Diverse ways to protect our habitats
MANY islanders would struggle to identify purple viper’s-bugloss even if they trod on it.
The bright blue and bristly plant’s disappearance from the habitats of Guernsey is not going to attract much attention beyond botanists, conservationists and keen gardeners.
But its loss from our environment over past decades – along with other extinct species with glorious names such as the common twayblade and beaked tasselweed – is indicative of an island that is changing rapidly and under huge stress.
For it is not just plant species that are failing. Again the names are magical but no one is seeing the silver-washed fritillary butterfly, azure damselfly, three-lobe beggarticks or the four-spotted chaser dragonfly any more.
Now in the 2018 survey there is an entire habitat that has been declared extinct. ‘Unimproved grassland’ may not sound important but it was one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the island.
The new survey is not all bad news. Dune heathland and coastal heathland have both increased in the last eight years and there are more than 100 extra hectares of woodland.
But this is a delicate balancing act. More woodland, attractive though it sounds, could be at the expense of species-rich dry grasslands.
There are problem areas which have been under managed – such as dense scrubland that needs to be cleared – and habitats that have been managed too intensively, such as unimproved grassland.
Get that balance wrong and the number and diversity of species of plants, insects, birds and mammals suffers.
There are measures that islanders can take. Stop turning fields into lawns and horse paddocks, covering earthbanks in plastic and draining, ploughing or mono-seeding land to destroy the ecosystem and unlock the land’s carbon stores.
And parties of volunteers are battling the invasive and destructive hottentot fig.
Some of this will need to be regulated. Farmers, growers and gardeners use pesticides and herbicides for a reason and should be encouraged to work with the authorities on alternatives.
The island’s biodiversity officer calls the 2018 survey results stark and concerning and indicative of a biodiversity decline. She hopes such alarming results will prove to be a turning point.
Let us hope she is right.