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Biodiversity: the local response to a global crisis

With thanks to 

Claire Serpell

(Updated 15 June 2018)

On Monday evening 11 June 2018, 90 people from WildCookham and WildMaidenhead gathered at the Odney Club in Ferry Lane to hear a talk about biodiversity by world-renowned expert, Professor Nigel Stork.
Born in Cookham, Nigel has studied insect biodiversity patterns in forests across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. He’s written more than 180 articles - his most cited research is on tropical forest diversity and estimating the magnitude of both global species richness and extinction rates. He served on the UK National Biodiversity Committee and was a lead author of the 1994 UK Biodiversity Action Plan before moving to Australia where most recently he was Dean of Research for Sciences at Australia’s Griffith University before retiring and being appointed Emeritus Professor.
The evening began with a short tour of the John Lewis Odney Club’s delightful 200 acre grounds, led by head gardener Uel McGowan. Having worked there for over 30 years he had many tales to tell. We learned about the pottery started in 1942 to provide wartime jobs for the village - that building now houses the John Lewis Heritage Centre. He told us how one very cold winter, after an extreme freeze followed by a hasty thaw, the entire river bank collapsed into the Lulle Brook. It was rebuilt using wooden posts and faggots - bundles of sticks - to ensure the riverbank was accessible to wildlife. At that time, water voles were still commonplace, Kenneth Grahame's very own Ratty in the place that inspired the Wind in the Willows. Sadly the water voles are no longer in residence, probably the victims of mink. As we continued around the grounds, we admired the hay meadow, the herbaceous border, the cricket pitch and the many ancient trees. At the end of the walk Uel introduced us to the magnificent magnolia that Stanley Spencer had painted in 1938. It was a fitting start to the evening.

Back at the Bernard Miller Centre with its impressive green roof, Professor Stork took to the stage. He told us of his early career at the Natural History Museum, his favourite part of which is the insect collection that houses specimens collected by Darwin and no doubt, by Prof Stork himself. His fieldwork for the museum in Indonesia involved smoking insects out from the tops of the rainforest canopy. Most he let go alive but he did bring back a glass full of specimens for the museum to study. In that one glass there were 25,000 individual insects from 5000 different species! 

On moving to Australia he studied the biodiversity of golf courses in comparison to local parks and gardens. Interestingly he found that the minimum number of bird species found on golf courses was always larger than the maximum number found in neighbouring parks and gardens. The same could also be said for bats. Given the current plans to build on Maidenhead Golf Club this is certainly a worrying statistic.

In the UK, he told us, there are about 60,000 different species of all types. 25,000 of them are insects and 17,000 are fungi. He then introduced us to Nigel's Action Plan. 

1) Engage the community. Groups like WildCookham are invaluable. Get the message into the schools to inspire the next generation. Get businesses to pledge to do something - a green wall, a green roof, an area of meadow. Utilise the time of retirees to spread the word.

2) Learn about biodiversity. It's not just birds, plants and butterflies. Get out into meadows, marshes and woodland. Take note of seasonal variations, some species are only around for a few days each year.

3) Identify key habitats and ecosystems. In Cookham we're lucky enough to have meadows, marshes and woodland as well as a golf course, hedgerows, rivers and parks. 

4) Protect veteran trees. Ancient trees are the home to vast numbers of critters and fungi. We must look after them. Also coppicing increases small bird populations.

5) It's more than just plants, birds and butterflies. The loss of wildflowers matches the decline in pollinators in the UK. Let's plant some wildflowers!

6) Identify heritage crops. There are certainly some ancient fruit trees around Cookham. These must be cherished, many are rare and hence the other lifeforms they support are also rare.
It was an enormous privilege and pleasure to have such an inspiring, articulate, eminent expert speak to us. I hope we can implement Nigel's Action Plan and help preserve and even improve Cookham's biodiversity for future generations.



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