Environment Blog by Ben Bryant
2010 was the United Nations‘ International Year of Biodiversity, but if that fact somehow passed you by, you are by no means alone. A survey has found that last year’s global campaign to raise awareness of biodiversityand stimulate action to preserve it has had virtually no impact.
On Wednesday, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published the results of the survey of attitudes and knowledge relating to biodiversity and the natural environment (PDF). More than 1,700 people were interviewed in March on topics ranging from their use of public parks to their participation in conservation volunteering programmes.
Researchers found that 18% of respondents know “a lot” about biodiversity in 2011 compared with 20% in 2009; 30% know “a little” compared with 24%; 18% have “only heard the name” compared with 21%; and 31% haven’t even heard of it, down from 32%.
It would be rash to draw the conclusion that people aren’t concerned about biodiversity. In the same survey, 78% of respondents agreed that they “worry about changes to the countryside in the UK and loss of native animals and plants”. Concern for organisms and their habitats is very much a part of the public consciousness; the term “biodiversity” clearly is not.
The problem is compounded by a dearth of campaigns against species loss. This is in itself surprising. The causes and effects of reduced biodiversity are easy to communicate and understand, compared with the complicated mechanisms and myriad effects of climate change. Where the polar bear cub has become the poster child for climate change activists, any number of organisms could champion the cause of biodiversity, from the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed red panda to the adorably gormless slow loris. As PR campaigns go, biodiversity isn’t short on endangered ambassadors.
This may be precisely the problem, however. Although the overarching message of a biodiversity campaign is fairly simple to grasp – preserve the variety of life on Earth and its natural environments – the practical implications encompass wildly different ecosystems and environments. Politics and business feed into a scarcity of coverage, too, which has already been explored on this blog.
Even so, the UN’s definition of biodiversity runs to no fewer than 261 words – too long by about 200 words. Understanding the meaning of biodiversity, with a pithy definition, is perhaps the best way to get it bandied around outside of biology textbooks.
- Has biodiversity year passed you by? (guardian.co.uk)
- AUDIO: ‘We’re not doing very well’ on biodiversity (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Precedent-setting evidence of the benefits of biodiversity (eurekalert.org)
- Evidence Of Water Cleansing Benefits from Biodiversity (liwec.wordpress.com)
- Are invasive plants a threat to native biodiversity? It depends on the spatial scale (physorg.com)