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Where are the birds?

We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

Robert Watson, the Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ibpes)

This is the stark warning issued in the Ibpes media release in advance of the United Nations report, on wildlife and ecosystems, the Global Assessment report .

A million species are at risk of extinction, the weight of wild mammals has declined by 82%. At the ecosystem level, wetlands have drained by 83%, in the first 13 years of this century forests declined by an area as large as France plus the UK.

This is not just about the disappearance of the wildlife and wild places many of us love. Like climate change, the problems are more existential. The cost of nature’s decline is enormous: pollinator loss has put up to $577bn (£440bn) of crop output at risk, while land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of global land.

It is also not a matter of stuff happening far away. The other day I was vegetation monitoring above Howden Reservoir. The National Trust working with others had cut swathes of heather to encourage plant diversity, and there were other plants and shrubs growing – bilberry, crowberry, cowberry and heath bedstraw among others – and a hare lolloped away from us. The young trees going up to the moorland looked beautiful in the spring sunshine. It was lovely and quiet – too quiet. We saw hardly any birds and heard very little birdsong.

We live in a national park, whose first objective is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.” By law, this takes priority over other objectives. At the same time, the Peak District is within reach of several urban areas. The Hope Valley and other “honey pots” are crowded with visitors. Balancing everyone’s needs while supporting wildlife and improving ecosystems isn’t easy. But surely there should be more wildlife here?

The UN report is not entirely pessimistic. It calls for radical action and says that the political will to act is rising – in the UK, spurred on by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers.

The local Green Party emphatically agrees that political action needs to be taken – at all levels. At the local level, Green councillors throughout the country will do what they can to make sure effects of all our actions on nature will be taken into account. This links in with action on climate change – the two are interwoven, along with human well-being. We are determined to act not just because we love nature, but because it makes social and economic sense. In High Peak we will work to make sure that the impacts of Council-led activity on the environment, including both nature and climate change, are taken into account.

And at the individual level, everyone can encourage wildlife in their gardens, think about their consumption patterns and, most importantly, take care when they are out enjoying nature. Are you destroying what you’ve come to see by walking off the paths, wild camping, driving long distances.

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