As another year begins, nature needs more help than ever. From supporting a proposed law to tackle the climate and nature crises, to shopping consciously, Dr Mya-Rose Craig, aka ‘Birdgirl’, recommends five things you can do
The precipitous decline of biodiversity, natural habitats and wildlife is well documented, and cause for grave concern. In the past 40 years, populations of mammals, birds and other species have fallen by approximately two thirds. But the global community is slowly ramping up efforts to turn the tide. The recent adoption of a landmark agreement to protect 30 per cent of nature by 2030, signed by 196 countries at Cop15 in December, marks a turning point.
But how can individuals be true stewards of nature?
Positive News called on 20-year-old ornithologist and activist Dr Mya-Rose Craig for her recommendations on what we can do for nature and climate in 2023.
1. Tell the government that you demand change
One of the best ways to effect lasting and meaningful change is through legislation, which is why I support the new climate and ecology bill. It’s a joined up, comprehensive plan for a proposed UK law that addresses the full extent of the nature and climate crises in line with the most up-to-date science. Lend your support by signing the Zero Hour petition.
Wild Justice is another campaign that uses the legal system to get a better deal for UK wildlife, by challenging government decisions in the courts and the media. With support from wildlife expert and TV presenter Chris Packham, a recent petition asking for a change in the law to limit the shooting of woodcock gathered over 100,000 signatures, triggering a forthcoming debate in parliament.
2. Be a conscious shopper
It’s not always easy to know what’s a sustainable choice, and what’s not. Whenever you’re making a purchase, it helps to think about the impact on nature and the climate. It may be that you cannot avoid a product altogether, but you might be able to buy less or support a more nature-focused brand. Try also to think about nature conservation on a global, rather than solely local scale.
One product best avoided is peat. Peatlands are incredibly biodiverse, invaluable natural habitats that act as carbon sinks. The loss of just 5 per cent of UK peatland carbon would equal the whole country’s annual carbon emissions. It’s astonishing that it’s still being used for gardening compost and that some whiskey producers continue to burn peat to give the drink flavour. While homegrown harvesting of peat has declined in the UK, it is still being imported from Ireland and the Baltics. So going peat-free means a vote for nature here, and abroad.
Another product to be wary of is palm oil, produced from the oil palm tree in places such as Borneo, Malaysia and Indonesia. I remember driving six hours in Borneo through miles of palm oil plantations, not a bird or animal in sight for the whole journey. That was when I first saw habitat destruction on a mass scale, and it forever changed me. I avoid multinational consumer goods companies that have been linked to deforestation-causing palm oil production, such as Nestle.
3. Be mindful of how you invest your money
Many banks continue to use your money to fund highly damaging industries such as fossil fuel extraction and the arms trade. Moving your money to a more ethical bank such as Triodos, where I am a customer, is an easy way to ensure that you’re funding conservation, not climate chaos.
The Bristol-based bank invests in projects such as nature-based flood control initiatives that simultaneously improve wildlife habitats, and they have a range of impact-focused funds, plus a current account. Don’t forget about your insurance and pension providers, too. Insurance is often overlooked but the industry as a whole has a huge amount of power when it comes to not only what projects they underwrite, but also who they invest in.
4. Be a citizen for science
Taking part in volunteer citizen science projects is a great way to help organisations monitor biodiversity loss, and it’s fun, too. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place from 27-29 January, and involves recording what birds you see for one hour from your balcony, in your garden or at your local park. Or, if you can spare 20 minutes a week and have a working knowledge of common bird species, you can join the British Trust for Ornithology’s garden birdwatch community.
There are lots of other animals you can monitor too, such as bees, butterflies, moths and bats. Surveys can even be done at home: identify sea animals by watching videos taken on underwater cameras through Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities (SIARC), for example.
If you’ve got more time to spare, consider joining work days on a local reserve such as the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, or Natural England. My charity, Black2Nature, is always in need of behind the scenes support or help with our nature camps for inner city minority ethnic children and teenagers.
5. Reduce the impact of animal farming
The meat and dairy sector is responsible for around 10 per cent of the UK’s total emissions. What’s more, crops produced to feed animals tend to be monocropped and devoid of wildlife. By swapping to plant-based food, you can make a significant difference both to climate change and biodiversity loss. Try going vegan for January or maybe plant-based twice a week. Even small swaps like choosing oat drink over dairy milk can make a big difference.
Mya-Rose Craig is a British-Bangladeshi birder, race activist and environmentalist who campaigns for equal access to nature to ensure global climate justice. In June 2022, Craig’s memoir Birdgirl was published by Vintage Books.
Main image: Oliver Edwards