As Covid-19 plunged the world into a health crisis, countries throughout the world were forced to impose restrictions on their citizens. Yet, whilst humanity came to a standstill, the natural world was able to continue on unimpeded. One year on from the first lockdown in 2020, and against the backdrop of re-emerging from the latest lockdown, scientists and researchers have begun to examine the impact of lockdown upon the natural world.
In the first of a two-part series on the impact and future implications of lockdown on the natural world and the climate change emergency, we examine the benefits of lockdown on our planet.
1. Improved Air Quality and Visibility
One of the most widely reported positive impacts of the lockdowns worldwide, was an improvement in air quality. As countries around the world came to a halt and citizens were instructed to remain at home, there was a significant reduction the use of cars, buses, trains, and aeroplanes, resulting in a decrease in emissions.
During the first month of the 2020 lockdown (between March – April 2020), the observatory on top of the BT Tower in central London recorded a decrease of 60% in carbon dioxide emissions. A similar pattern was recorded elsewhere around the world. Furthermore, as industries came to a standstill and factories were closed, there was a significant drop in greenhouse emissions. The decrease in nitrogen dioxide was particularly notable, as high nitrogen dioxide levels can cause severe respiratory problems, as well as worsen existing conditions, including asthma.
As air pollution fell across many major cities, there was a dramatic improvement in the air quality, as well as in visibility. In many areas across the world, people were able to see previously unseen views. One such example was Jalandhar in North India, where residents were able to see views of the Himalayas, previously hidden by pollution for almost 30 years.
2. Reduction in Noise Pollution
With less movement in the streets from transportation vehicles and the closure of offices and factories, there was also less noise pollution. Seismologists, who measure the Earth’s vibrations, found that during the 2020 lockdown sensors detected up to 50% decrease in vibrations.
As well as damaging our own hearing, noise pollution can be extremely detrimental for many animals, particularly those who use calls or song as a way of finding a mate or defending their territory. Usually, these animals have to compete with the human noise of traffic and noise pollution can even affect their behaviour, growth and stress levels. With less noise pollution, animals were better able to thrive in the natural environment.
During lockdown, many people also reported an increase in birdsong, which could be heard much more clearly due to a reduction in noise pollution. Furthermore, for animals who rely on echolocation, such as bats, the quieter environment proved highly beneficial. There were even reports of whales and dolphins being spotted in areas where they had not been seen for decades, as usually busy shipping routes went quiet.
3. Cleaner Water
The reduction in travel and tourism also had a positive effect on water quality and the cleanliness of many beaches, especially those in usually popular tourist spots. Additionally, the decline in industrial activities also helped lead to a reduction in water pollution.
As a result, many beaches have benefitted from lockdown, with cleaner and clearer waters being reported in areas including Spain, Ecuador and Mexico. A significant decrease in the suspended particulate matter concentration was found at Vembanad Lake in Kerala, India, which also indicated improved water quality. In Venice, the usually busy waterways were calm and the clarity of the water improved, with residents able to once again see shoals of fish in the canals.
4. Thriving Wildlife
Whilst most of us stayed at home, animals were given the opportunity to once again reclaim and enjoy their natural habitat. During the first 100 days of lockdown in 2020, there was a 54% in the number of wildlife sightings reported to iRecord, the wildlife spotting website. In particular, many people reported seeing many more garden birds, as well as butterflies, moths and bats. As people ventured out into their local parks and nature reserves for walks, there was also an increase in sighting of animals such as otters, badgers, moles and deer.
In some parts of the world, animals ventured out into cities, either in the search of food or perhaps curious and enticed by the sudden, inexplicable stillness and silence. In Wales, a herd of marauding goats wandered freely through the streets of a seaside town, whilst in Japan, deer were seen searching the city streets for food. The change was not limited to land, with orcas being spotted in a Vancouver fjord once again, for the first time in several decades.
With less tourism, many plants also had the opportunity to grow unimpeded. Furthermore, many councils cut back on mowing services, which provided the potential for many wild plants to thrive. As a consequence, animals who depend on these plants for their survival, particularly pollinators, such as bees, were given the opportunity to flourish once more.
This week we invite you to join us in reflecting upon the benefits of lockdown on the natural world, which you personally observed.
Perhaps you noticed an increase in animal activity, or were able to hear birdsong which was previously obscured by traffic? Maybe you noticed that the reduction in noise pollution created a more relaxing environment?
Restricted as we were to our homes and local areas, did you discover anything new about the local habitats in your area or any wild flowers or plants growing? Did you take note or observe the changing seasons more deeply than at other times?
During our time in lockdown, we had the opportunity to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. As we begin to re-emerge from the latest lockdown, we invite you to reflect and identify what positive impacts or benefits you noticed to the natural world around you during that time. Which of these changes really stuck with you and would you like to see continuing to thrive as we move forward?
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