A Society of Educated Ignorance?

As a country the UK is an island of educated people, with copious qualifications, including thousands of degrees in varying subjects. However when it comes to setting policies involving the environment, they are not always effective and can end up causing more problems than they solve, while costing large amounts of money. Not only this but as a society now saturated in technology, people’s connection with nature seems to have largely disappeared, making people ignorant of their surroundings. Both of these effects cause problems for the long-term survival of our planet, and us, with decisions often going against sense and science.

Flooding

December 2015 saw huge floods in many areas of the country, completely devastating towns and cities across the UK. Storm after storm appeared, as rainfall continued to fall. Rainfall records were broken, with 341.4mm of rain falling during 24 hours in Honister, Cumbria from the 4th to 5th December (Met Office, 2016). With many blaming climate change for the increased storms, there are still other questions which need to be addressed.

The first question to consider is why do we build on floodplains in the first place when it is known they are not safe? No houses should be built on areas likely to flood as this puts families at risk. They should be left as a natural defence. Building in these areas also increases the amount of impermeable land surface meaning the water cannot naturally be absorbed by the system, which in turn influences water run-off rates into rivers, making them more likely to flood. The continued destruction of habitats, especially deforestation; intensive farming; over-grazing and altering river courses has meant that there are few areas of unaltered ecosystem left to naturally protect us from flooding. Governmental management often follows public demand for action, so they appear more popular, even if it is not what the science suggests they should do and not what is best for the preservation of the villages in the future. Dredging is one example of this, but it doesn’t stop the problem in many areas, so why not spend the time and money on strategies which consider the whole catchment, and have ecosystems which absorb rainwater and protect the surrounding towns and villages? Ignoring the key issues will mean that flooding will continue despite millions spent on defences. Peoples’ lives will continually be disrupted in a horrible way if the issues are not addressed. There are however a few examples of positive flood management schemes which do consider natural processes. For example the Slowing the Flow scheme in Pickering, which includes management such as planting woodland and having an area where flood water can be stored, is thought to have been successful in reducing flood risk (more information: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/slowingtheflow).

Fracking

We all know fossil fuels are finite and won’t last forever, so attempting to find more fossil fuels when there is continued pressure to change to renewables doesn’t seem logical. Despite the recent historic climate deal in Paris and the UK’s need to reduce emissions, the government seems to think fracking is a good idea. Not only will it take a lot of money to make this happen, but it will also take a while before there are any benefits from this method, so it appears to make more sense to use the time and money on renewable energy that would last, in theory, forever. Fracking deep underground could have unthinkable effects on the environment, possibly resulting in water contamination which would affect the entire ecosystem. Not only this but fracking actually needs a large amount of water, which wouldn’t help water shortages, and if something doesn’t go according to plan human drinking supplies could be at risk. When the government announced that they would allow fracking under protected areas, such as National Parks, it was rather astonishing that they think it would have no effect on the ecosystem. It is ignorant to think that fracking so far underground would not affect the protected site because all systems are connected. These sites are also protected for a reason, and this seems to have been ignored. Recently fracking has been approved in North Yorkshire, despite many protesting the idea. Previous fracking tests in Lancashire were thought to be the cause of a minor earthquake! Surely that shows that this kind of technology can cause more problems than it is worth. Spending a huge amount of money and time on an energy which is ‘dirty’ and will not last forever doesn’t make sense when compared to renewables, which although expensive are the way we will have to go in the future anyway.

For more information: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/climate/fracking

Hedgehogs

The issue of the hedgehog decline has become highly publicised recently, with there now thought to be less than one million left. It has also been debated in parliament, as MP Oliver Colvile petitioned to raise their legal protection. The issue here however focuses on the way the public manage our gardens. We don’t necessarily realise our fences will stop hedgehogs moving about to find food, as they can travel around 2-3km each night; that our bonfires are perfect resting spots and that pesticides are reducing available food. People might find hedgehogs in their garden and by being kind put out some bread and milk. It’s a very strange thing but somehow the story that bread and milk is a good thing to put out has spread, when in fact it is very bad for them and can cause diarrhoea. Sometimes our wanting to help can do more harm than good, which is why these issues should be tackled through education.

For more information: http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

Farming

In excess of 75% of the UK is farmland. Many farmland bird species have unfortunately showed vast declines, as the breeding farmland bird index for 2014 showed a reduction of over 50% compared to the level in 1970 (BTO, n.d.). The pressure however on UK farmers is great, with changing weather threatening their crops; competition with imports and attempting to meet supermarket quotas for ‘perfect’ looking goods, being strenuous tasks. It is no wonder that many farmers are turning to other means of supporting themselves, such as growing biofuel. Newspapers have been quick to say that we need to increase the amount of food produced, yet no one seems to be addressing the issues of an over pressured farming force, farmland that is degrading and wildlife that is reducing in numbers. It could be said that wildlife is being considered under stewardship schemes, but others might argue that these patches are small, fragmented and that the schemes are not enforced correctly.

Introduction of species

Over the years people have introduced various species to the UK, through releases, deliberate or accidental and escapees, many of which have unfortunately devastated the environment. The idea of ignorance comes in here as we have no idea what effect some of the species of plant and animals released into the environment will have, until it is too late. Rhododendron for example is beautiful when in flower but quickly dominates areas. It is a plant which may benefit from climate change and one which also facilitates the spread of Sudden Oak Death. The well-known invasive species, such as signal crayfish, mink and Japanese knotweed, are still causing problems and management is ongoing, expensive and often ineffective. However many people are unaware of these problems and may simply release an exotic pet, which has grown too big for its cage, into the UK countryside, not thinking it could cause any problems or just not caring. That is why many ponds and watercourses have terrapins residing in them which exploit the system, offsetting the natural balance.

Conclusion

Overall common sense and science is often ignored when making important decisions. This needs to change. The government seems to bow to pressure from the public when it appears to make them popular, such as allowing dredging, even though making the unpopular decisions about flood management may actually be beneficial for everyone. However when there is huge public backlash to fracking, they seem to ignore this and strive for the ‘economically advantageous’ choice.

Education is vital because we don’t learn about the importance of these topics in school, we may get told about the basics through an outdated textbook, such as the different flows of a river, but we aren’t told why this really matters and what happens if we continue to change these natural systems. The lack of understanding just leads people to believe it doesn’t matter, when in fact it could be the difference between a short-term solution, which isn’t very effective, compared to a long-term one which would benefit everyone, including the environment.

 

References

Met Office. (2016) Flooding in Cumbria December 2015 [www document]. www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/interesting/december2015

BTO. (n.d.) Biodiversity Indicators [www document]. www.bto.org/science/monitoring/developing-bird-indicators

 

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A Johnson
Conservation graduate and wildlife lover. Find my blog at https://naturenattering.wordpress.com/ Follow me on Twitter @AJohnson2810

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