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On 13 Feb a new temporary exhibition opened here at the Museum entitled Britain: one million years of the human story. It includes some images of microfossils from our collection in the display.


Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of pollen grains from our collection that appear in the exhibition.


These and other microfossil collections housed behind the scenes help with dating the finds, reconstructing the environment, landscape and climate of these first human settlements in Britain and provide the climatic context for the recent discovery of the earliest human footprints in Britain on a Norfolk beach.


The AHOB Project and micropalaeontology


The exhibition highlights the work of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project and its predecessor projects. The current project, funded by Calleva, is investigating the timing and nature of human occupation of the British Isles, the technology they used, their behaviour, the environment they lived in and the fauna sharing the landscape. The microfaunas and floras mentioned here were recovered by project researcher Mark Lewis and project associate member John Whittaker.


Mark is a palynologist and has used the distribution of pollen grains in the sediments surrounding the human finds to interpret ancient climates and landscapes. Pollen grains that range in size from 10-100 microns can be found in sediments millions of years after the plants that produced them have died and decayed.


The Museum collections


Mark regularly uses our collection of modern pollen and spores to interpret the pollen floras that he recovers as part of the AHOB Project. We recently transferred this collection from the Botany Department and the images in the exhibition were taken from the collection of SEM prints and negatives that accompanies that collection.



Part of our modern pollen collection. Slides are housed in special plastic sleeves and arranged by plant family name.


John Whittaker spent his entire career as a researcher here at the Museum and is a now a Scientific Associate in the Earth Sciences Department as well as being an Associate Member of the AHOB Project. In a previous blog post I highlighted his microfossil finds from three key early human sites at Boxgrove about 500,000 years old, Pakefield about 700,000 years old and Happisburgh (prounced Haze-boro) about 900,000 years old. Many of John Whittaker's microfossil slides are deposited here at the Museum.


Ancient landscapes


The pollen grain illustrations from the exhibition were chosen because of their use and importance in reconstructing ancient environments, particularly the vegetation dominating the landscapes in which the ancient humans lived. The scanning electron microscope images shown above from left to right are:


1. Dandelion-type e.g. Taraxacum - this herb indicates dry grassland or disturbed open ground

2. Dwarf willow, Salix herbacea - characteristic of rocky, open ground as found during cold periods

3. Montpellier maple, Acer monspessulanum - currently native to the Mediterranean and central Europe, this tree was present in Britain only during the last (Ipswichian) interglacial about 125,000 years ago

4. Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata - shallow water inhabitant of bogs and fens during both temperate and cold periods

5. Common valerian, Valeriana officinalis - herb indicating either dry or damp grassland as well as rough ground


Environments of deposition of sediments

Ostracods and Foraminifera collected by John Whittaker from Boxgrove indicate a marine raised beach and a later terrestrial deposit with freshwater ponds below chalk cliffs.



The saltmarsh foraminiferal species Jadammina macrescens has been recovered from Happisburgh and is consistent with interpretations that the site is situated near the mouth of the ancient large river, possibly the River Thames.


070314-2.jpgThe foraminiferal species Jadammina macrescens is common in saltmarsh environments.


The microfossils were able to show that the Slindon Sands were deposited in a wholly marine high-energy environment, whereas the Slindon Silts were deposited in a shallow intertidal environment at the margin of a regressive sea. This sort of information is vital when interpreting the archaeological finds from the site.


Ancient climates


River sediments containing flint artefacts have been found on the coast of East Anglia at Pakefield. The oldest artefacts came from the upper levels of estuarine silts where both marine and brackish ostracods and foraminifera have been recovered.


070314-1.JPGReconstruction of a scene at Happisburgh about 900,000 years ago by John Sibbick. (copyright AHOB/John Sibbick)


Other evidence from mammal, beetle and plant remains suggests a setting on the floodplain of a slow flowing river where marshy areas were common. The river sediments were deposited during a previously unrecognised warm stage (interglacial) and the presence of several warmth loving plants and animals suggests that the climate was similar to that in present day southern Europe.




Pollen and mammal fossils recovered from Happisburgh suggest that the climate was similar to that of southern Sweden and Norway of today with extensive conifer forest and grasslands. The floodplains were roamed by herds of mammoth and horses. Foraminifera such as the species Ammonia batavus are characteristic of warmer climates.


Evidence of reworking of some sediments


The interglacial sediments at Pakefield are overlain by a thick sequence of glacial deposits which include till and outwash sands and gravels. These contain reworked (Cretaceous and Neogene) microfossils transported from the North Sea Basin by glaciers. This is important information as fossils found in these redeposited sediments could be give false indications as to the climatic setting and dating of any finds.


Dating deposits


The dating of the deposit at Happisburgh is provided by a combination of mammoth, horse, beetle and vole finds as well as the Middle Pleistocene ostracod Scordiscia marinae. Work by John Whittaker and the AHOB team at a number of other Pleistocene sites across the SE of Britain has increased the potential of ostracods as tools for dating these sediments.



The extinct freshwater ostracod Scordiscia marinae has been found at both Pakefield and Boxgrove and is

characteristic of the Middle Pleistocene period. An example of a microfossil that is useful for dating sediments.


Earliest footprints


A flint handaxe recovered from sediments recently exposed on the foreshore at Happisburgh provides part of the evidence for the earliest human occupation of Britain. Several other Palaeolithic sites have since been discovered there including sets of early human footprints on the foreshore that made the national news at the time of the opening of the exhibition.


A Palaeogeographic map of Britain the in Early Pleistocene showing the land bridge between Europe and the position of the Thames and Bytham rivers. (Courtesy of Simon Parfitt and the AHOB Project)


Pinus-Picea HSB_blog.jpgPine (Pinus) and spruce (Picea) pollen recovered by Mark Lewis from the sediments that preserved the Happisburgh footprints.


Pollen analysis of the sediments adjoining the footprints revealed the local vegetation consisted of an open coniferous forest of pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), with some birch (Betula). There were some wetter areas where Alder (Alnus) was growing; patches of heath and grassland were also present. These all indicate a cooler climate typical of the beginning or the end of an interglacial recognised at other Happisburgh sites.


Come and see the exhibition


I would recommend that you come and see the exhibition Britain: one million years of the human story if you can, before it closes at the end of September. If you can't then there are a wealth of interesting items on the Museum website including a video showing the recently discovered footprints.


Quite rightly the artefacts and larger fossil materials collected from these early human sites in Britain dominate the exhibition along with the amazing life-sized models like 'Ned the Neanderthal'. Hopefully this post has shown that there are many other undisplayed collections held behind the scenes here at the Museum that are just as important in telling us how, when and where the earliest humans lived in Britain.


Department of Life Sciences seminar


Insect diversity and pest control in the anthropogenic habitats of NE China


Jan Axmacher

Department of Geography, University College London


Friday 7 December 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)



The natural environment of NE China has been altered by humans for thousands of years. Nonetheless, both intensity and spatial extend of these alterations have greatly increased since the middle of the last century. Agricultural production was greatly intensified, while the remaining natural forest cover was widely cleared. The severe environmental degradation which followed has led to an increased awareness of the importance of environmental issues in the last few decades, with re- and afforestation projects being currently established throughout China at an unprecedented scale. At the same time, agricultural practices following the maxim ‘the more, the better’ are also increasingly questioned, with the importance of biological pest control recognized as a potential cheap and less environmentally detrimental alternative to chemical pesticides.


Given these recent developments, I have started a number of collaborative research projects with the Chinese Agricultural University and the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences to investigate diversity and species composition of ground beetle assemblages in reforested habitats and the agricultural landscapes of the Hebei province, looking at both the diversity and potential pest control function of these mostly predatory beetles. Our research shows that the diversity of ground beetles varies strongly between different types of forest ecosystems, with naturally regenerating birch forests and open larch plantations showing a high abundance, but low diversity in carabids. Plantations of native oak and pine monocultures, as well as forests composed of a mixture of planted and naturally regenerating trees harbour distinctly higher diversity levels.


In the agricultural landscape, even very intensively managed double-cropping systems comprising of summer maize and winter wheat monocultures can support surprisingly high levels of ground beetle diversity, while cotton monocultures were found to harbour distinctly lower levels of carabid diversity. Landscape elements like the diversity of land-use types were found to have only a limited effect on the diversity of the ground beetle community at least in some of our study areas. A comparison of diversity patterns in ground beetles and geometrid moths finally showed that links between these highly diverse herbivore and insectivore taxa are highly complex, with distinctly different spatial patterns observed in these two families.




For additional details on attending this or other seminars see


In the run up to the landmark Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brasil this week, the Open Access resource – Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy - has highlighted some of the key areas being discussed this year: ocean management; disasters; water; employment; food; cities; energy data in the article Creating the future we want.


This ejournal is freely available via Open Access and has a wealth of information in all areas related to sustainability and the environment.  See the Researchers toolkit for analyising datasets, a visualisation tool for manipulating data and keep up to date with current issues and posts via the SSPP blog.                                                                                                    



Read this and more reviews of the latest news and views in sustainability and environment with this peer-reviewed  ejournal. This journal is available on the NHM Library catalogue.          


Delegates at the Nagoya conference have agreed to an ambitious conservation  programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.


20 key strategic goals to be implemented by 2020 should help to end the current mass extinction of species.


This has been widely reported, including features in The Independent and Guardian.


It’s one week to go until the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 exhibition opens its doors to the public on Friday 22 October.


Today, as I write this post, the images are being installed in their new panel placements in the Museum’s iconic Waterhouse gallery.


This year the exhibition space has a more airy theme. Its 100 and more prize-winning images from the 2010 competition’s 18 categories are displayed in light panels. It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to last year’s dark, atmospheric ‘pavillion of shadows’ design.


Peschak's giant female Aldabra tortoise that features in the exhibition's publicity


At the entrance to the exhibition gallery, you’ll meet Thomas Peschak’s giant Aldabra tortoise that appears in the main poster for the exhibition. It looks magnificent in the huge banner, towering from on high to greet visitors.


Here's how Thomas describes his mighty tortoise shot:


"Aldabra giant tortoises normally graze on 'tortoise turf', a blend of herbs and grasses that grows close to the ground in response to being cropped. Often, though, the tortoises will wander onto the beaches to eat washed-up seedpods. This female, who is probably at least 100 years old, regularly forages along the beach in front of a research station on Aldabra in the Seychelles. Tortoises are known to have made sea crossings between islands," says Tom, "and so I was pleased to be able to use the ocean as a backdrop. I lay in her path on the sand, using an extreme wide-angle lens. The moment I took the shot, I had to roll out of her way to avoid her clambering right over me."


Watch this space for the overall winners’ announcement which should be after midnight on Wednesday 21 October.


It's also worth mentioning that you can enjoy the exhibition After Hours every last Friday of the month starting on 29 October, excluding December.


Helen Buckland is UK Director, Sumatran Orangutan Society


Palm fruit.jpgThe world’s voracious appetite for palm oil - an ingredient found in up to half of all packaged supermarket products in the UK - is fuelling the destruction of some of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet, home to countless species, including the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (see Whilst every individual has the right to make choices about the food they eat and the cosmetics they use, I feel that a boycott of products containing palm oil is not the answer to saving Indonesia’s forests, for a number of reasons.


In order to boycott products containing palm oil, you need to know which ones to avoid – which is not easy. Palm oil is usually a hidden ingredient in food and cosmetic products, listed simply as “vegetable oil” on packaging, so it is currently almost impossible to make informed choices about what you buy at the supermarket.


Even armed with a palm-oil-free shopping list, protesting with your wallet may have some unintended consequences. Oil palms are the most productive oil seed in the world – more than 10 times as much oil is produced from a hectare of oil palms as other crops. If companies are forced to switch to alternative oils, even more land could be put at risk by increasing demand for oils which need larger plantations. Soybeans, for example, tend to be grown under a similar model to oil palms: huge monocultures, often at the expense of tropical forests in South America. We do not want to export the problem - saving the Southeast Asian rainforests from conversion at the expense of the Brazilian Amazon, swallowing up even more forest in the process. We simply want forest conversion to stop.


Palm oil is a “wonder crop” when it comes to meeting the huge global demand for vegetable oils, accounting for more than a third of the world’s supply. Countries such as India and China rely on huge palm oil imports to meet their populations’ nutritional needs, bringing billions of dollars to top producer countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. As long as the world needs vegetable oil, there is no question that the palm oil industry will continue to grow; what we need to be concerned with how this expansion happens.


The development of new oil palm plantations does not need to entail forest destruction. While precious ecosystems are being devastated, millions of hectares of abandoned land lie idle, available for cultivation.  It is estimated that the amount of land growing oil palms in Indonesia could quadruple without impacting forests (, enabling the industry to grow whilst drastically reducing its environmental footprint.


wild male.jpgThe Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was established to create a clear set of standards for reducing the environmental impacts of the industry. Change has been slow, and it’s not a perfect system, but oil certified as sustainable according to these standards has started to trickle into the world market.


Many millions of hectares of forests have already been lost to the palm oil industry. It is absolutely critical that the conversion of forests is stopped. We need more research into how to increase output on existing plantations, as current yields are in many cases well below their potential, and this would reduce the need for cultivating more land.  Environmentally-sensitive land use planning, improved productivity, responsible investment by banks and purchasing by manufacturers and retailers are all crucial to halt the conversion of Indonesia’s forests for agricultural development.
So what can you do to help? If you know a certain product contains palm oil, and would rather not to buy it on that basis, make sure that you write to the company that makes it and tell them. You can also demand that companies use only certified sustainable palm oil, and to clearly label this on their packaging. Making your voice heard really can make a difference – several big companies have already made commitments to cleaning up their palm oil supply after hearing from their customers about this issue - see the WWF website for a list.  We can all also pressure our elected officials to make decisions that help conserve our planet's limited resources and threatened biodiversity, and save precious species, including the orangutan, from extinction.


For further information on the environmental and social impacts of the palm oil industry see:


Paul Smith is leader of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) which aims to save the world’s most endangered plant species from extinction.


PaulSmith5.jpgTo halt, and even reverse, biodiversity loss what we need is a combination of appropriate policy and good management practice. These two approaches should always go hand in hand. Even if appropriate policy is set, if natural resource managers don’t have the tools to implement that policy, nothing improves. Conversely, technological or management interventions to stem biodiversity loss will not work unless they are supported by policy that creates funding and incentives.


In my opinion, the most important challenges that biodiversity and natural resource  managers face are related to both international and national development policy. The emphasis on poverty alleviation or wealth generation, for example, as measured by GDP or US dollar income, does not adequately address the problem of unsustainable management (and resulting loss) of biodiversity, which in itself leads to real, material poverty. This is dealt with comprehensively in the recent TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) studies, and has been highlighted by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

A second, related problem is faddism in international development policy. The shift away from supporting and encouraging technological collaboration and exchange in natural resources management has undone a lot of good work – for example the decision by donors to cease supporting African tree seed centres at a time when the Food and Agriculture Organisation tells us that 28 trees are cut down for every tree planted in Africa. Good natural resource management takes decades to achieve in any given place, and needs to be maintained.

In the case of national development policy, education and health are rightly priorities, but environment comes too far down the list. Natural capital (land, soils, the diversity of plants, animals and life) is hugely undervalued, and key development areas such as agricultural research and forestry are massively under-resourced. As a result, where natural resource or land use policy is in place, it is often poorly implemented. Government scientists are poorly paid, the best brains move out, the remaining scientists don’t have the training, tools or resources they need, they are consequently not involved in development decision making, and central government increasingly regards its own researchers as irrelevant. This is a vicious circle.

The technological knowledge and tools needed to manage natural resources in a sustainable way are usually available somewhere. However, scientists in developing countries don’t have access to those technologies. This goes way beyond just information. Like the rest of us, they need mentoring, training and long term collaboration. They also need access to wide global networks not simply one on one partnerships in order to reap the benefits.

It is a mystery to me why it is that technical collaborations in Africa have to follow short term funding cycles. In Europe we have pan-European technical collaborations that span decades or even careers and yet a long term European-African collaboration is taken to be an indicator of a programme that is unsustainable – why do we need to have an exit strategy after 3 or 5 years? No wonder it is hard to make an impact!

Finally, biodiversity science in the public sector needs to find its way. Over the past two decades, government agricultural and forestry research institutions all over the world have had their funding cut drastically, and many have had to close. Universities can’t fill this void because they have different research drivers (e.g. publications and short term funding cycles). NGOs can’t do long term research because they don’t have the funding or expertise. And the private sector doesn’t always work for the public good – it also works for profit and shareholders.

Things that would make a difference

1.    Recognition by governments and the development sector that human wellbeing or wealth cannot simply be measured in US dollar.
2.    Recognition by governments that good management of natural capital, including biodiversity, underpins human health, wealth and wellbeing.
3.    Support from donors and national governments for policies that promote ecosystem health, and mitigate the risk of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.
4.    Support from donors and national governments for capacity building, information exchange and scientific collaboration in the public sector (for appropriate timescales).
5.    A new vision that sets out the role of government scientists in delivering services for the public good.


Dr Chris Lyal studies insects in the Natural History  Museum's Department of Entomology, where his speciality is the largest  of all beetle groups, the weevils.  As well as his research work he is  the UK National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity's  Global Taxonomy Initiative and for several years worked as a Programme  Officer for the CBD Secretariat.  He has visited many different  countries both for research and while working with people on  biodiversity policy and capacity-building issues.


In an earlier blog I mentioned I’d come back to benefits from genetic resources and the CBD, so I’ll now try to grasp the nettle.


One of the three objectives of the Convention is Fair and Equitable Access to the Benefits arising out of the utilization of Genetic Resources of Biological Diversity. This is the part that receives least attention of all, and which many of the Parties to the Convention want action on. As Bob has mentioned in one of his postings, one of the three outcomes that many countries want from Nagoya is an International Regime on Access and Benefit-Sharing.  So what does this mean? One thing it means is a lot of terminology, but as so much of the discussions are terminology-heavy, I’d better go for it.


Under Article 3 of the Convention "States have … the sovereign right to exploit their own resources …".  Broadly speaking, this means that the biodiversity of a country belongs to that country, and cannot be exploited without the permission of that country. Article 15 makes it clearer: “Recognizing the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation.”.  So if anyone wants to get hold of a ‘genetic resource’ (“genetic material of actual or potential value”) they have to ask the government of the country in which it is found and obey its laws. In practice this may mean getting permission from a variety of bodies and people, including at very local level, to access these ‘resources’.  The general mechanism for this is to make it clear what use is going to be made of the resource and get agreement with the provider country (‘Prior Informed Consent’ - PIC) and then agree a form of contract, a ‘Material Transfer Agreement’ (MAT). This will probably have a section on how any benefits are shared. The benefits might be money, if something gets commercialised, or information, or support for conservation, or a host of other things. So far so good. However, different countries have developed legislation in different ways, and there is real lack of clarity on how legislation in one country might be applied to someone from another country who has exploited genetic material without PIC and MAT. That is part of the background for the desire for an International Regime, so that access can be regulated and compliance can be more easily monitored and enforced.


In principle that sounds OK. Stuff growing in my garden belongs to me; you can’t take genes from it without my permission, and if you make money out of those genes I want a cut. In practice, it is a touch more difficult. How does a country know what is being collected and used out, how does it manage the permits it issues, how does it monitor what happens when genetic material is being examined outside the country, and passed between different researchers? Any process put in place is likely to be expensive in time and money; should it apply only to people who are planning to utilise a genetic resource commercially, or to everybody, including those who are carrying out purely academic research with no financial implications? How do you tell which is which? Should the regime apply only to the genetic material or to derivatives (“a naturally occurring biochemical compound resulting from the genetic expression or metabolism of biological or genetic resources, even if they do not contain functional units of heredity”). Should this apply to human genetic material? Should it apply to disease organisms, where it might be important to transfer and use genetic material very rapidly? Of course, one doesn’t just take genetic material from the environment, one takes organisms and extracts the genetic material afterwards. Because of this any legislation tends to be applied to specimens that might be collected, because of the potential benefits from the genetic material within them. So should it apply to commodities, such as potatoes? How does it apply to the exotic pot plants so many of us grow at home?


The basis of the discussion is very important; countries have seen and are still seeing money being made by big companies from exploiting genetic information gleaned from organisms they have collected, but no return coming back to the country of origin. The problems in developing a regime that can protect such countries whilst not paralysing other activities in support of the Convention, and can be practically implemented, are considerable.  The proposed text of the regime to be agreed at Nagoya is still being negotiated, and as of this morning still contains much text that is bracketed, which indicates that the negotiators have not yet agreed on the appropriate wording. It is important that we have something out of Nagoya that we can take forward, so we can move forward on this area of the Convention.


Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK ( Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.





An interesting development week is the online publication of a report following from the Global Business of Biodiversity conference in the summer. The report, GBOB - A contribution to CBD COP10, has been designed for the CBD to share with the business segment meeting (a side event at the CBD COP10 later this month in Nagoya).


As an e-publication the site also links to an easy download and print version of the report. The introduction includes a video keynote from HRH Prince Charles, and a number of extracts and features drawn from other keynote speeches including Secretary of State for Environment, Caroline Spelman. Section 2 highlights comments from the other key speakers from science, policy and industry.


However at the heart of the book is Section 1 – a summary of the feedback from delegates. It is their feedback to the CBD, to Nagoya and to international governments which is most important and interesting. This is summarised under seven themes which highlight the main issues and barriers. A strong response from governments at the COP could help address and remove these obstacles and thereby enable businesses to engage more systematically, and not be penalised, in the global market place:



    • Lack of understanding
    • Communication
    • Markets
    • Regulatory frameworks
    • Reporting and accountability
    • Capacity development
    • Wider integration – the overarching narrative


What is most interesting about the report is that while industry is rightly in the frame for being one of the primary causes of biodiversity loss, this shows a growing interest and awareness, and a willingness to address the issues if Governments internationally can set the policy frameworks for them to operate and be regulated within.


Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK ( Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.





In some extraordinary scenes at the United Nations General Assembly the threats associated with biodiversity loss discussed in today’s special session began with the stark message that; addressing biodiversity loss was not a luxury but a duty. In his remarks Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rang the alarm bells saying biodiversity loss needed an emergency, internationally-agreed rescue package akin to the global bank crisis. He underscored the imperative stressing that Governments had to stop thinking about environmental (biodiversity) protection as a loss but as an investment which Heads of State and all areas of government had to consider alongside the other measures needed to ensure long-term stability.


Speakers in the assembly were in accord with the significance of the problem, the European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso highlighting that mitigating climate change and adapting to its impact would be impossible without effective measures to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. While the spokesperson for the Group of 77 developing countries and China said that without comprehensive measures to address biodiversity loss the Millennium Development Goals would be unobtainable.

As the main session took place in the assembly Ahmed Djoghlaf, Chief Executive of the Convention on Biology, held a press conference with biodiversity experts and celebrity champion of the International Year of Biodiversity actor Edward Norton.  Norton urged people to use their purchasing power to influence opinion - saying that in some ways this could have a bigger impact on industry, which is a primary driver of biodiversity impacts, than the progress of government policy. This press conference ended in slightly chaotic scenes as the panel rose to ring a Memorial Bell as a call for recognition of the issues at stake. This event coincided with bell-ringing in sympathy around the world, including here in England by Anglican Churches. Peterborough Cathedral tolled 492 times – one for each species known to have become extinct in England in recent history.


However, while the International Year of Biodiversity and the International Bell-ringing were intended to celebrate the importance of Biodiversity there were signs that behind the scenes in the UN the international negotiators were not pulling in harmony, but more like a group of new bell-ringers desperately trying to get into rhythm. There was an undercurrent of concern that next months crucial meeting in Nagoya could end up in a cacophony as efforts to meet agreement falter.


There are two primary causes of concern. The first is that one county won’t fully join in. The CBD has almost universal support, now with 194 countries having full status. However, as Ed Norton highlights, the rope left dangling pulls the primary bell in the bell tower – the United States, which only has observer status at the CBD. This is not only hugely politically embarrassing, it has a major impact on key decisions which need to be made in Japan in October when the CBD meets to agree the way forward for the next decade.


The second and bigger threat to the world chiming in unison became apparent as the nuances emerged from the speakers in the main assembly meeting. While Brazil, Germany and the EU all heralded the establishment of IPBES (Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) as a major breakthrough, a threat has emerged over its full implementation. This panel, biodiversity’s equivalent to the International Panel on Climate Change is seen as essential in getting better informed responses and action at global and national levels – so what’s the crack in the mould that could put it out of tune?


Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira emphasised that there were three components to the Nagoya negotiations which were indivisible, these include:
•    A comprehensive Strategic Plan with new country targets to implement measures to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
•    An agreement on access on benefits – that is how particularly developing countries with important genetic resources in their biodiversity will benefit from any commercial development of these ‘assets’.
•    The creation of an essential strategic and financial plan to build capacity and mobilise the resources required to make the difference.


The political problem lies in the indivisible nature of these components and at least some of the countries in the Group of 77 wanting clear agreements on financial support for them – and potentially not supporting the implementation of IPBES if this cannot be agreed.


While these issues are surmountable what the CBD and the United Nations are saying is that global society has to change, change fast and change dramatically if the consequences of biodiversity loss are to be avoided – including major setbacks to address climate change and global poverty alleviation. The subtext was clear, that rate of damage caused by man in recent years and in the few decades to come will have a monumental impact for thousands of years to come. And the call is for an unprecedented programme of global ecosystem restoration which has to be supported in all areas of governance from heads of state, through all government departments. The value of ecosystems natural assets has to be in our economic accounting – and this is currently in the RED. The movement towards a green economy places biodiversity centre stage and the greatest challenge of the decade ahead. The representative for Japan – the incoming Presidency of the CBD recognised the imperative calling on the UN accept a resolution that the 2010-2020 be called the International Decade of Biodiversity.


What is dispiriting is the real lack of Media interest and response to this event. They could be doing so much more to engage the public and we need millions of people to understand, to ring bells, glockenspiels, mobile ring tones, maracas, bang tins and empty plastic bottles and demand that governments take heed. I hope that Nagoya will be cause for celebration and not the knell for biodiversity actions because of short-sighted and narrow political positioning. To coin a phase, For whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Toll for You, and Me, and You and You and You….

Bee happy this year. Bombus distinguendus © D Goulson

Get fit. Give up cigarettes and alcohol. No chocolate. Move... Resolutions, resolutions. How about sparing a thought for a species every day?

To celebrate the fact that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity we're bringing you news each day of a different species that our Museum scientists feel important to draw to your attention.

So 365 days, 365 species.


From the tiniest algae and bacteria to powerful plants and mighty whales, each species is written about by a Museum scientist. A different species' fact-file will be published on our website and announced on the homepage each day. Some will features video clips too.


On New Year's Day we launched our Species of the Day online. We paid homage to the much-loved great yellow bumblebee whose survival here is under threat because of habitat changes and the loss of deep flowers. You can find out more about great yellow bumblebees and their conservation on the Bombus distinguendus species fact-file.


Our bumblebee expert Paul Williams explains, ‘Species of the day is a great opportunity for people to find out aboutsea-urchin-490.jpg what we can do to help valuable species that are facing challenges from man-made environmental change’.


But it's not just endangered species that will be featured. Some scientists have chosen species which are part of their research or that have particularly interesting or unusual behaviour, or because of their value to science or economic impact.


Read the Species of the Day news story and have a look at what we have featured online already on Species of the Day. Today’s little wonder is the strong-muscled sea urchin, Eucidaris metularis (shown right). Did you know that sea urchins have been around for the last 150 million years?

Watch out, there are some really bizarre and quirky organisms coming your way.


Species of the Day is part of our involvement in the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity in the UK. It also highlights the work of the Museum’s many scientists who work here behind the scenes.