This article was published in the West Sussex County Times on 5th March
It was World Wildlife Day on 3 March. Set up by the UN and run by CITES to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, the theme this year was Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.
Forests are vitally important in the global fight against climate change. They are also home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and hundreds of millions of people. This World Wildlife Day highlights the livelihoods of communities who rely on forests, especially indigenous peoples, and the value of these ecosystems for both wildlife and humanity.
For generations, the expertise of indigenous populations in protecting wild places and their biodiversity was heavily undervalued. But this has changed in the last 20 years. Roughly 28% of the world’s land surface is currently managed by indigenous peoples, including some of the most ecologically intact forests on the planet. As a result, their contribution to conservation through traditional, sustainable practices has been increasingly recognised as leading the way in the symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment.
Dr Tony Whitbread, ecologist and President of Sussex Wildlife Trust explains why:
“Indigenous people are great custodians of forests because they value their natural environment so highly, only taking what they need to survive. They live with nature, not above it, maintaining harmony and balance with their environment.”
Our relationship with nature has come under far greater scrutiny since the outset of the pandemic with unsustainable, exploitative activities held responsible for the coronavirus infecting the human population. In the developed world we have moved further from our traditional ways than indigenous communities. Distanced further from the natural world by urbanisation and technological advances, many people have become disconnected from nature. And to their detriment.
Evidence shows that spending time in nature can help people suffering with depression and anxiety (as little as two hours a week can improve health and wellbeing). Not surprisingly, the NHS offer “green prescriptions” to some patients. This may go some way to explaining why a year of lockdowns has increased people’s appreciation of the outdoors.
Or perhaps Covid-19 restrictions tapped into a deeper-rooted phenomenon? Biophilia describes the human need to connect with nature and other living things. The naturalist, author and “father of biodiversity”, E O Wilson, takes it a step further. He suggests our attraction to nature is evolutionary and genetically predetermined.
Either way, Brits have valued nature more than ever in the last 12 months. A report published by the University of Cumbria last summer shows that nature has become more important to us since the start of the coronavirus and protecting it is a higher priority. The research looked at people’s connections, including local experiences, with nature during lockdown. The survey revealed:
- All age groups have spent more time in nature and most men and women said they would be more likely to continue doing so in the future.
- Adults engaged with nature during lockdown by listening to birdsong, watching wildlife & taking time to notice bees & butterflies.
- 77% of the survey’s respondents have taken photos & video of wildlife to identify and/or share on social media.
So, how can we keep the momentum going for our renewed passion to enjoy and preserve biodiversity? Tony suggests:
“Make nature a part of your everyday life. Whether out for a walk or at home – it doesn’t matter whether you have a window box in a flat or a field out in the countryside, there are plenty of ways to attract and support nature”.
Only about 13% of the UK is covered in trees but here in Sussex we are blessed with a diverse range of natural habitats. The county is the second most heavily wooded in the country. Just as with indigenous people in certain parts of the world today, historically woodlands were highly valued in Sussex for what they produced, so instilled a need in the community to preserve them. Did you know for example that half of the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, and Sussex has some of the best bluebell woods in the country?
So why not go for a woodland walk in the next few weeks to enjoy one of Britain’s most colourful spring spectacles?
By Beth Richardson
Photos by Nicola Peel
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