Sam Tasker, our 2018/19 student placement studying BSc Marine Biology at Plymouth University, talks to the Western Morning News about how local action can help positive global changes.
In today’s world, biodiversity loss and climate change are never far from our thoughts.
Switch on the telly or flick through a paper and as often as not you’ll be confronted by news of a distant environmental disaster, from habitat destruction in the Amazon Basin to marine heatwaves and mass coral bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Heart-breaking though these stories are, it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of crises so large and so far-removed from our everyday lives.
But environmental degradation is not confined to far-flung tropical rainforests or the azure seas of the Antipodes – the last half-century has seen well-documented and widespread biodiversity loss much closer to home.
Wild bird populations have steadily dropped across the UK, with the number of farmland birds (such as Corn Bunting, Skylark and Grey Partridge) plummeting by 54% since 1970.
Of the UK’s 27,000 insect species, 60% are in decline, with troubling implications for the innumerable larger creatures to which they are prey.
Many of our much-loved native mammals are also under threat. Since 1995, the hedgehog population has contracted by two-thirds, while in the same time water vole numbers have crashed from one million to just 132,000.
Nor will our green and pleasant land be spared the impacts of climate change. Indeed, we are already feeling its effects here in the UK.
Research published in Nature Climate Change found that the historic floods suffered across Southern England through winter 2013/14 were made more likely by climate change.
Rising temperatures are influencing the distribution of marine and terrestrial wildlife and may facilitate the spread of harmful invasive species.
It’s true that tackling climate change and ecological degradation will require systemic, international changes in food production, energy generation and the transport sector, but we can’t afford to sit and wait for top-down political action.
The UK wildlife declines laid out earlier can be counteracted where you live, and relatively small lifestyle changes could tremendously reduce your contribution to climate change.
Choose local, organic produce where possible, and consider reducing your red meat consumption. Fly less. Ditch the fast fashion and buy only what you need. Get involved with establishing wildlife friendly green spaces and support conservation organisations that work tirelessly to protect wildlife in your area.
For the past six months I’ve been volunteering at Westcountry Rivers Trust. I’ve seen first-hand the vital role that an impassioned, regionally focused charity can play in tackling environmental degradation and guarding against the future impacts of our changing climate.
Whether removing barriers to salmon migration, helping the South West’s farmers to adopt more sustainable land management practices, building an evidence base for natural flood management features or getting kids engaged in the construction of sustainable urban drainage at their schools, Westcountry Rivers Trust embodies the ‘think global, act local’ ethos.
In 2018, some of the examples of the trust’s work included engaging with more than 800 school children through educational sessions, sowing four rain gardens to create sustainable drainage systems in urban areas, improving more than 98km of river habitat, collaborating with hundreds of farms to provide advice and support, and being fortunate to have the assistance of over 300 volunteers.
One of the most accessible ways to volunteer with the trust is through its Citizen Science Investigations project. This is a growing community of citizen scientists taking a closer look at local rivers across Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
CSI volunteers can record wildlife, water quality and signs of pollution – including being a #CSIPlasticTracker for those who want to focus on freeing rivers of plastic.
It’s a fun way to contribute to a growing set of data about rivers in the four counties, which the trust can use to target its work and make real improvements to local environments. Last year, 71 CSI volunteers shared 1,050 river surveys, directly helping the trust learn more about the health of the waterways across the Westcountry.
But it hasn’t just been the team and individuals who are supporting the cause. Devon-based food producers, Otter Vale chose the trust as one of two charities it is supporting as part of its 40th anniversary in 2019 of making Devon Chutney.
For every sale of its onion and pineapple chutney, the trust, and Devon Air Ambulance, will receive a percentage of the sale. This was great news for the trust as it celebrates 25-years of nurturing and restoring the region’s rivers.
This is a fabulous way for us to receive support from the commercial sector and provides companies with options to help their environment for the benefit of all.
Responding effectively to worldwide environmental crises is going to take global cooperation on an unprecedented scale, but you, your community and local businesses can make a start where you live, in the places you know and love.
If you have time spare to lend a hand, get in touch and be part of a positive difference with Westcountry Rivers Trust as a casual or regular volunteer in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset or Dorset.