Often when I talk to people about supporting biodiversity conservation abroad, the question comes up, “yeah but, shouldn’t we focus on our own backyard?” and, “what can we do at home to preserve biodiversity?” Ideas on simple ways you can help biodiversity abound, but I think they bear repeating here.
While most of us aren’t actively trying to harm biodiversity, modern daily life is rife with unintended consequences that impact the plants and animals sharing this planet with us. Natural and human caused disruptions reduce biodiversity and threaten human livelihoods and survival.
Traveling across borders and oceans to Biodiversity Hotspots to participate in conservation efforts as a volunteer, journalist, philanthropist, or citizen scientist are great ways to support meaningful biodiversity conservation. But for some, such trips may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We can, however, all help biodiversity thrive in our backyards.
With a few simple habit changes and pro-active actions, you can reduce your adverse impact on the environment and encourage local biodiversity.
1. Help Native Pollinators. Pollinators, are the key to reproduction for most flowering plants which are foundational to the survival of many species on our planet. This is why the criteria of Biodiversity Hotspots gives so much weight to the number of plants in an area. Give pollinators an extra boost in your backyard by: reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides, providing nectar sources by planting a variety of wildflowers and native plants that will bloom throughout the season, leaving logs and rocks in your yard or build bee boxes for native bees to make their home, encouraging your City to stop weed-whacking median strips and sidewalk edges and let native wildflowers grow to create pollinator corridors. Visit the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to learn more.
2. Reduce or eliminate pesticides and fertilizer. Consider getting rid of your lawn, especially if you live in an arid region. Instead, plant native plants that are well adapted to your area. This will reduce the need to use pesticides and fertilizers. Don’t buy plants from nurseries that use systemic pesticides such as neonictinoids. When applied, they persist in all parts of the plant from the seed to the stem to the blossom and reek havoc on already stressed pollinators. Use organic compost and soil additives instead. Soil health is the best prevention for pest infestations, but if you do get visited by unwanted guests, learn how to care for your plants with organic pest control.
3. Restore habitat in your yard. If you have a yard, consider turning it into a mini-wildlife sanctuary. National Wildlife Federation has a program to help you attract wildlife whether you have a balcony or a 20-acre farm. In a world where habitat loss is the number one cause of biodiversity loss, providing wildlife with water, food, cover, and a place to raise their young can go a long way.
4. Restore habitat in your community. If you don’t have a yard, consider volunteering on an ecological restoration project in your area. Good places to look for volunteer opportunities are land trusts, wildlife foundations, Native Plant Societies, government agencies (e.g. Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife), and environmental organizations. You’ll spend time outdoors and learn about the native plants and animals.
5. Reduce your consumption. This is arguably the action that will have the biggest positive impact on the environment. The more we reduce our demand for new resources, the less habitat will be destroyed to get those resources or the energy to make those products, and the less waste goes into the landfill. Become a minimalist. Most “minimalists” choose to live a simple life to free up their time to do the things they love rather than spending time shopping and repairing stuff. The idea is “Own Less, Live More.” But it’s undeniable that the minimalist lifestyle also greatly benefits the environment.
6. Reuse and recycle. Composting is key here. It reduces the amount of waste going into landfills and the space needed to hold that waste. Look into ways you can use those purchases intended for single-use. Keep up with what is recyclable in your area. As new markets for recycled products open up, even small towns like mine can increase the numbers of items that they are able to collect.
7. Reduce your energy demand. Burning fossil fuels is the number one driver of climate change which is exponentially quickening biodiversity loss by presenting unparalleled challenges to the world’s plants and animals. Start by conserving energy in your home. A Home Energy Audit can help raise your awareness about where you can reduce energy use in your home. Then incorporate renewable energy. Solar,
8. Buy local foods. Buying from your local farmer at a farmer’s market or through a farm stand gives you the ability to find out how your food was grown and make requests for different practices such as no pesticides, or a greater diversity of produce. It’s easier to ask someone you have a relationship with to change their practices than a big corporation.
9. Buy organic foods. While organic certification doesn’t guarantee that your food is 100% free of pesticides, organic growers are held to criteria of minimal pesticide use.
10. Donate to conservation efforts. Species extinction is happening at an unprecedented rate and there never seems to be enough money to save everything. Prioritize your charitable giving to support conservation efforts in the world’s biodiversity hotspots. As James Borrell, a PhD student in Conservation Genetics stated in his article on The Conversation, “We’re likely to get far greater “biodiversity for our buck” on every pound spent abroad, especially if we focus on the world’s poorest developing countries, many of which are in global biodiversity hotspots.” The Unfolding Earth (this website) will soon be listing reputable, vetted organizations that are doing the work needed to protect wildlands, save biodiversity, and support sustainable development in Biodiversity Hotspots.
11. Advocate for Biodiversity.
- Educate yourself about the importance of biodiversity and be able to answer the questions, “Why does it matter so much?” and “Why should we make sacrifices to protect it?”
- Genetically modified crops pose multiple serious threats to biodiversity. Support the International Union of Concerned Scientists recommendations on GM crops.
- Make connections. Get to know wildlife and conservation biologists as well as political activists and community leaders in your area. Use social media to connect with experts and campaigns.
- Lobby your government. Sign or create petitions. Support politicians who support measures to protect biodiversity.
- Share your message. Talk to your friends in person. Use social media. Start a blog. Speak at local events.
Featured image © Christina Selby