Leaders: 230 million reasons to save planet Earth

THE rise and fall of species populations can at times be quite obvious. Take for instance the virtual disappearance of the house sparrow. Since it over-ran Britain’s gardens in the 1970s, the poor old sparrow has declined by 70 per cent and is now in the RSPB’s “highest conservation priority” category.

The world seabird population population has also dropped by a massive 70 per cent. Picture: TSPL

Other changes are not so obvious, and we don’t notice they have happened until they are pointed out to us. Our seaside towns are regularly under siege from gulls, with some areas resorting to culls to try to get the population under control. So who but the well-informed could have guessed that the world seabird population has also dropped by a massive 70 per cent over the past 60 years?

An estimated 230 million birds have gone from the global population. It is a remarkable statistic which should certainly catch the eye today.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

However, we need it do more than that. We need this figure to make us stop, and then think.Why has this decline taken place? Nature has a way of finding a balance for each species, correcting over-populations through the food supply and through predators. But would nature alone bring a 70 per cent drop? Only in extreme cases. In this specific area, it is clear something has gone wrong.

The findings of the study which has revealed this worrying decline give a variety of reasons for the drop: climate change, overfishing, pollution from plastics, and the introduction of non-native predators have all been blamed. There is a more basic answer: it’s us. We are responsible.

The problems we cause are also getting harder to prevent. The latest significant threat to our marine life is the nurdle, the small particles which are used to make plastics. When they escape into the environment, they are almost impossible to remove and cause harm through ingestion.

The damage we cause doesn’t stop at the bird population. The loss of 230 million birds is bad enough, but there are also serious consequences to face. The harm we cause has an effect on all marine life, the food chain, and the eco-system.

Findings such as these should jolt us into realisation that we are failing in our responsibilities to future generations. The difficulties in reaching agreement over carbon targets, and then encouraging nations to achieve them, are already a cause for concern. Then there is the struggle to convince some that climate change even exists, before we can highlight the damage that it causes.

We all have to do more to counter the damage we continue to cause to the planet. Is each of us doing enough at the moment? We can all make a difference, if the will is there. And if we needed a reminder of why this commitment is so important, we have just been given 230 million reasons why.

UK government’s duty is crystal-clear

UP TO 3,000 British holidaymakers have been determined to press on with their sunshine breaks in Tunisia in defiance of the terrorists who inflicted carnage on Sousse beach two weeks ago.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had to defend the government’s decision to tell all British tourists to leave the country, for their own safety. Some were reluctant to leave, and others could not disguise their anger. “It’s a disgrace,” one told reporters. “We felt safe.” No doubt so did the 38 tourists who were relaxing in the sunshine before being murdered.

Despite some of the criticism, it would be wrong to try to say the government was in a no-win situation. Tourists have been told to leave because of intelligence received which suggests another attack is “highly likely”. The government is doing exactly what it should be doing, by taking responsible action to keep British citizens out of danger.

The Tunisian government is another aggrieved party, claiming that the action will kill off the country’s tourism industry. Sadly, the damage has been done on that front, and few expect Tunisian tourism to survive. It is not the British government’s duty to protect another country’s industry. The priority is to preserve human life.

There are questions over why tourists are being removed from Tunisia, and not from other countries where there is an equivalent security threat. There may be some justification in highlighting inconsistencies, but we do not know the exact detail of the intelligence that has been received about different situations. In this particular circumstance, the government has done exactly what we must all hope would always be done to protect us from terrorism.