When Green Spirits Meet: How We Are Taking Back Our Biodiversity

Ian Somerhalder Foundation

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” ‚Äï Ralph Waldo Emerson

The 2010 joint study of the world's plants carried out by the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Natural History Museum, London and IUCN concluded that at least 22% of the classified plant species known around the world are endangered.  The UN Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes that the actions of individuals directly contribute to biodiversity loss. And the National Science Foundation has called for efforts by each individual to help protect and preserve our besieged ecosystems. We are part of a growing global grassroots effort which is slowly taking back control of our biodiversity one person, one plant, one garden at a time. Through the exchange of ideas, resources and information we are raising awareness that how we as individuals care for and welcome wildlife in our green spaces, large or small, has a huge impact on the world's ecosystems. Everyone can be involved in the restoration, preservation and reintroduction efforts of our respective native plant species. In so doing, together we are working to build a unity of proactive involvement with biodiversity - a bridge between us and the Earth.


Poppies, Cornflowers, Common Corncockle, Corn Marigold - these wild beauties conjure images of the romantic and rustic scenes which have inspired some of the world’s greatest art and artists. However, these species are now becoming a rare sight throughout Europe as a result of intensive mechanized farming and the use of chemical herbicides and fertilizers.  In Belgium, for example, 30 of the 80 known species of wildflowers have already disappeared, and 25 more are endangered. Through the efforts of environmental and regional associations, such as Natagora and PCDN, wildflowers are now being reintroduced. They have undertaken public awareness and education programs about the importance of setting aside areas for native plants, wildflowers and shrub hedges in individual gardens. In the UK, the cornflower is all but extinct, having its habitat decline from 264 to just 3 sites in the past 50 years. In response, the Plantlife organization has declared the cornflower a species it will help bring 'Back from the Brink'. Their approach is to work with local groups and individuals to help raise awareness and encourage involvement with local ecosystem restoration.

North America, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Services, has over 700 plant species which are either endangered or threatened.  Habitat loss, estimated to be 6,000 acres a day, has eliminated once open spaces full of native plants, and is threatening some of our most iconic wildlife. The Monarch butterfly migration is a natural wonder, and autumn once saw millions of Monarchs traveling from the US and Canada to their winter homes in Mexico and California. But Monarch numbers have been declining for over a decade, due in large part to the loss of the milkweed plants upon which Monarchs rely for food and egg laying. Use of herbicides and clearing of open spaces has decimated the wildflower’s habitats, and in gardens throughout the US, milkweed has been exterminated.  In response, the grassroots conservation effort Monarch Watch was formed. They call upon individuals to establish gardens containing milkweed at homes, schools, parks, nature centers, and on unused plots of land.


These kinds of local and individual efforts are increasing around the world, offering information about native plants, and distributing plants and seeds to encourage everyone to get involved. Native plants have the advantage of being adapted to their ecosystem and are pest and disease resistant. Compared to exotics and imports they reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals and extra water. Native plants also provide the right food and shelter for local wildlife allowing mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects to thrive.  That means a healthy ecosystem, which is biodiversity.


What can you do? Start by learning about your native plants. Contact local horticulture groups or colleges, find out if there are any native plant restoration groups where you live, and use the internet to its best advantage. Whether you have a garden, patio or just room for a window box, you can help restore your native plants. You can get involved by advocating native plant gardens at local schools, in playgrounds and community gardens. If you’re near threatened wetlands, is there a place for a pond to help support local reptiles and amphibians? And help raise awareness that gardens of any kind or size can constitute a haven for life and help counterbalance the loss of biodiversity. As more people choose to welcome nature and native species in their gardens and communities, we create a nexus between us and biodiversity.











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Additional links and resources:
La biodiversité en Wallonie website
Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe website
European Environment Agency website
The European Union’s Biodiversity Action Plan Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 – and beyond
USDA Threatened & Endangered Plants Search Tool to get information for all states in the US
PlanetSave web article Endangered Plant Species List — Saving Endangered Plants
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Plants at Risk site and interactive world map
Earth’s Endangered Creatures website Worldwide Endangered Plants List
Des haies pour demain / Christiane Percsy / Service Public de Wallonie
Créer une mare naturelle dans son jardin / Service Public de Wallonie

Article & all photographs by Muriel (ISF Europe Agent) & Lorelei: Two ‘pollinators’ and proactive gardeners for wildlife, living on opposite sides of an ocean, united by our mission to help restore our global biodiversity.