After almost two months in the Central African Republic, I notice how I’m much more aware of how I share space with non-human residents of planet Earth. Goats and pigs graze and roam freely in residential areas. Unlike the West, where farm animals occupy fenced-in fields or purpose-built sheds, here cows are kept close to the family’s one-room home. In the evening while reading, I see geckos racing up the wall and hear mice scurrying around above the ceiling. On cupboards and worktops countless insects roam around.
Enjoying the diversity and coexistence with other creatures, I thought of the contrast with complaints at home about protection of biodiversity. From March 1st to August 31st each year, cutting Irish hedges is illegal, to protect birds and insects from loss of their habitats and food. “Beetles, woodlice, centipedes, shrews, field mice, millipedes, wrens, dunnocks and blackbirds can be found in the bottom [of hedgerows]. Robins and finches will inhabit the middle berth; spiders, thrushes and tits will favour the top.“
Farmers and other users of narrow winding roads complain that overgrown hedges reduce visibility, threatening road safety. It’s a conflict between man and nature, industralisation against the natural processes of plant reproduction and the food chain. Does biodiversity loss caused by cutting hedgerows matter? The Cambridge Dictionary definition of biodiversity refers to plant and animal numbers and their protection. The Oxford Dictionary refers to plant and animal variety and its importance. Damien Carrington hits on the key issue. In his Guardian article he defines biodiversity as “the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and all its interactions.” The key word is interactions, capturing the idea that by removing one element of a food chain or reproductive process, all parts of the chain are affected.
Carrington explains how, “without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts.” People living in coastal areas depend on coral reefs and mangrove swamps for protection from from cyclones and tsunamis. In Ireland, “the commonest nesting birds found in hedgerows such as wrens, dunnocks, robin and willow warblers depend entirely on insects during the Summer months.“
Living in a country as unspoilt by industrialisation as the Central African Republic is a reminder of what we have to lose through unquestioned priortisation of human interests over the needs of other species. Regular weather-related disasters are a reminder of how humans suffer when biodiversity loss such as damaged coral reefs reduces protection against natural disasters. Laws to protect the common good cause inconvenience for some. Accepting they’re for the common good calls for us to adapt. We may have to drive slower on Ireland’s narrow, winding roads.