What is Biodiversity (and How to Create an ARK)

February 26, 2023
Biodoversity loss - photo by Ian Sewell

Photo Credit: Ian Sewell

What is Biodiversity (and How to Create an ARK)

Along with ‘Sustainability’, a hot topic word right now is ‘Biodiversity’. Used by many, it assumes we all know what it means, but it’s a question I’m often asked; “exactly what is biodiversity?”

Simply defined, it is the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. Nature, the wider community of life, the web of living things, biodiversity is the variety of living species living on our planet, including plants, fungi, microorganisms, bacteria, animals and their habitats. Biodiversity is is every living organism and all the environmental aspects that are needed for its survival such as the oceans, forests, the ice caps, cities and deserts.

I’m going to throw a few figures at you now. Please don’t glaze over. Biodiversity is in peril and needs our help.

Biodiversity loss - photo by Ian Sewell

Photo Credit: Ian Sewell

Biodiversity Collapse

It’s been estimated that there are 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence, but only 1.2 million species have been catalogued, many of which are insects. 

Some areas have a higher density of biodiversity than others. Sadly, thanks to the activities of humans in terms of pollution, population growth, agriculture, habitat loss, pesticide use, greed and subsequent climate change, we are now living in a time of an extraordinary rise of species extinction.

A study published during early March has concluded that  “we are currently losing species at a faster rate than in any of Earth’s past extinction rates” and that we are now in the “first phase of another, more severe mass extinction.” 

To put this into an Irish perspective, on the 8th March 2023, the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) published a report that shows a 56% decline in range or abundance of Ireland’s native plants. On the 15th April 2021, Birdwatch Ireland published a report stating that 54 out of our 211 bird species are now on Ireland’s ‘red list’ and at risk of permanent decline. These include the puffin, sparrowhawk, kestrel oystercatcher and kittiwake. 

On a personal level, my kids, now aged 19, 22 and 24, will never see over half the birds that were in our skies when I was their age.

In 2019 the National Parks and Wildlife Service published its third report that outlines the trends in the conservation status of Ireland’s most threatened species The assessment of the overall status of habitats is that 85% of habitats are in Unfavourable (i.e. Inadequate or Bad) status, with 46% of habitats demonstrating ongoing declining trends. This unfavourable status has remained largely unchanged since Ireland’s first assessment back in 2007.”

The Living Planet Report

According to The Living Planet Report published in 2022, the latest publication reveals global wildlife populations have plummeted by 69% on average since 1970.  

Despite us knowing these figures, in 2021 in Ireland alone 2,346.1 tonnes of herbicide (weedkillers) were placed on the market. This is up from 1,844.9 tonnes in 2019. A total of  3,091.3 tonnes of active ingredient plant protection products were available in the Irish market in 2021, up from 2,971.7 in 2019. Not only are these products harmful for us, they are killing our wildlife.

Shifting Baseline Syndrome

At the excellent 2023 Garden and Landscape Designers Association annual gathering yesterday, four passionate speakers talked about ‘Letting Nature In’. Reformed Landscape Designer Mary Reynolds mentioned the shifting baseline syndrome, a concept where we only know what we can see. The sad reality of the startling figures above is that our young people will perceive less of a decline in the wider community of life because their starting point is so much lower.

So, what can we do about it?

We need to do everything we can, as quickly as we can.

To begin with, we can start by writing to our local councillors and politicians and ask them what they’re doing, or plan to do. Cut and paste these figures if you like, but they do listen to emails and letters and if there are enough, they will react. These people make decisions on our behalf and if they don’t know, or understand, or believe that we care, they’ll keep on doing the same as they’ve always done. Without political will, the changes needed may simply not come quick enough.

Secondly, ask your local nursery, garden centre, market or shop for organic plants and composts. If they don’t think it will sell, they won’t sell it. We have to become more vocal. We have to stop using artificial chemicals and fertilisers. It’s been 20 odd years since we’ve used any on our land. It can be done.

Biodiversity loss Image by Ian Sewell

Photo credit: Ian Sewell

We are the ARK

Then we can create an ARK. Not a religious Ark (though given recent IPCC figures, we may well need one in the not too distant future), more that we can practice Acts of Restorative Kindness. We can help to “weave a patchwork of safe havens for Nature globally, in our gardens, schools, public spaces and beyond”.

Mary Reynolds and her friends have created a movement called We Are the Ark that encourages each of us to give at least half of our gardens or land back to nature, or as much as we can manage. It encourages us to grow as much organic food as we can in the other half, to remove non-native invasive species, to create habitats, to consider wildlife friendly lighting and to reach out to our communities and find support.

Biodiversity collapseCreating an ARK is a simple act. As the movement explains, placing a sign on that land and stating what we’re doing, takes the shame away from our messy patches of ground. It can help us feel a sense of pride that we are doing something for nature, and even just a tiny bit to help the loss of biodiversity. Eventually all the dots will connect. You can find out more about the ARK movement here.

It may not be for everyone, but at the very least, I will be encouraging clients to consider an ARK in every garden I’m invited to design and work in. I will be encouraging Mr G to unleash his artistic talents and create a sign for the land we are guardians of. I’m not growing fruit and vegetables on it all and gave up cutting the lawn a long time ago.

What will you do to help our biodiversity?


  • Reply Linda Gilsenan February 26, 2023 at 10:37 am

    Absolutely LOVE this post. Thank you! Really clearly and well put

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 26, 2023 at 11:02 am

      Thank you so much! That makes staying up until 1am to write it all the more worthwhile. I hope it helps.

      • Reply Joyce Fitzpatrick March 27, 2023 at 3:22 pm

        Love this whole ideas Dee and enjoyed meeting you last Sat at the ASTHFI

        • Reply Dee Sewell March 27, 2023 at 5:14 pm

          Thanks for taking the time to comment Joyce and good to meet you too. All the best with everything

  • Reply Mary Butler February 26, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    Thank you, this article will help me to focus on changing things in my garden.

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 26, 2023 at 8:37 pm

      Great to hear that, thanks Mary.

  • Reply Nicola Haines MGLDA February 27, 2023 at 7:13 am

    Dee, this is a beautifully written piece with clear, practical advice for guardians of any outdoor space. Thank you for sharing

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 27, 2023 at 9:03 am

      Nicola, thanks for taking the time to comment, I’m glad you’ve found it of help.

  • Reply Bernie O'Reilly February 27, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    It was great to meet you at the GLDA ‘Letting Nature In’ Seminar on Saturday Dee and yes, it certainly delivered a thought-provoking message for everyone. I absolutely love this piece you’ve written, you’ve nailed it beautifully!

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 27, 2023 at 7:14 pm

      It was great to meet you too! I really enjoyed the entire day. All of the speakers were excellent and have given me so much to think about. I would love to have written about all their thoughts and ideas but that might have taken a book rather than an blog article! Glad you enjoyed it and a big thanks to all the GLDA team for bringing these issues to the forefront.

  • Reply Gardening for the Future | Greenside Up March 27, 2023 at 9:01 am

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