On Friday this week the National Biodiversity Network published their third UK State of Nature report. The report is an incredible collaboration between many organisations working to support our natural world, and brings together statistics from all across the 4 nations of the United Kingdom.
It clearly states that the UK’s biodiversity is in decline nd that climate change and agricultural management are the two biggest factors in the change. Increase in pest and disease, moth decline, migratory birds arriving earlier and therefore laying eggs earlier, often before their main source of food has become available, huge declines in sea bird populations are just some of the declines that have been caused by climate change.
However, it is the way our farmlands have been managed that have had the biggest impact on biodiversity. Pesticides, fertilizers, increased stocking levels and changes in crops and cropping patterns leading to large monocultures have all shown their toll on our farmlands, which make up 72% of our land. Whilst of course we must continue to ensure we can feed the growing population, doing so whilst treating nature as our partner, rather than a pest, is vital. Moving across to agro ecological methods of farming, increasing field margins and avoiding pesticides and artificial fertilizers is now becoming vital if we are to see biodiversity begin to restore.
As Incredible Edible groups of course we support food growing in an agroecological way, looking after our soils and being pesticide free, and many groups also support planting for wildlife, encouraging insects into spaces which will support pollination and keep populations thriving in those spaces. But for most groups, they are supporting nature in urban or peri urban spaces and whilst urbanisation is certainly playing it’s part in the loss of biodiversity, what might an Incredible Edible project look like in a rural setting? And how could a rural group really support nature and biodiversity.
So we spoke with Jules Cooper who has planted her an Incredible Edible hedgerow on Anglesey, Jule’s story is fascinating. In 2010 she and her partner were living in Manchester and Jules was a social worker and had reached the point of burnout after a series of horrific cases, and one in particular which just proved too much. Knowing she was close to a breakdown fortunately Jules was signed off work by an understanding doctor, and whilst at home she realised that a different way of life was calling, and having put her hous eon the market and selling it, moved to Anglesey, having bought a piece of land and a new home, along with her partner and cats! Spending time outdoors and watching nature and the sheep in the surrounding fields, helped Jules to mend, but she became aware of the horrors of monoculture and became aware of the hedgerows, which were poorly flailed to keep them tidy and which the poor sheep were trying to eat from as there was little else for them. Once the sheep moved on the hedgerows began to come back and recover, and Jules decided that planting trees and hedgerows on the land she had bought was the way she had to go forwards.
Jules’ idea was to plant native and edible, fruit and nut trees, focusing on the ancient varieties that come from the area she lives in. Thanks in part to a grant and her and her partners determination, 5.5 thousand trees were planted on the land over 4 weekends in February 2012 and those trees are now giving abundant harvests. This abundance means that there is plenty for both human and the wild creatures that share the land. An example of this is this years hazelnut harvest which has proved bountiful and nigh on impossible to keep up with, but which has been made into preserves and energy balls for human consumption, but has seen much left for the wildlife to create their winter stores.
Jules is now studying sensory herbalism and hopes in years to come to be able to open up the land to people wishing to strengthen their connection with the land, learn more about the planting and the indigenous plants on the land and about how those plants can heal.
Knowing that hedgerow loss is one of the biggest factors in biodiversity loss, Jules’s project is inspiring and whilst it’s difficult, if not impossible, to plant that number of trees in urban and suburban areas, creating habitats within Incredible Edible gardens is going to be vital to ensure we have homes for wildlife both in cities and in rural areas.
After all, as Jules says, “nature is our family”, and we must support it in order to strengthen and connect all species in our incredible communities.
The State of Nature report can be found at https://nbn.org.uk