What is biodiversity and why should you care?
Biodiversity is simply a term to encompass the variety of species and organisms found in a particular environment. Some environments are more biodiverse than others, but nearly every region on Earth can claim to have at least some biodiversity.
Right now, our planet is suffering a biodiversity crisis due to climate change and habitat destruction. According to the WWF, between 200 and 2,000 species go extinct every year, many of which haven’t even been discovered yet, and many scientists now agree that we are living through the 6th mass extinction event. Just to remind you what that is, the last mass extinction occurred ~66 million years ago when a huge asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. So yeah, it’s bad. But why does this matter? What has the panda or orangutan ever done for me I hear you ask? Well, the biodiversity of our planet extends well beyond those cute, charismatic species we all know and love. Biodiversity benefits humanity through what’s known as ecosystem services. Some of these services have a measurable, economic impact such as provisioning services. This encompasses the resources provided to us directly from biodiversity. So, our food, most pharmaceuticals and alcohol are all part of the provisioning service created by biodiversity. Others are more immaterial in their value and are hard to assign an economic value to e.g., cultural services.
Many of us value the outdoors - the ability to step outside and walk around in nature is something that we have all come to appreciate during the events of the past year. How many of us went for or still go for a daily walk round Bute or Roath park because of lockdown? I know I do. There are many other services that biodiversity provides for you: the purification of the water you drink, breakdown of waste, the air you are breathing right now. All provided to you for free (well, apart from the water bit), by you guessed it, biodiversity.
The importance of biodiversity is too great to summarise here in a single paragraph, so its simpler to just assume that whatever it is you are enjoying, be it a nice takeaway or a relaxing stroll round Bute, biodiversity contributed.
Biodiversity in Cardiff
There is a surprising amount of biodiversity available to us students in Cardiff. It’s easy to dismiss large, urbanised areas like Cardiff as distinctly un-biodiverse and to a certain extent, that’s true. Cities suffer from a lack of biodiversity, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any and I’m not just talking about rats and seagulls. Cities like Cardiff offer important refuges for life via green spaces such as Bute park, and nature reserves like the Cardiff bay wetlands reserve. There’s even a surprising number of interesting species that call Cardiff and the surrounding area their home. If you’re lucky, you may spot an Otter in the Taf and twilight by Roath Lake is prime time for bat viewing. Or, if you’re into birds, there’s peregrine falcons often spotted nesting in City Hall’s clock tower. Cardiff is also a refuge for a globally threatened group of organisms – the Waxcaps. For all the mushroom lovers out there, Cathays Cemetery boasts an unusual diversity of these colourful fungi that are seriously under threat across the world, with the UK and especially Wales now a safe haven for the group.
There are a lot of great and exciting initiatives in Cardiff looking to increase biodiversity and the benefits it provides. Cardiff has had a Local Biodiversity Action Plan in place since 2008 and has recently launched the Local Nature Partnership (LNP) Cymru project which are both great steps in promoting and restoring nature in and around the city. Unfortunately much of the progress of these initiatives has been halted by the pandemic, but more information about them and how to get involved can be found on their website linked below.
What can I do to help?
I find there’s often a lot of talk about the impacts of biodiversity loss and what should be done about it, but not a lot about what students and ordinary you and me can do. One way to help is to get involved with a local volunteering group/organisation that promotes biodiversity. However, a lot of students don’t have the time or the energy to get involved on this sort of level and lockdown has unfortunately prevented much of this kind of work anyway. So, here are a few things you can do now to help support local biodiversity.
If you’re living in Cathays, it’s likely your garden is just a concrete square where you dump your rubbish bags. But there are still things you can do to help. For example, pollinators often have a hard time finding food in cities, so one way to beautify your garden and provide much-needed help to your local pollinators is to plant some wildflowers. You can buy ready-made wildflower seed mixes online or in a shop such as Wilko. You can then just spread these out in your garden if you’re lucky enough to have soil, or you can buy some soil and a pot with your seeds in Wilko and plant them in that. Either way, this is a great way to promote the health and diversity of Cardiff’s pollinators which provide an invaluable service to all of us. A link to a pollinator-friendly flower guide is provided below if you want to create your own wild-flower mix. If you want to help your pollinator pals even more, you can give the Spot-a bee app a go. This app, a collaboration between Cardiff and Glasgow University, encourages users to take a picture whenever they see a bee to determine what plants they visit most often in towns and cities. This can inform future projects that are seeking to improve urban habitats for pollinators.
There are other things you can do to help life in Cardiff. A bird feeder to hang outside a window or off a pole in your garden can provide food that doesn’t constitute whatever was in your food bin. Additionally, if you have a free afternoon, make an insect ‘hotel’ – a guide on how to make a proper, insect friendly hotel is linked below. These tiny habitats can house a diverse array of important insects such as solitary bees and beetles. There are many other projects like this you can have a go at to help out all sorts of creatures. A link on how to create an eco-friendly garden is provided below.
Its hard to feel like you’re making a difference when all you’ve done is plant a few seeds and build a home for a beetle or two, but in places like Cardiff, these small acts when carried out in large numbers really can help life to thrive in our cities.
If you’d like to know more about biodiversity in Cardiff and what you can do to help, you can visit the Council’s website or browse the links provided below.
Links and Resources
Oli Lindsay | 4th year Biological Sciences