A healthy biodiversity – the assortment of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms that comprise the natural world around us – is vital to humankind’s continued existence on this planet. These various life forms work interactively, in ways we do not yet fully comprehend, to form an ecosystem that supports life whilst also maintaining equilibrium between living species.
Biodiversity also provides all the fundamental conditions for human existence – oxygen, food, clean water, shelter – as well as things like medicine and clothing.
Intensive agriculture, which comprises much of modern-day farming, acts against our own interests by disrupting and destroying local biodiversity. Many arable areas which once grew varied crops and played host to a variety of natural habitats have been converted to vast fields of monoculture crops. In these fields, biodiversity loss means insect pests no longer have any natural predators, hence the heavy reliance on pesticides upon which intensive agriculture depends.
Unsustainable crop and livestock practices on our farms are not only destroying the biodiversity and health of our ecosystems, they also contributing hugely to global warming and climate change.
If we are to tackle these twin crises, then it is clear that farming needs to change.
Organic farming practices help preserve and promote biodiversity through, for example, incorporating composted organic matter into the soil, crop rotation, leaving areas of land uncultivated, reducing soil disturbance, using cover crops, and the planting of hedgerows and wildflower strips around fields.
Whilst it is vital that we lobby farmers and government to encourage, facilitate and even legislate for these sustainable farming practices to become the norm, there are – as always – actions we can take at an individual level.
Our spending habits are key. By buying locally grown, organically farmed produce we are playing our part in encouraging change.
And just a few small changes in our gardens will nurture biodiversity. For example, a pile of old wood or stones can provide a habitat for insects and fungi. Choosing to grow native plant species will feed the native insect species that have evolved to depend upon those plants. Growing a range of plants that between them provide pollen and nectar for as long a season as possible will sustain pollinators, as well as providing colour and beauty to our gardens. Resisting the temptation to uproot dandelions and nettles will provide further important food sources for pollinators.
Bigger changes, such as planting trees and hedges, will provide food in the form of flowers, fruits and seeds as well as providing cover and nesting sites for insects and birds. A pond will provide support for a whole host of plants and organisms, adding to the richness of a garden’s biodiversity.
If we wait for the politicians and farmers to act it may be too late. Let us act now to introduce changes in and around our own lives that will support and sustain biodiversity, and let’s encourage others to do the same to help give humankind a fighting chance of long-term survival.
On to the recipe.
This rice dish is a great accompaniment to curry dishes, although it’s also absolutely delicious on its own.
turmeric rice and peas
2 onions, thinly sliced
300 g brown basmati rice, rinsed and drained
150 g peas (fresh or frozen)
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
1 litre fresh water
50 ml groundnut oil
1. Pour the groundnut oil into a large pan that has a lid. Place the pan, without the lid, over a high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and leave them to sizzle in the hot oil for 1 minutes before adding the onion. Keep cooking on this high heat, stirring regularly, for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and beginning to brown.
2. Add the rice, peas, turmeric and sea salt and stir quickly, making sure the rice grains have contact with the oil. Add the fresh water and stir well.
3. Bring the contents of the pan to the boil. Keep the rice bubbling away vigorously, stirring occasionally. After about 10 minutes most of the liquid will have evaporated or been absorbed. At this point, reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Place a sheet of kitchen foil across the top of the pan, making sure it fits tightly. Place the lid firmly on top of the foil. Leave the rice to cook undisturbed at this very low heat for a further ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set to one side. Keep the lid on the pan for at least ten minutes and only remove it once you are ready to serve.