Wild Wild Life newsletter: How you can 'do your bit' for wildlife


The pics are from Alamy.

November's Wild Wild Life is a monthly newsletter that celebrates the diversity of our planet's animals and plants. You can get a free newsletter in your inbox.

I broke in a new pair of walking boots on a woodland walk and spotted a lot of fungi. The UK is home to more than 15,000 species of fungi. Many of the species are not mushroom-forming and that number isn't as daunting as it sounds. I have had some success in identifying the most common species, but I still marvel at anyone who is confident enough to eat those that they identify as food.

I am looking at actions we can take to help wildlife and the environment. It pays to have red feathers if you are a waxbill.

What can you do to help the environment?

The biggest opportunity to tackle climate change since the Paris Agreement was this month's COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK. Something kept niggling at me as I read all the news. An advert telling me I could recycle a plastic bag or eat a veggie burger was the only thing that kept me on the TV. I don't like the idea of such messages because they aren't enough to be "my bit" and they aren't likely to have an impact on the problem.

I have written before about more meaningful action that people can take to tackle climate change and cope with eco-anxiety, and Greenwashing has become a familiar concept now. The biodiversity crisis is one of the great planetary crises. Humans and domesticated animals make up more than 90 per cent of the mammal mass on our planet. The things we do are threatening around 1 in 8 species with extinction, and just 3 per cent of Earth's land is considered to be ecological intact.

It is a good idea to cut down on single-use plastic and recycle more, but there are other things you can do to make a difference.

Change the way you eat.

Maybe veggie burgers are a part of the solution. The study found that meat and dairy make up 83 per cent of the world's farmland, but only 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of the food we eat. Habitat loss is a major driver of the biodiversity crisis. There won't be enough space for wild animals and plants if we don't eat less meat and dairy.

It is also about reducing the amount of land used for agriculture. Farmland makes up a significant portion of the planet and I think it needs to be as wildlife-friendly as possible. An argument can be made that organic farming is not a good thing because it requires more land and energy. Some argue that the dial may swing in organic farming's favor if you take into account the full impact of land degradation and pesticide use. It is thought that organically managed land supports 30 per cent more biodiversity than conventionally farmed fields.

You can know for a fact that wasting food is not good. It is unconscionable that a third of food goes to waste.

There is a lot of opportunity to make a difference here and it is not all or nothing. If you want to go vegan for a few weeks, it is better to cut your meat consumption in half than to completely give up.

Get serious about climate change.

Climate change is driving habitat loss and extinction. If you can reduce your personal contribution by flying less, driving less, and using a green energy provider, you will have the biggest impact. This one counts twice, because of cutting back on meat and dairy.

Support a lobby group.

We need to make lifestyle changes to save nature and limit climate change. To succeed, the heavy lifting must be done by governments and corporations. It can seem a bit daunting to get involved in campaigns if you haven't done it before, and you'll often see advice to write to your politicians. If that applies to you, I would recommend you support some environmental charities or non-governmental organizations who will do the hard work for you. Send some of your money to an organisation that lobbies the government about wildlife issues that you care about.

Act local.

Staying positive is what this one is about. It is a global problem, but you can make a difference at home. Don't plant non-native species in your garden, and keep your cat indoors. Small wins like getting your local council to let grassy verges grow long in summer make a big difference to both your local insect population and your morale.

It is large-scale projects that will make the biggest difference when it comes to saving wildlife. My colleague Graham Lawton came up with a vision of how countries can save nature. The lifestyle choices of people earning more than $28,000 a year are disproportionately important, if the tips I have outlined above seem skewed towards wealthier, home-owning, holiday-taking people.

blickwinkel/M. woike.

I learned this month.

If you want to be the boss of common waxbills, you need red feathers. A study found that a waxbill's social rank was related to how much red the bird's chest feathers were, but not its size, intelligence, or aggressiveness. The redness of their chest feathers could be an indication of how healthy the birds are, because they have the ability to make such gorgeous colors. I have always been skeptical of honest signals, perhaps it is a quirk of waxbill's tastes, and they prefer individuals with redder feathers.

Mark Norman is a doctor.

The new species of the month.

There is a new species of octopus found in the waters of south-west Australia. A study of the animal's genes and the number of suckers it has along its arms has shown that it is different from the other species.

Michael Amor at the Western Australian Museum told me that lumping octopuses together is common. He says that quirks are often lumped together to make potentially meaningful information accessible. This is a major problem when trying to interpret catch trends, especially with increasing fishing pressure and climate change.

The largest and fastest-growing octopus fishery in Australia has been exploiting O. djinda for years. The hope is that formal recognition will inform efforts to manage fishing.

There are other wildlife news.

The long read.

This month's long read is a delightful piece about an elephant dictionary, a directory of behaviours and vocalisations that can help you speak elephant. I enjoyed listening to the Royal Horticultural Society's "How green is your garden?" episode, and have been reading Phaidon's Bird, a coffee table book that features images of birds from science, art and design.

There are more on these topics.

Climate change.
The climate summit is called COP26


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