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02.04.2023

Wild Isles – A stunningly hi-def look at the UK’s dwindling wildlife

Wild Isles is a new BBC wildlife documentary set in the UK. Hosted by our favourite broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Wild Isles is the first show he has made about UK wildlife due to contractual reasons. 

A never-before-seen look at the UK’s wildlife

Thanks to the researchers and camera crews using drones and other tech, we can see some truly breath-taking footage that we might never see again – peep inside a dormouse nest, witness the bizarre pollination of the Lord and Ladies arum lily, and check out the three-metre wide nests of the Golden eagle.

An inquisitive dormouse - take a peek inside a dormouse nest in David Attenborough's Wild Isles

Sir David Attenborough has always been a vocal supporter of the environment and has never shied away from talking about the impact of climate change. The Caledonian forest comprises the only remaining native coniferous woodland in Britain, and humans have only preserved 1% of its original area. Trees cover only 13% of Britain, making it the country with the lowest tree coverage in all of Europe. We do however, have more ancient oak trees that the rest of Europe put together. Oaks support over 2300 species of plants and animals living in and around them, so their presence is vital to maintaining our ecosystem.

Insects and their effect on the ecosystem

A damselfly - they provide food for fish in their larval form and also predate midges and mosquitoes.

The show highlights the fact that 60% of the UK’s insects have vanished within just the last 20 years. A 2019 study revealed that insect populations were falling by as much as 2.5% per year. Thus, insect species are going extinct eight times faster than animals, reptiles or birds. It comes as no surprise that the UK is recognized as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. With 97% of our meadowland having disappeared in the last 60 years, it’s easy to see why insect populations are dwindling. Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem, and their decline could lead to a number of problems, including:

  • A decline in the pollination of crops, which could lead to a decrease in food production.
  • An increase in the spread of diseases, as insects help to recycle organic waste.
  • An increase in the number of pests, as insects help to keep populations of other pests in check.

Once-extinct species can make a comeback

A Capercaillie bird, an endangered species that lives in Scottish pinewood forests.

There is also good news, too – the once-extinct Capercaillie bird lives in Scottish native pinewood forests. There exists approximately 542 of these creatures in the wild in the UK, which presents a promising figure. However, their susceptibility to disturbance requires the safeguarding of their habitat. Wild Isles also shows how nature-friendly farming practices can benefit wildlife and biodiversity. This also protects threatened habitats like chalk grassland and arable field margins.

Wild Isles is a celebration of the amazing wildlife found in the UK, but also acts as a warning. We need to be proactive about preserving the old growth forests, meadowlands, waterways and oceans that surround us. They are a million times harder to replace than they are to protect. Planting new trees, plants, and wildflowers is an admirable effort. However, the preservation of the existing ones is crucial for the support they provide to the biodiversity of the country and the planet. The existing vegetation depends entirely on our protection, and we must ensure that it remains safe.

Rewilding projects in the UK

A wild deer at the Knepp Castle Estate.

There are some great rewilding projects in the UK such as the 10,000-acre Dundreggan rewilding estate and Affric Highlands Project in the Scottish highlands, the Wilder Blean Project in Kent, and the Knepp Castle Estate Rewilding Project in Sussex. These rewilding projects are worthwhile and then some, but they do require a lot of careful human intervention and maintenance for long-term success. Some rewilding projects have even failed in the past. Knepp cull their bison and deer, and introducing formerly wild species must be carefully monitored to ensure their safety and that of people who live nearby. For successful rewilding, one must consider the economic and societal impacts by engaging in proper consultation with local communities. Especially those who employ traditional land management practices such as hunting, farming, forestry, and fishing.

How My Square Metre helps support wildlife

A wildflower patch that helps to support the ecosystem as well as offsetting carbon emissions.

Even wildflower meadows would struggle without human intervention. When selecting wildflower species and grasses, one should consider their suitability and hardiness. Additionally, we also must take into account the soil composition and quality of the local area. Here at My Square Metre, we are careful to select appropriate land for wildflower planting. We only use Grade 3 and 4 land that is considered ‘poor quality’ and unsuitable for growing food, and avoid planting on land that could be used for farming. Before sowing any seeds, we conduct a survey of the land and the surrounding area. We select plants and wildflowers that provide the maximum benefit to a location. The site is monitored long after seed planting. We are experimenting with planting practices that hopefully will accelerate the biodiversity process, and plan to share our findings in a paper in 2024.

If you want to get involved with rewilding, you can join us at My Square Metre and choose from as little as 1 square metre to be planted with wildflowers! This also helps to sequester carbon in the soil and provides a habitat for insects and other wildlife.

Further reading:

https://www.saveourwildisles.org.uk/

https://www.wwf.org.uk/wild-isles

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