Biodiversity can be defined as “all living things, from the tiny garden ant to the giant redwood tree. You will find Biodiversity everywhere, window boxes and wild woods, roadsides and rain forests, snow fields and sea shore” (The UK Steering Group Report Great Britain Biodiversity Action Plan Website)
Biodiversity is important because it gives us many of the essentials of life, the network of ecosystems, habitats and species provide the support systems that sustain human existence. The value of biodiversity ranges from the spiritual benefits to be gained from contact with nature, to the economic value of crops and livestock. The potential of wild species to provide us with new sources of food, or medicines is vast. However the world is losing its biodiversity at an ever-increasing rate as a result of human activity. In the UK we have lost over 100 species this century, with other species and habitats in danger of disappearing (Lancashire County council biodiversity action plan http://www.lbap.org.uk/). We must take action or pass on to future generations a planet that is markedly poorer than the one we were privileged to inherit.
A biodiversity action plan has recently been produced for Lancashire recognising the importance that wildlife can make to the quality of life in both rural and urban areas. Allotments are identified as important to this plan. Lancashire County Council aim to promote sustainability/lifestyle choices that can have a beneficial effect on allotment habitats and/ or associated species by ensuring that sustainable community plans at district level recognise the importance of allotments to the quality of life. ( Lancashire County Council Bap template for habitat action plans )
Lancashire County Council hope to develop some of the allotments in Penwortham to encourage young people to get involved through partnerships with schools, and they would like the Penwortham allotments run by Preston City Council to be a recognised Biodiversity Action Plan habitat. They aim to secure a 20% increase in the number of allotment holders’ committees integrating biodiversity action into the management of their holdings.
Individual allotments are managed in many different ways and there has always been some conflict between those who use chemicals that can harm wildlife and clear every inch of land and those who encourage wildlife by making ponds, not using harmful chemicals and leaving areas of land untouched. Untended plots and the areas around and bordering the allotment site are important. Allotments break up the urban landscape, provide urban green lungs that help to keep cities alive, and provide havens for urban wildlife.
Eric Simms in Birds of Town and Suburb (Collins 1975) also points to the importance of allotments, calling them valuable wildlife habitats, where birds such as the wren, jay, tawny owl, kestrel, bullfinch and tree sparrow among many others can be found.
On edges and paths and on uncultivated plots plant species abound. “ In the few years that an allotment was left uncultivated…twenty-three flower species were recorded, among them field rose, black bryony, and teasel: there were larger skipper butterflies and meadow browns were abundant” (The Allotment its Landscape and Culture, David Crouch, 1988 p.185)
On my own allotment I have hedgehogs, bank voles, frogs, toads, nesting dunnocks and robins, great tits, blue tits, long tailed tits, bullfinches, chaffinches, greenfinches, wrens, tree sparrows, house sparrows, a kestrel, many butterflies, ground beetles, ladybirds, lacewings and many other insects.
When I am working on the plot the sound of birdsong can almost drown out the sound of the cars on the bypass just the other side of the trees.
The Lancashire Biodiversity Action plan concludes, “Increasingly, local authorities are being required to demonstrate that the services they provide are not only cost effective but also represent ‘best value’ when they are measured against other criteria such as sustainability. The conservation of biodiversity is a key element of sustainable development and as such should be regarded as an important indicator of council performance with regard to ‘best value’. If a local council’s actions lead to a significant decrease in local biodiversity, it could be argued that the authority is failing to provide ‘best value’. ( Lancashire County Council Biodiversity Action Plan)