Roundup, a glyphosate herbicide that has been applied in staggering quantities: 8.6m tonnes, since its debut in 1974. Usage has only increased since Monsanto released glyphosate-tolerant crops in 1996. As of 2014, around a third of the world’s arable land had been sprayed with it. studies have shown it reduces the ecologically vital activity of earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris); while interfering with their reproductive success, it harms bee navigationhits butterfly populations and severely affects amphibians. In a study at the University of Pittsburgh, Roundup was sprayed over tanks filled with tadpoles. Within 24 hours most were dead. In three weeks they all were. When adult frogs and toads were tested, they suffered catastrophic mortality rates. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosates as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. In November 2017, an EU vote to re-licence glyphosates was narrowly passed. Britain voted in favour.

No comments: