World Environment Day and Facts About the UK's Native Species

June 03, 2020

World Environment Day and Facts About the UK's Native Species

World Environment Day is one of the most famous, wide-spread days for environmental action. Celebrated since 1974, World Environment Day takes place every year on 5 June and encourages governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on current, pressing environmental issues. The theme for 2020 is biodiversity – a concern that is incredibly urgent. Recent events; from bushfires in Brazil, the United States and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa. Biodiversity describes the variety of life on Earth, it encompasses the 8 million species on the planet from plants and animals to fungi and bacteria, the ecosystems that house them and the genetic diversity among them. When one component is changed or removed the entire system is affected, and this can produce either positive or negative consequences. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; the global economy has almost quadrupled and global trade has increased by about ten times. In other words, it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that we make of nature each year. World Environment Day says;

“Above all, World Environment Day offers a global platform for inspiring positive change. It recognizes that global change requires a global community.  It pushes for individuals to think about the way they consume; for businesses to develop greener models; for farmers and manufacturers to produce more sustainably; for governments to safeguard wild spaces; for educators to inspire students to live in harmony with the Earth; and for youth to become fierce gatekeepers of a green future. It requires all of us.”

So, in celebration, this year we wanted to share with you the importance of looking after our local environment. You can also read our tips on things you can do to help rewild your local area and protect its biodiversity here

wild flower border uk

Photograph by Paula O'Hara

The UK is infamous world-wide for its natural beauty, from the native woodlands to the diverse animal species that make their homes here, our natural environment really is one that is worth protecting. Some of the incredible species that reside among us today have a truly fascinating history and lifestyle. The beautiful Fallow Deer with their signature white spots and incredible, large antlers were first introduced to Britain by the Normans 1000 years ago and have continued to live in our woodlands for centuries. The curious-looking Greater Horseshoe Bat is native to the UK, but is incredibly rare. With an estimated population of just under 13,000, numbers have declined significantly since 1900 although they are now rising. The loss of woodland and hedgerows as well as the use of pesticides are all threats to these bats, depriving them of hunting grounds and reducing numbers of their prey. They are protected under UK law, meaning it is an offence to injure or disturb them or their habitat.

Another fascinating species is the Wild Boar. Did you know that Boar are the wild ancestors of domestic pigs? Wild Boar were originally a native species that were hunted to extinction at some point during the Middle Ages. In the 1990s, sightings of free-living boar became relatively common. These animals are thought to have escaped or been released from farms where they were raised for meat. The genetic make-up of these animals is uncertain, with many likely to have interbred with domestic pigs in captivity. As such, the Wild Boar’s presence divides opinion. While some welcome the return of a once-extinct native species, others are concerned about issues such as agricultural damage and collisions with traffic. It has been suggested that Wild Boar can have both a positive and negative impact on woodland biodiversity, but the exact impact is currently unclear. 

model with cow parsley

We couldn’t possibly talk about the UK’s fabulous natural environment without mentioning some of the incredible wildflowers native to our woodlands and fields. Cow Parsley is probably one of the most recognisable British wildflowers, growing along roadsides and hedgerows. It is a fast growing plant that is a vital early source of pollen to many different insects including bees and hoverflies. It is also a food plant for the moth Agonopterix heracliana and a nectar source for orange-tip butterflies. Another infamous plant native to British woodlands is Deadly Nightshade, identified by its dark purple, bell-shaped flowers and shiny black berries. Did you know some birds can eat the berries of deadly nightshade? The berries are highly poisonous to various mammals other than humans, but are often eaten by rabbits and even cows!

With 32 native tree species in the UK and many more that have been naturalised and widely planted, we simply had to include them when talking about the UKs beautiful natural environment. Trees are among the longest-living lifeforms on Earth. The oldest individual tree in the world is thought to be in the United States, where a Great Basin bristlecone pine in California’s White Mountains has been aged at more than 5,000 years. This is more than 40 times older than the oldest known human, who lived for 122 years. Here in the UK, the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is believed to be our oldest tree, with an estimated age between 2,000 and 3,000 years. Like many yews, this tree is located within a churchyard and is so large that funeral processions are said to have passed through the arch formed by its splint trunk in years gone by. The trunk has now split into several parts meaning the yew no longer looks like a single tree, but many. The yew is our longest-living species, but oaks and sweet chestnuts can both live for over 1,000 years, while other species have lifespans that far exceed those of humans and most animals.

poppies

Did you know that The UK was the first country to produce a national Biodiversity Action Plan? It was published in 1994 and created action plans for priority species and habitats in the UK that were most under threat so as to support their recovery. However, unfortunately more than two-fifths of UK species including mammals, birds and butterflies have seen significant declines in recent decades. Pollution continues to cause problems for natural areas such as streams, despite legislation to curb harmful pollutants and thousands of acres of habitats are being lost to development - although woodland cover has increased, new wetlands have been created, heath and moors restored, and many farmers are farming in nature-friendly ways. Recent data on nearly 700 species of land, freshwater and sea animals, fish, birds, butterflies and moths reveals that 41% have seen populations decline since 1970, while 26% have increased. Among thousands of species from mammals to plants, 15% are threatened with being lost from Britain, including wildcats and greater mouse-eared bats. Some 133 species have already vanished from Britain's shores since 1500, including birds such as the wryneck and serin, which were lost as breeding birds in the 20th century. Therefore it is vital we do all that we can to restore and repair struggling natural landscapes and declining species. And the best way we can implement these changes is through rewilding. 

Read our next journal post for easy ways to rewild your garden. We hope you enjoyed learning more about our amazing local British wildlife and get involved with World Environment Day this year! What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever spotted out in nature? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by Leona Chapman

Nature Photography by Paula O'Hara

Model Image Symara Templeman for Artisans & Adventurers




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