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Where did all the purple spurges go?

March 15, 2010

This article is about a recent report from Natural England, “Lost Life: England’s Lost and Threatened Species”. Why are all these species disappearing? Well, the article starts out by stating simplistically that it’s because there are 51 million of us, but fortunately then goes on to give a more nuanced account. Most of these extinctions occurred at two specific points in history, after the Industrial Revolution (1900 to 1910) and immediately after the Second World War, i.e. times when the patterns of how people lived and worked changed dramatically (massive urbanisation), affecting patterns of land use, which was intertwined with changes in agriculture – mechanisation, chemicals, fewer but larger farms, general intensification. After informing us that the problem is actually far worse than it seems because the report underestimated everything to avoid accusations of being alarmist, the article concludes by saying that while habitat loss has up till now been the biggest cause of species loss (followed by pollution and invasion by non-native species) it will soon be overtaken by climate change.

What do all these things have in common? They are all products of how human beings relate to the environment and the ways we organise ourselves socially and economically.

I’m kind of sad we lost the purple spurge. It’s an awesome name.

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