Biodiversity in the spotlight as reports highlight need for infrastructure advances

An international collaboration of top biologists has found that vital improvements must be made to forecast the global impact of climate change on plants and wildlife, as a separate report outlines how a planning framework is necessary for the UK to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020.

Researchers including academics from the University of Aberdeen are calling for a coordinated global effort to gather much-needed biological information that will make climate change forecasts for biodiversity more realistic and precise.

According to new research, this will not only help the scientific community to identify the most at-risk populations and ecosystems, but will also allow for a more targeted distribution of resources as global temperatures continue to rise at a record-setting pace.

University of Aberdeen professor Justin Travis said: “I hope that the findings and recommendations of this group are influential in promoting changes in how we conduct and organise ecological research such that we can transform our ability to forecast ecological responses to environmental change.
“The collaboration recommends that we approach ecological forecasting with the level of organisation and co-ordination that the climate community successfully adopts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has overseen vast improvements in climate change forecasting by adopting more advanced tools and applying detailed information that is gathered, coordinated and shared on a global scale, and this is the approach that we require for making more realistic forecasts of ecological responses to climate change.”

The report claims that current predictions concerning biodiversity responses to climate change draw on broad statistical correlations, often failing to provide the information required to make effective management decisions.

University of Aberdeen researchers have developed state-of-the-art computer software, called RangeShifter, which incorporates many of the biological processes missing in previous models. Developing this type of approach for providing more accurate forecasts is essential for global conservation efforts, researchers contend.

National Framework

Meanwhile, a new report from leading consultancy WSP is calling for the public and private sector to do more to protect the UK’s biodiversity. The report focuses on the concept of biodiversity net gain, where any damages caused by human activity to wildlife can be balanced with an equivalent gain.

WSP suggests a number of recommendations to ensure a balance where developments avoid, minimise or restore damage made to wildlife. According to the report, biodiversity net gain and the use of the Defra’s metric could be an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), incorporated both into DEFRA’s forthcoming 25-year environment plan and in private sector developments.

“Developments including infrastructure projects absolutely can enhance rather than endanger biodiversity,” WSP technical director for ecology Mark Webb said. “Net gain is growing in the UK, which has committed to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020, but we are behind other nations including Australia, Germany and the US. 

A WSP survey of 200 environmental professionals from various backgrounds including NGOs, consultants, and academics found 40% of respondents had used a biodiversity net gain approach. Although 73% of respondents were aware of biodiversity net gain, half had mixed views or were unsure of their views, suggesting a lack of understanding of these approaches.

Webb continued: “To catch up biodiversity net gain could become an obligatory part of the NPPF and current guidance could be further tightened and simplified. The key challenge in the UK is to raise awareness, improve understanding of the approach across the public and private sector, and ensure a level playing field for regulation application locally.” 

Biodiversity crisis

Both reports arrive in the same week that a new study found that humans have destroyed a tenth of the Earth’s wilderness in 25 years, with experts suggesting that the vast scale of loss in global wilderness is having a “grave impact” on global biodiversity.

The Environment Agency (EA) has attempted to ramp up domestic efforts to improve the UK’s biodiversity – a recent €12m fund from the European Union (EU) to protect thousands of acres of South Pennines peatlands is set to provide new habitats for wildlife and boost local tourism.

The peatlands fund is one example of how the EU has helped to protect and enhance the UK environment, support which could ultimately be “eroded” follow the Brexit vote.

George Ogleby

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