A recent government report sets out a long list of fungi, plants and animals that are extinct or at risk from human activity. 3% of the 10,350 native species studied have already disappeared, 5% are on the verge of extinction, 11% are in danger, 17% are vulnerable, and 10% are potentially threatened. These percentages add up to 46%.
The butterfly above has disappeared from Switzerland’s Jura and plateau as its host plant comes close to disappearing.
The report says declining biodiversity puts the whole ecological system at risk, a system we rely on for food, clean air and water.
The biggest threats come from farming, construction and the spread of invasive exotic species, aided by climate change.
Heavy use of soil and increased nitrogen are giving certain plants the upper hand. These plants then squeeze others out of existence. Dandelion is one such plant. Abundant dandelions are evidence of reduced biodiversity.
Excessive nitrogen levels are of particular concern. Natural atmospheric levels range from 0.5 to 2.0 kg per hectare per year. In Switzerland actual levels range from 3.0 to 54.0. According to the report, around two thirds of this comes from farming and the remainder from burning fossil fuel. Livestock, the spreading of their manure, and use of fertiliser are the biggest contributors.
Those cutting down on meat and diary consumption are not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions they are also helping biodiversity.
The use of herbicides is another big threat. Messicole plants, those that hide during the winter and appear in spring such as the Edelweiss, are the most at threat. 42% are listed as threatened. Herbicide use reduces the number of their seeds in the soil, reducing their numbers.
The number of invasive species is also a growing problem. The spread of 107 invasive plants and animals is aided by climate change. Declining winter and spring rainfall coupled with rising temperatures favours many of these species.
Another damaging human activity is artificial snow making, It often drains water from fragile ecosystems.
Actions to improve the situation include more organic farming, reduced use of herbicides, manure and fertiliser, and more protected areas. In 2015, only 13% of farmed land was being used to farm organically.
Near the end the report mentions one of the greatest challenges: aligning public perception with reality. 74% of the Swiss public think the nation’s biodiversity is good or very good, a view very far from reality.