David North, Head of People and Wildlife
One of the basic tenets of nature conservation is that habitats rich in species diversity matter and that losing species is pretty much always a bad thing. As a naturalist I tend to take this as a given, without thinking about it too much. I like living on a planet that oozes biodiversity wherever you look and I hate the idea of losing such a wonderful tree as the ash, the third commonest native tree in England, from our Norfolk woodlands. There is still hope, of course, that here in England the genetic diversity of our trees will mean that at least some of our ash trees prove resistant to this fungus attack.
|NWT Foxley Wood, photo by John Waller|
However thinking about ash die back does make you realise how important maintaining species diversity in ecosystems can be. Our ancient woodlands here in Norfolk tend to be mixed species woodlands, supporting a range of tree species including oak, ash, hawthorn, blackthorn, willow, alder, sycamore ( yes I know it’s probably not native but many ancient woodlands now have them), and depending where you are beech, hornbeam, aspen, Scots pine, lime, plus several species of small shrubs. Ancient woods with a mix of species will come through this hopefully temporary loss of a single species, ash, and other species will soon fill any gaps in the woodland canopy keeping the woodland ecosystem intact and functioning, though somewhat changed. This is the process that nature uses to make ecosystems resilient to change, and if some individual ash trees prove resilient in time they may spread and reclaim our woodlands. For an ancient woodland a century may be a mere ‘blink of an eye’ and our human time scales largely irrelevant. A new disease would be catastrophic for a woodland, or any ecosystem, composed of a single species, but fortunately that’s not the way nature usually works.
Protecting species diversity, biodiversity as we now call it, helps provide the resilience to change that ecosystems need. And given all the things humanity is doing to the planet that bring about change -climate change, pollution, fragmentation of habitats, introduced non-native species, to name just a few – then we need ecosystems to be as resilient as possible if they are going to continue to provide us with our survival systems, the ecosystem services, that we depend on.
So if you needed an argument for protecting biodiversity then maintaining our planet’s resilience to change is a good one. There are plenty of others too. Though like me you may simply believe a planet blessed with the astonishing biodiversity we have is richer, more beautiful and should simply be protected in its own right. If you do then why not join NWT and be part of protecting some of the astonishing biodiversity we have on our doorstep. Wildlife certainly needs your support and I for one don’t think leaving it up to Government, or cash strapped agencies of Government, seems like a good idea just now!