No longer business as usual for wildlife

A NEW report reveals how crucial global targets to halt the rapid decline of species have been missed. VICTORIA NICHOLLS looks at whether the region's wildlife and habitats are coping in the face of this alarming picture.

A NEW report reveals how crucial global targets to halt the rapid decline of species have been missed. VICTORIA NICHOLLS looks at whether the region's wildlife and habitats are coping in the face of this alarming picture.

Famed for being one of Britain's best havens for wildlife from the swallowtail butterfly to the otter, East Anglia may not appear to be threatened with the same fate as rainforests and oceans.

But a report by the UN published yesterday has a stark message for us all as it warned that nature on a global scale is at risk of further dramatic losses if radical action is not taken.

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Experts said that business as usual was 'no longer an option', as the report reveals that the natural world could hit tipping points which could see irreversible damage to areas including coral reefs and freshwater lakes and the loss of large parts of Amazon rainforest.

The report, the third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook, confirms that targets drawn up eight years ago by world leaders to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010 have not been met.

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Although the world's attention may be focused on rainforests and oceans where the outlook is bleak, local conservationists say that long-term action across Norfolk and Suffolk is producing positive results.

David North, of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said three of the county's native species were on the UN's Red List of threatened species.

The European eel, once a staple food for people in North Norfolk and the Fens, has declined so much across England and North America that it is now critically endangered.

The white-clawed crayfish which can be found in the River Wensum and some Breckland rivers, has gone into decline due to diseases from crayfish brought from abroad that escaped into rivers.

Norfolk's third species at risk, the starlet sea anemone which is found on the Cley marshes, is also native to Suffolk, where it lives on Dingle marshes nature reserve in Dunwich.

Mr North said: 'The two most important factors in global loss of biodiversity are habitat loss and the introduction of foreign species, and the situation in Norfolk mirrors the global situation.'

But he added that there was good news, in that conservation organisations were working well together to provide wildlife with habitats in nature reserves and offering them increased protection to help safeguard their future.

'These reserves are real oases for rare and declining species,' he said. 'But these little oases are not sustainable in the longer term.'

Mr North echoed the view of Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Audrey Boyle, who said the future lay in interconnecting these habitat 'hotspots' to give species vital corridors for migration.

She said one of the leading factors in the drop in biodiversity was the huge loss of lowland grassland since the Second World War, due to agricultural intensification and building development.

However, she said the Trust had seen some good results from its work over recent years. 'We've seen a fantastic resurgence of otter and water vole populations and that an example of what can be done if you work alongside landowners. When the habitats are there the animals follow.'

Andy Clements, from the British Trust for Ornithology based in Thetford, said that work was being done to learn more about species such as the cuckoo and turtle dove not only in Britain but also around their winter grounds in Africa, as pressures leading to biodiversity loss in both locations were similar.

Mr Clements said the bittern and stone curlew were success stories for Norfolk following efforts by studying population, managing land and offering protection, adding: 'It's not all doom and gloom, but we have to learn from the things we can do well and transfer them globally.'

The UN report reveals that there have been some successes towards meeting the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), including protecting more areas, devoting more money to tackling wildlife losses and addressing the threat of invasive species.

But it warned that the main reasons behind the disappearance of species and whole ecosystems, including climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources, were not going away - and in some cases were getting worse.

Experts said efforts to tackle the loss of natural systems must be given much higher priority, as it hits food sources and industry, increasing the release of greenhouse gases and making it harder to tackle poverty.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said: 'Conserving biodiversity cannot be an afterthought once other objectives are addressed - it is the foundation on which many of these objectives are built.

'We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind.'

He warned that the world was coming closer to tipping points which would 'catastrophically' reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide benefits including food, fresh water and protection from natural disasters such as floods.

CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf warned that species were being lost at levels never before seen in history - with the rate of extinctions around 1,000 times higher than what might be expected naturally.

'Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet,' he said.

The report drew on about 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 110 national reports on biodiversity submitted by governments.

And the abundance of vertebrate species fell by nearly a third between 1970 and 2006, with particularly severe declines in the tropics and among freshwater species.

Predictions for the 21st century show continuing - and even accelerating - extinctions, loss of habitats and changes in the distribution and abundance of species.

But the report said that although preventing further losses would be 'extremely challenging' but could be done if it started immediately.

The Trust and the National Biodiversity Information Service is joining to hold a free exhibition at The Forum in Norwich on Saturday, May 22 between 10am and 4pm. Biodoversity Counts - Grains of Truth, will reveal to visitors how Norfolk barley grains will represent global populations and declines of certain species.

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