I am very pleased to see so many people gathered together in Year 2000 to celebrate biodiversity; the variety of life.
Over the last half century, with the rapid changes made possible by technological development, a growing realisation of the ways our actions can affect the web of life have led us to examine the extent of our knowledge of how species and the environment are inter-related.
Our enthusiastic adoption of new technologies have sometimes had side-effects of which we only become aware years later, when observations in for example the late 1950s, of a decline in the numbers of birds of prey led to scientific investigation and the discovery of high levels of pesticide residues entering and persisting in the food chain.
Wild birds can perhaps be said to be the modern-day equivalent of the Miners' canary. There is today a worrying decline in the numbers of farmland birds such as yellow hammer, linnet and plover and as yet we do not know the reason why. It may be due to loss of habitat, changing farming practices such as the time of year certain actions are carried out, our actions causing a dearth of invertebrates at a crucial period when birds need insects to feed to their young, or to other causes entirely. Work is going on to find out. The decline has been noticed because people observe birds and there is a well-developed network of ordinary people making records of what they see and facilities for collating these records so trends can be seen.
Other components of the web of life; plants, fungi, invertebrates, and mammals which often tend to be shyer and nocturnal and so less studied - do not have such a well-developed network of observers. Some groups, such as fungi whose ephemeral fruiting bodies - which are the parts we see - are only visible for a short time, are very difficult to study but are being discovered to perform a vital role in the growth of trees and to have considerable medicinal potential. New discoveries about the relationship between fungi, invertebrates and plants are being made, with the help of techniques possible only due to new technologies. Technological advance also gives us the means to interfere with this relationship unwittingly, due to lack of understanding.
By this year 2000 Pandora's box is opened and we cannot turn the clock back, even if we wanted to. What we can do, each and every one of us, is to turn ourselves into observers and recorders of the world around us.
A good deal of our current knowledge is due to amateur observers of past times when a leisured class were able to pursue hobbies that interested them. Some studied aspects of natural history to such a degree that their specialist knowledge remains unmatched. Those days are gone, but we need to build on their knowledge and achieve a base-line against which any changes in our existing biodiversity can be measured. Here at the Fair today are many groups and organisations whose concern is to interest people in aspects of biodiversity and provide a means by which species can be studied, recording undertaken and reports made.
Next year has been designated International Biodiversity Observation Year. This Fair is an Approved IBOY Project to herald that event. Please have a look round, find out what aspects of biodiversity particularly interest you, and consider becoming an observer and recorder so we can become aware early enough of any side-effects our actions cause, to take remedial measures before it is too late.
The world around us is full of magic. It seems particularly appropriate that this should be recognised in this part of the country, so closely associated with Merlin. Let us enjoy and celebrate the variety of life! I have great pleasure in declaring this first Biodiversity Fair open.
Last updated December 4, 2002
IBOY took place during 2001 and 2002 and is now completed. Information on the projects, activities and products that took place during IBOY are available on these pages. Many of the projects are still continuing their research and education activities and links to their homepages can be found on the project pages.
For more information on on-going activities of IBOY's parent organization, DIVERSITAS, see http://www.icsu.org/DIVERSITAS