BBC Countryfile Magazine
PROFESSOR ALEXANDRE ANTONELLI
The director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, discusses the crucial role of biodiversity in the battle against climate change, and gives tips on how we can do our bit Do you have hope that it’s possible to alter the trajectory of biodiversity los
How has human activity impacted biodiversity loss in the last century?
Since I was born in the 1970s, we have lost a quarter of tropical rainforests, which are the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. The equivalent to a football pitch of forest is cut down every two seconds. We have driven thousands of species to extinction and my colleagues at Kew estimate that today about two in five plant species are at risk of going extinct.
What are the main causes of biodiversity loss?
The main driver globally is the deterioration of natural environments upon which species depend. In terrestrial ecosystems, this is primarily caused by land use changes, such as the clearing of tropical rainforests for agriculture. The second biggest driver is the direct exploitation of species – such as for hunting, overfishing, and the felling of threatened trees for furniture. And of course, climate change – a rapidly increasing threat to many species.
What can each one of us do to help boost our local biodiversity?
There is a ton of things everyone can do! In my book, I list a range of simple but impactful actions – key things we can do in our own gardens, for example.
From building a pond to attract amphibians, dragonflies and many other species, to growing plants that feed pollinators, such as bees, by creating a more varied ecosystem, we can support biodiversity and local wildlife.
What lifestyle changes have you made, personally, for environmental reasons?
I have done virtually all the actions that I list in the book, such as greatly increasing the proportion of plants and fungi in my family’s diet, reducing waste, buying less but better-quality stuff, donating money for environmental causes, installing solar panels on our roof, transforming our garden to promote wildlife, discussing sustainability in my workplace, and thinking carefully when voting to ensure that my preferred candidates share my values for the environment.
Yes, I remain hopeful because scientific evidence shows that there is still a narrow window of opportunity to bend the negative trend. Although this will require substantial global financial commitments, we also know that delaying action is not an option. What we must all do now is to work together to protect what we have left, restore what we have degraded, tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. We all can play a role, and each contribution truly matters!
The Hidden Universe: Adventures in Biodiversity by Alexandre Antonelli (Ebury Press, £14.99, HB) is available now.