Thursday 24 March 2022

Drawing Lines in the Sand Over Nature Loss in the UK

by Jane Williamson, UK Youth for Nature

How are the Bat Conservation Trust, the youth movement UK Youth for Nature, this year’s UN Biodiversity Conference COP-15 and a 50 foot sand drawing on a beach in Scarborough linked? It’s a reasonable question, and one that I’ll try to answer here. As a member of UK Youth for Nature’s Organising Team, I’ve been working alongside the team this spring to raise awareness of the fact that #NatureCannotWait, at the start of what’s being billed a ‘biodiversity super year’. Looking back on the last, lost decade for nature [1] in the year 2022, along with countless other young people, I’m driven by the fear of being in the same position in 10 years’ time, by the hope that this time, political inertia might give way to action. 

The Covid-19 pandemic was a lens through which the role of nature in our lives was brought into focus; with life stripped back to the basics, and society in turmoil, nature’s constancy and beauty was one of the few remaining sources of joy in the never-ending cycle of lockdowns - I can’t be alone in losing count. There’s also evidence to suggest that our exploitation of, and disconnect from, the natural world was one of the contributing factors to the emergence and rapid spread of the virus. Some horseshoe bats have even been put forward as the host for a similar virus; as a zoonotic virus, originating in an animal population and ‘jumping ship’ to a human one, WWF say that this is driven by ‘humanity’s broken relationship with nature’, seen for example in deforestation for urban expansion or food production and in the wildlife trade [2]. Bats have been villainised since their possible implication in Covid-19 has been publicised, but in reality it is human exploitation of the natural world which has put bats in this position. They cannot be a scapegoat for what’s ultimately our doing; they play vital roles in global ecosystems, from regulation of insect populations to pollination. 

So, moving forward into this crucial decade for nature, we therefore need to bear in mind these two things; one, that nature is vital for human wellbeing, and two, that catastrophe results when we fail to give it the respect and protection it deserves. Enter UK Youth for Nature’s biodiversity stunt - Nature Loss: Lines In The Sand…

“For years we’ve seen nature remain one of governments’ lowest priorities in the UK. When today’s young people are older, some of the most iconic species of the British countryside could already have been lost forever. Our drawing is a loud and clear message to our governments: this year the UN biodiversity conference is a once in a decade chance to set new global nature goals. Take that chance, then act to meet those goals.” - Talia Goldman, Co-Director of UK Youth for Nature.

Bringing together four biologically significant species, slotted together to make up the shape of the UK, and captured by drone footage, the sand art commissioned by UK Youth for Nature on 23rd March on Scarborough beach was then washed away slowly but inexorably by the incoming tide. The hourglass drawings also included are the symbol for the global movement Youth for Our Planet’s campaign #NatureCannotWait, strengthening the connection between UK Youth for Nature and Youth for Our Planet.

Nature as our predecessors knew it is already a thing of the past, and our perception of true ‘wildness’ is a modern one; a future devoid of wild things is unimaginable, and yet the empty beach left behind represents how very frighteningly real this prospect is, if governments fail to act sufficiently, and quickly enough. As the drawing was being washed away, pre COP-15 meetings in Geneva were in their closing stages, followed a couple of days later by WWF’s annual Earth Hour; the overlap of these three events was deliberate, emphasising that time is running out for the natural world, but we are the ones who can turn that hourglass on its side.

As it stands, with the failure to translate the Aichi Targets set in 2010 to reality, governments now seek to seal a new global deal for biodiversity. Whilst the 30x30 Agreement aims to return 30% of land globally to nature by 2030, halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity by then [3], UK Youth for Nature is pushing for an early target of 2025, going a step further to put nature into recovery by 2030. Their asks also differ from other green groups in the exchange of the word ‘net’ for ‘absolute’ - no further absolute loss of biodiversity demands far greater ambition and commitment to nature than the prevention of further net loss by 2025.

Focussing on the UK, a considerable number of the approximately 2,300 species that Oaks are thought to support are bats. The older the woodland, the better, all the more reason for enhanced protection of the UK’s ancient woodlands, in which Oaks are a key player as flagship species. Whilst crevices in bark are important roosting sites for species like Barbastelle, others like Noctule tend to make use of woodpeckers’ holes, but whatever the species, all are dependent on the life support that healthy Oaks can give to a huge variety and quantity of insects, being a vital source of food for foraging bats. [4] A recurring theme in ecosystems, this reflects how the protection of one species could have profound, positive knock-on effects on another.

This is why UK Youth for Nature are also working with the Woodland Trust to call for the protection of irreplaceable woods, and the implementation of tougher biosecurity, due to their significance as an ecosystem, not least for bats. This includes the development of an Ash Dieback Action Plan, key in supporting bat populations reliant on ash trees as places to roost. 

The Bat Conservation Trust has played a key part in supporting UK Youth for Nature’s actions on Social Media around the time of Nature Loss: Lines In The Sand, along with other major wildlife and conservation organisations. As in nature, this reflects the power of networks and sharing resources, which has been invaluable to our campaign. Collective action, amplified by young people, is central to the fight against the twin biodiversity and climate crises, which unite us all in their scale and implications. On UK Youth for Nature’s behalf, a huge thank you to the Bat Conservation Trust for their encouragement and support of our movement!

Sources/further reading:

 [1] ‘A Lost Decade for Nature’, RSPB's%20Sixth%20National%20Report,year%20global%20targets%20for%20nature.

 [2] Nature and Pandemics - ‘Urgent Call to Protect People and Nature’, WWF

[3] Achieving 30x30 in England on Land and at Sea, Wildlife and Countryside LINK

[4] Bats and Woodland, Bat Conservation Trust




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