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Lockdown – hard on us – great for Environment

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Lockdown – Hard On Us – Great For Environment

As I sit here writing this post about some of the positive effects on the environment and our wildlife, it has been 8 weeks since we were put into lockdown. I feel fortunate in some respects, as I have been able to work, so have been free to go out and carry on my duties unquestioned by authorities. It has been good to chat to others too, key workers, the bin crews, council cleaners, delivery drivers and countless others. We have felt a strong sense of unity, a “brothers (and sisters) in arms” if you like.

Another change noticed, is how those off to queue at the supermarket now seem to notice us and thank us for keeping a semblance of everyday normality. Prior to this, we were all just people in hi-viz clothing and summarily ignored. So one good thing to come out of this is people have changed their perceptions of who the valuable members of society are. Long may it last too!

A breath of fresh air

I work in the city of Bath, a beautiful city adorned by Georgian architecture. Sadly, when Messrs Ralph Allen, John Wood and other visionaries constructed such buildings as The Circus and Royal Crescent. They used locally sourced limestone, oolitic limestone to be precise. Ooltic limestones were formed in warm shallow seas from an accumulation of shell, coral, algal, and fecal debris. It is a beautiful stone, but being calcium carbonate based is highly susceptible to erosion. Especially the type emitted from vehicle emissions and acidic rain. Of course back in the day when these were built there were no cars or acid rain. However, the writing, or should I say carbon, was on the walls. A few decades prior to the construction of these wonderful buildings the industrial revolution started and man’s obsession with fossil fuels was born.

Bath stone showing effects of pollution
Effects of pollution on Bath stone
clean Bath stone
It should look like this!

I expect your’e wondering where I am going with this. Well one of the consequences of lockdown has been a huge reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads. And of course with this reduction comes a fall in emissions of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and benzene. The result, well other than the fact my 40 minute commute has been cut to 25 minutes, is noticeably cleaner air. In Bath, many people are saying they really notice a difference in air quality. Especially those who suffer from respiratory conditions, like asthma. I’m sure the buildings are heaving a collective sigh of relief too! The downside, sooner or later things will go back to “normal” and our air quality will return to its polluted old self.

Before and after, clear as day!

If further proof was needed of our activities impact on the atmosphere. People have posted amazing before and after images of their cities from around the world.

Beijing pollution before lockdown
Beijing pollution before lockdown
Beijing pollution after lockdown
Beijing pollution after lockdown
LA pollution before lockdown
LA pollution before lockdown
LA pollution after lockdown
LA pollution after lockdown

Wildlife reclaims the world (temporarily)

Another upside to most of the populous being confined to barracks is our wildlife seems to be thriving. On my early morning drive I see many roe deer, foxes, birds of prey etc. Nothing unusual in that you might say. However, on my midday return journey I still see these same animals happily going about their business. Sometimes even more of them than in the morning!

Nature is quick to reclaim empty space, proof of this was the Kashmiri goats in Llandudno. These usually shy creatures are taking full advantage of the deserted streets and tasty garden flowers. The same is true in east London, where fallow deer have been grazing on the common in Harold Hill, completely oblivious to the occasional passer by.

Fallow deer have been grazing in east London
A fallow doe

Birds too are finding things a little easier without so many of us around. The British Trust for Ornithology’s, Paul Stancliffe, believes less human activity and noise means many are hearing the beauty of the dawn chorus in cities. Ground nesting birds are also benefiting with less dogs and people roaming the parks and countryside.

Less people and less traffic also means less hedgehogs, rabbits, squirrels and other mammals ending up squashed on our roads. I personally have noticed a decline in the numbers of dead animals on my journey into work.

It’s not all roses though

So the air we breath is cleaner due to less cars and lorries, Carbon Dioxide levels have fallen helped by less traffic and a 90% reduction in air travel. Birds can be heard singing in our cities, goats taking over towns (and gardens!) and less animals are dying on our roads. Surely from the environments point of view everything is rosy – right?

While there is no denying the benefits felt by the environment and wildlife during our enforced confinement, there are some downsides. Invasive plant species, like Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan balsam, require constant monitoring and control. Without the army of workers and volunteers to combat these and similar species, they are able to run riot.

Himalayan balsam
Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam if left unchecked can quickly out compete and smother native plants. It is most prevalent along river banks. Japanese knotweed can grow up to 10cm per day! It s a highly destructive plant and can cause major damage to buildings. In fact some lenders will not give mortgages if the plant is present. Estimated costs to get rid of Japanese knotweed, according to the government is in the region of £2-2.5bn. It is also very resilient, taking up to 5 years to eradicate using chemicals.

With work on its removal greatly reduced at the present time, it to will be benefiting from lockdown. Our managed habitats are also cause for concern. The lowland heaths of southern England require constant management. Without it these delicate ecosystems can quickly become scrub land and succumb to vegetational succession. These lowland heaths are home to a variety of specialist animals, such as the Dartford warbler, sand lizard and smooth snake. Wildlife Trusts rely on thousands of volunteers to help maintain these and other habitats. Without them this important work has to be scaled down.

So there you have it, on the one hand the environment and the wildlife that call it home are enjoying something of a holiday from less of us about. On the other, so are those unwelcome guests and the delicate ecosystems which require careful management are suffering too. One thing is certain though, when all this is over, our wildlife will still be in the same state of decline as it was before this started.

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