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Where humans go, existing habitats are broken apart. Such is the inevitable nature of our endeavour to advance and improve life on earth for the human race – but at what cost to wildlife? In our quest for development, we create endless roads, cities, reservoirs, farmland; we fill in wetlands, cut down forests, dredge rivers: and in doing so fragment what were once continuous expanses of habitats into a matrix of patches, often isolated from one another.
Even amidst the rural greenery of my home country, Northern Ireland, fragmentation is a real issue. Beguiling patchwork quilts of fields stretching to the horizon at first glance depict a welcome haven from artificial urban settlements – but in reality these open stretches of pastoral and arable fields are often monocultures incapable of supporting biodiversity, or indeed wildlife at all. Here, wildlife corridors in the form of specifically managed uncropped habitats (like untouched field margins, hedgerows, scrub and woodland) are now necessary to support continued existence of various species, especially birds, invertebrates (including pollinators) and small mammals. These areas provide nesting sites, food, over-wintering habitat, cover from predators, and refuge from farming operations – as well as serving as stepping stones allowing animals to move through the landscape we have altered.
Unfortunately, small fragmented habitat patches have traditionally been regarded as having a lower ecological value compared to larger, highly connected areas. In many countries today they can be routinely cleared without much red tape, or even any requirements for biodiversity offsetting (a last resort in mitigating ecological damage, ‘biodiversity offsetting’ means compensating for the damage or ‘losses’ done in one area, by crediting ‘gains’ in another – a highly contentious system). In recent years however, they have been recognised as being highly important for biodiversity, and should receive the same attention when devising conservation and land use policies.
What EXACTLY are wildlife corridors?
Simply put, ‘wildlife corridor’ is a phrase commonly used to describe a network linking between habitats. This can be done in several ways: in a linear patch of habitat, like a ‘corridor’ – or like a series of ‘stepping stone’ habitat patches, whereby wildlife can ‘hop’ from one area to another. Linking habitats can also be done by connecting areas of varied shapes, and also by a particularly permeable part of the matrix (Nope, we’re not inside a computer – the ‘matrix’ is used to describe the ‘background’ of habitats: i.e. non-habitat landscapes in which the habitats are embedded), or ‘buffer zones’ (sometimes protected areas around viable habitats through which wildlife may be able to move).
How does landscape fragmentation threaten wildlife?
Even amidst the rural greenery of my home country, Northern Ireland, fragmentation is a real issue. Beguiling patchwork quilts of fields stretching to the horizon at first glance depict a welcome haven from artificial urban settlements – but in reality these open stretches of pastoral and arable fields are often monocultures incapable of supporting biodiversity, or indeed wildlife at all. Here, wildlife corridors in the form of specifically managed uncropped habitats (like untouched field margins, hedgerows, scrub and woodland) are now necessary to support continued existence of various species, especially birds, invertebrates (including pollinators) and small mammals. These areas provide nesting sites, food, over-wintering habitat, cover from predators, and refuge from farming operations – as well as
serving as stepping stones allowing animals to move through the landscape we have altered. Increased mortality rates via roadkill is another glaring issue, and one highly topical r.e. the impending HS2 construction which will negatively impact barn owls as well as numerous protected species including butterflies, breeding birds, Eurasian badgers and common frogs, to name a few. Lack of suitable wildlife crossing points forces animals to fight a losing battle attempting to move across human developments, but is something which could be mitigated if more governments constructed ‘wildlife bridges’. These under and overpasses connect fragmented habitats and can reduce motorway collisions by 85 – 95%.
How do wildlife corridors help?
The implications of fragmented habitats is a multi-faceted and complex topic, but it is clear wildlife corridors are vital for supporting wildlife otherwise threatened by diminished and isolated habitats. For animals that require larger territories, corridors enable access to new habitats and sufficient territory sizes. For migratory wildlife, they enable safe transport over longer distances without needing to navigate human developments and dangers like cars or trains. They enable a larger gene pool, increase biodiversity, stabilise food webs and help avoid resource limitation. They allow re-establishment of populations otherwise diminished or wiped out by either human interference or natural occurrences like disease, floods or fires. Terrestrial animals are not the only kind that benefit from these movement routes, either: they are also keenly important for butterflies and birds, who need protected winter / summer habitats for feeding and breeding, as well as key rest stops on their migratory routes.
Aside from wildlife corridors, these actions can also help with habitat fragmentation:
- Protect existing green spaces
- Improve the quality of degraded spaces
- Restore damaged high-value sites, e.g. wetlands
- Improve legislation on protected areas to include surrounding habitats, furthering interconnection between habitats
What can YOU do to help?
.. Build a certified wildlife habitat in your back garden or balcony!
This can provide a critical resting place and food source for migrating birds and other animals. Here’s a helpful checklist to get you started:
Food – you need at least 3 of the following plants / feeders:
(Nuts, Fruit, Plant Seeds, Berries, Nectar, Pollen, Suet, Bird Feeder, Butterfly Feeder, Foliage / Twigs)
Water – at least 1 source of the following:
(Birdbath, Stream, Pond, Butterfly Puddler, Rain Garden)
Cover – provide at least 2 of the following places for animals to shelter from the weather and predators:
(Bird Box, Bat Box, Dense Shrubs and/or Thicket, Brush and/or Log Pile, Wooded Area, Bramble Patch, Rock Pile, Pond, Ground Cover, Wildflower Meadow, Cave)
Parenting – at least 2 of the following places for animals to engage in courtship behaviour, mate, bear then raise young:
(Mature Trees, Meadow, Nesting Box, Cave, Dense Shrubs and/or Thicket, Pond)
A comprehensive checklist can be found here if you’d like to print and tick off as you go.
Below are just some of the creatures you could welcome into your garden!
Frustrated some papers aren’t free? This blog definitely doesn’t advise copying & pasting the paper’s DOI link (usually found at the top under the title) into SciHub. SciHub is technically an illegal ‘pirate’ site (equivalent to movie streaming sites except without the pop-up ads or viruses) which believes access to science should be available for everyone. University lecturers and students definitely never use this site to access free scientific papers… The SciHub domain changes frequently but the current one is Sci-Hub.tw. Don’t do it.
One thought on “The Importance of Wildlife Corridors”
Some great points!!