People still talk about the ‘Blue Planet effect’… that is the action people took, pretty much overnight, following the broadcast of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series. The programme highlighted many threats to our oceans, perhaps most notably, the plastic pollution problem. If you didn’t shed a tear over the footage of a mother whale unable to let go of her deceased baby, keeping it by her side after it tragically consumed plastic waste, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends… ;) Tragic though it was to watch, the effect on the population was huge and it was immediate. Speaking to a National Trust guide about a local puffin colony a few years back, he told me that ‘overnight’ people started taking their rubbish home from the beach… and that this had immediately impacted the puffins, as the lack of rubbish, in turn, decreased the rat population (rats love to snack on a fluffy baby ‘puffling’). Pretty good, right?
Now, what about our favourite conservationist’s most recent venture: Green Planet? Plants may not be as cute as a kindly whale or a clown-faced puffin, but they truly are the lungs of our beautiful planet. Pop out in nature today and you’ll see… the bare English oaks even look like lungs… their branches mirroring alveoli, silhouetted against the winter skies… breathing life into a whole ecosystem of dependant insects, birds and mammals. But as David warns, our plants are under threat. There is a definite sense that our wildflowers and our trees, for example, are diminishing. When was the last time you saw a (once ubiquitous) cowslip or a bee orchid? Have you even ever seen one? Loss of habitat through building roads, homes and factories, coupled with intensive farming that uses pesticides and herbicides absolutely all of the time (seeds are often coated in the stuff on an industrial scale before they even reach the fields) to ensure huge yields, doesn’t leave space for the little guys that used to hang out in those same fields. We are narrowing our plant population, preserving only those that generate the highest profits.
David Attenborough’s stark warning that "Two out of five plants are now facing extinction,” should come as a worry to us all. As he states: "The loss of any one species is in itself a tragedy, but such a loss erodes the stability of a whole ecosystem, and that should be of great concern for all of us." But how have we got to this point? David says "We have, for centuries, robbed wild plants of the space and time they need to thrive. That has not been to their benefit, nor ultimately to ours.”
But it is not all lost. As usual, David uses his clout as an eco-institution to help us change before it is too late. He says: "Our relationship with plants has changed throughout history, and now it must change again. Whether it's what we eat and cultivate, or whether it is what we like, we must now work with plants and make the world a little greener, a little wilder. If we do this, our future will be healthier and safer - and in my experience at any rate, happier. Plants are our most ancient allies, together we can make this an even greener planet."
Here's hoping Green Planet will spark a change similar to the ‘Blue Planet Effect’. If you’re already convinced, here are a few small changes you could make at home to get the ball rolling.
- Plant native. Our insects and birds will thank you for providing the flowers, seeds and habitats they are perfectly adapted to thrive on.
- Start a hedge. Fences are useful… but a hedge is a home! Winter is the time to buy inexpensive bare root native hedgerow species to plant along your fence-line. Hawthorn, crab apple and blackthorn make a great native hedge combination, providing flowers in late winter, sloes for your gin in the autumn ;) and year-round colour and food for wildlife.
- Choose organic where possible. Use of pesticides is strictly regulated in organic soil certification. Think of the chemicals you and your family will be consuming less of too.
- Leave a patch of lawn long…or be brave and go the ‘full Monty Don’ and leave your lawn to meadow. Sit back and enjoy the buzz from the pollinators and the colour from the butterflies as the summer comes.
- Plant some native wildflowers. You don’t even need a garden for this one. Use a pot or upcycle a plastic container from your recycling bin to sprinkle seeds. The insects and birds will thank you. I even know folk who sprinkle seeds in urban areas for a surprise splash of colour… Guerrilla gardening at its finest ;)
Silent Earth, Averting the Insect Apocalypse, Dave Goulson
Photo by Photo by Preston Browning