Bells Ring out for Biodiversity
by Lucy Hagger
With recently finishing my degree (fingers crossed) I’ve been trying to make the most of being a student in London while I still can. Myself and a few friends decided to escape our rather sheltered lives in West London to explore the city. I found a cheeky voucher for a rooftop restaurant near Bank called Coq d’Argent. Considering this restaurant has the French word for money in the title I felt I’d done pretty well with a voucher getting us 2 courses for £15.
After reaping all of the food benefits we could we decided enough was enough and to save our expanding waistlines we’d go for a walk about. We ended up a St Paul’s and this is where I noticed something that has spurred me on to write this post.
Near the old cloisters of St Paul’s was a strange looking sculpture and after having a little read it was the “Robert Hooke Biodiversity Bell”. I wouldn’t really say I have an eye for good art, but this bell certainly caught my eye and its message only pulled me in further.
The upside-down bell sculpture is a scale model of a bell which will be installed on the Isle of Portland; the home to the limestone that makes up St Paul’s Cathedral and the plinth to the sculpture. Once in place the bell will be rung every time a species is officially announced as extinct in the world. Although a poignant message, my first thought was, “well they’re going to be ringing that bloody regularly”.
The trouble with extinctions is that they are very difficult things to officially announce and therefore, the extinction lists that exist are massive underestimates.
Firstly, the world is a very big place and officially determining that a species has gone extinct is a bit of a guessing game. This isn’t so much the case for species like big mammals that people pay a lot of attention to. However, when it comes to announcing the extinction of for example a species of snail as big as someone’s finger nail, it becomes very difficult to make accurate estimations of current population sizes. Often species are announced as being extinct, and then they are found again in the wild.
Another difficulty is that there are millions of different species in the world and we know very little about them. It is predicted that we have only recorded about 10% of the species that exist on our planet; with over 91% of the species of the oceans unknown to us. It is unbelievable how little we really know about the species that we share the planet with.
It is not just the species that we are aware of that are suffering as a result of natural and manmade impacts. There are an incredible number of species at risk of extinction that we don’t even know exist yet. The number of announced extinctions is therefore an enormous underestimate of what is actually going on in our world.
For a species to become extinct it has to be found, identified as its own species, recorded and then noticed to have gone extinct. A huge number of species are going extinct without us realising as we haven’t even found them yet.
These bell ringings that will occur on the Isle of Portland, will in fact be accompanied by a constant and huge background level of extinctions that we are blissfully unaware of.
Predictions of the real number of extinctions occurring estimate that 20 species will go extinct each day. This is one species every 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The message of the Biodiversity Bell is still very important for increasing the awareness of species loss around the world. However, if the bell were to be rung every time a species really went extinct, it is likely that the inhabitants of the Isle of Portland would be sick of their new bell by the end of the week.