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Planet Earth depends for its health and survival, and as a place which supports human life, on the complex interaction between the physical materials it's made of, natural phenomena such as volcanoes, earthquakes and lightening, the sun, the atmosphere, weather/climate, and living things. Biodiversity is about the 'living things' element of that list. Scientists define precise boundaries for their studies, but for the purposes of practical living it can be understood as being about the whole range of living things from single-celled life to oak trees and whales, people not excluded.

People mourn the extinction of iconic animals and birds like tigers, penguins, whales or, in the British context, the red squirrel, because they are part of our visual world and we miss them. But our survival depends most comprehensively on the bacteria and fungi we can't see, on what most people think of as creepy-crawlies - worms, flies, bees, wasps and much else - and on plants of every shape and size. On the day that living things learned to combine water with carbon from the atmosphere with the help of sunlight to form sugars - the process called photosynthesis - the planet began its journey to the world we see around us today.

Biodiversity is key to our existence
Plants make the food and oxygen which supports us. You could say therefore they are the most important life on the planet. But it's not as simple as that because plants depend on soil fungi to help them extract nutrients from the soil, on worms to improve and oxygenate the structure of the soil, on bacteria that live in the roots of some sorts of plants and make chemicals which can be thought of as fertilizers, on insects or birds, and sometimes even slugs, to pollinate their flowers, and on animals, birds and insects to spread their seeds. The list goes on, diversity sustains the planet.

Why it matters if a species becomes extinct
It follows from the interdependence of relationships between many groups of living things that it can matter to the health of the planet whenever a species becomes rare or extinct, though some species are more important than others. From this perspective people are among the least important, but if flying insects died out the outcome would be catastrophic because they pollinate the flowers of the plants that feed us. And that sort of situation is why it is so worrying that some estimates put the current extinction rate at about 1,000 times greater than the previous highest rate in the history of the planet - an estimated 30,000 extinctions per year.

Icing on the cake
Apart from the essential services provided by the existence of diverse populations there is also a bonus system. Many species, from the most simple soil-bound life forms upwards, produce chemicals with properties useful to humankind. The spectrum of unresearched possibilities is wide, but among the most important species are likely to be rainforest and topsoil life which are both hugely diverse, very far from fully documented, and under threat from rampant deforestation worldwide. Who knows what cures for human afflictions may be lost in this tragedy.

Policy and Action
Loss of biodiversity is a worldwide issue tied up with population growth, pressure on water supplies, climate change, ocean acidification as a result of carbon emissions, deforestation, farming methods, industrialization, urbanisation, desertification, pollution, and over-fishing/hunting. The Green Party has policies to deal with the national and worldwide issues, but this is an area of policy where people locally can do their bit.

Enfield Green Party's policies

  • There is a scandalous lack of knowledge about our dependency on the complex relationships which support our species. The Green Party takes the view that schools, some council officers, many parks/allotments staff and council-supported local groups could help with redressing this problem, whilst encouraging residents to foster local biodiversity.
  • Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Enfield's front gardens have been unnecessarily hard-paved as car parks in recent years, destroying much habitat. We recognise that the Council had no power to prevent it, but by the proactive development of street-parking schemes and advice about the detrimental consequences much could have been done to persuade people to retain their gardens. Green Party councillors would be active in finding ways to prevent further loss and in restoring damage.
  • Topsoil, the upper 250mm of the planet's surface, is the most necessary resource on earth after oxygen and water, but is badly neglected and abused. The Green Party will play its part promoting understanding of its importance, whilst Green Party councillors would work to ensure that residents and the building trades conserve and protect it locally.
  • In biodiversity terms grass is as near a green desert as it is possible to get so we would seek alternatives wherever the space is not needed for other activities such as sport, physical activity, and picnic areas. Target areas will include parks, but also spaces, however small, elsewhere. Possible habitats include wildflower meadows, shrubs native to the area, flowering ground cover, orchards and ponds where there are none.
  • Consistent with out belief that streets and local focal points such as shopping areas should be as people-friendly (by calming traffic for example) and as visually attractive as possible to foster strong communities, the Green Party will seek the development of a Streets Planting strategy to incorporate plants - native plants wherever possible - as well as the existing Street Tree Strategy. As part of this approach we would encourage street communities to be locally responsible for making the best of their front gardens jointly, and, where appropriate, pavement planting
  • Thriving, diverse plant and wildlife communities survive best if they are connected with each other - a good example is railway embankments which keep urban wildlife in contact with the countryside and gardens. These connections are called wildlife corridors. Whilst recognising the restrictions of the planning regulations The Green Party would do everything in its power to foster formal and informal wildlife corridors.
  • As a political party or as councillors the Green Party will campaign locally to reduce the use of peat in gardens, whether directly in the soil or in purchased potting composts (Peat is cut from important and fragile habitats, and is a significant carbon store - extraction adds significantly to global warming.)
  • Biodiversity is an environmental issue which many of us could support in our gardens and by personal choices. Green councillors would seek to work with garden centres and Capel Manor, and by taking other opportunities which arise, to raise awareness and participation in biodiversity-friendly ways of doing things.

Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ