Biodiversity - the time to protect nature is now

1st of February 2021
Biodiversity - the time to protect nature is now

Nature is under stress as never before. Wildlife species are being pushed to the brink of extinction and humankind is on notice that the accelerating decline in biodiversity threatens our survival too. Hartley Milner looks at how the businesses community is responding to this stark message.

Along London’s Thames Embankment, a battery of camera lenses swings upwards as a missile streaks out of the sky like a lightning bolt and strikes its flying target with lethal precision.

The missile is a feathered one, the fastest animal on the planet… a peregrine falcon. And the feral pigeon hangs limply in the aerial assassin’s powerful grip as it is carried off to a ledge high on a towering office block where three hungry, half-grown chicks are awaiting their next meal.

As the feathery fallout from the attack drifts away on the breeze, the photographers review their images, some with triumphant yelps and fist pumps, others with less enthusiasm. But all on the guided birdwatching tour are soon engaging in excited chatter at having witnessed one of the great dramas in nature, and right here in the heart of the world’s third busiest city.

“Well, that’s one less pesky pigeon that’ll be pooping on the heads of unsuspecting tourists in future,” a bright spark in the group ventures.

Few people wrapped up in the bustle of city life were aware such dramatic encounters were daily being played out over their heads…until 2013 when a pair of peregrine falcons swooped into the media spotlight.

Peregrines had been absent from inner-London until the 1990s and one of the first breeding successes was at Battersea’s decommissioned power station. However, the site was earmarked for a mixed-use development, putting the birds’ future there in doubt. The falcons are legally protected in the UK, but the economic cost of delaying construction during the breeding season would have been astronomical.

New residence

The Battersea Power Station Development Company came up with a compromise…to provide a nest location in a quieter corner of the site. A tower like those used to support large cranes was erected with a nest box designed to appeal to the peregrines installed at the top, at exactly the same height as their old eyrie at the base of one of the four landmark chimneys.

The temporary relocation cost more than €112,000, but the birds took a liking to their new residence, despite the noisy construction works going on below, and have bred there ever since, fledging 18 chicks. The power station refurbishment will include a new, permanent nest site for the peregrines elsewhere on the building.

Today, 40 pairs of the feisty falcons stalk the skies over central London where they are as at home among the lofty buildings as the craggy heights of their more natural habitat. Other iconic breeding sites include Charing Cross Hospital, Tate Modern, the neoteric ‘Cheesegrater’ office building and the Houses of Parliament. Most locations have installed peregrine-friendly nest boxes, many with cameras providing a real-time peek into the birds’ family lives.

The Battersea peregrines have long shared their habitat with breeding pairs of another rare bird, the black redstart. More than 1,000 square metres of roofs are being created with drought-tolerant sedum plants and mosses at the development’s Circus West Village, providing foraging areas for the redstarts and other birds. Nest boxes will be sited in outdoor areas, along with bug hotels for solitary bees and ladybirds to overwinter.

Rooftops and living walls planted for wildlife are sprouting up in cities across the UK. Inner-London alone has more than 1.5 million square metres of green roofs with a density of 0.17 square metres per inhabitant, which is a far greater than in many other green cities, such as Copenhagen, Toronto and Singapore. One of the capital’s largest gravity-defying green walls is at The Rubens at the Palace hotel overlooking Buckingham Palace. The hotel’s entire façade has been transformed with 16 tons of soil and 10,000 plants to provide accommodation for its bird, butterfly and bee guests.

The new wild

Urban jungles across the planet are becoming nature’s new wild, and frequently with the help of business. In Singapore, a water company is providing wildlife habitats along drainage canals and now families of normally shy otters are frequently seen playing in the city’s parks.

Similar work with the support of corporations has seen the return of beavers to the Bronx River in downtown New York. An eight-storey vertical meadow has been incorporated into the walls of an office block in Manhattan for endangered monarch butterflies.

Human activities have wiped out more than two-thirds of the world’s wildlife in little over four decades, a new study by the World Wildlife Fund has found. The Living Planet Report assessed population declines in 4,392 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians between 1970 and 2016. Today, ecosystem destruction now threatens some one million species with extinction in the coming decades.

“The report underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts, not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said WWF director general Marco Lambertini. “We can’t ignore the evidence…these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure.

“From the fish in our oceans and rivers to bees that play a crucial role in our agricultural production, the decline of wildlife affects directly nutrition, food security and the livelihoods of billions of people. In the midst of a global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to take unprecedented and coordinated global action to halt and start to reverse the loss of biodiversity and wildlife populations across the globe by the end of the decade, and protect our future health and livelihoods. Our own survival increasingly depends on it.”

Global corporations need to go further than plant habitats for wildlife at their sites…they must put the value of biodiversity at the heart of their decision-making. The Natural Capital Coalition and Cambridge Conservation Initiative recognise that business actions have been hampered by a lack of “consistent tools and frameworks” and, in collaboration with others, recently launched guidance to put businesses on the right track.

Jonny Hughes, ceo at partnering organisation the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said: “The next 10 years is the only window we have for tackling the global crisis facing nature. Every part of society will need to be involved in reversing biodiversity loss, but particularly the private sector. This biodiversity guidance will be crucial to helping businesses and financial institutions urgently measure and understand their impacts and dependencies on nature and become nature-positive.”

Compelling business case

The guidance sets out a compelling business case for the protection of, and investment in, biodiversity by placing an economic value on ‘natural capital’ – the world’s stocks of natural assets, including all living things. Companies are shown how to assess, measure and mitigate the impacts of their activities on the natural world. The advice applies across all sectors and is scalable, so can benefit not just large, big budget businesses.

The business benefits of valuing natural capital include long-term viability of business models, cost savings, increased operational efficiency, greater market share, access to new markets, products and services, predictable and stable supply chains and enhanced relationships with stakeholders and customers.

Included in the guidance are case studies of businesses already making a difference. ASN Bank in the Netherlands acknowledges that its operations might be contributing to the loss of biodiversity. Its goal is to reverse this impact to where “all investments and loans result in a net positive effect on biodiversity in 2030”.

Using natural capital thinking, the bank developed ambitious, long-term targets associated with a three-pillar sustainability framework: climate change, biodiversity and human rights. ASN sees important links between these three pillars. For example, it recognises that investing in biodiversity can help mitigate climate change and impacts on the human rights of communities dependent on healthy ecosystems.

Not widely acclaimed for leaving a light footprint on the planet, the cosmetics industry is starting to clean up its act. Family-run Neal’s Yard Remedies, an organic health and beauty retailer in Dorset, England, is giving a lead by regularly campaigning on key biodiversity issues. Its eco-headquarters are set in acres of gardens, fields and meadows where herbs are grown for many of its products.

Concerned about falling bee populations, in 2012 the company released a swarm of tweets, combined with shop campaigns, urging customers to petition for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for the decline. In 2018, the European Union banned their use on outdoor crops, although the chemicals are still used elsewhere around the world.

Neil’s Yard Remedies donates three per cent of sales from its Bee Lovely products to bee-friendly causes, showing that promoting biodiversity can produce dividends for both businesses and wildlife. The private sector as a whole has an opportunity to lead on conserving nature…it simply makes good business sense.

For the biodiversity guidance, go to:


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited