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Biodiversity: what does it mean and why should we care?

Biodiversity is a commonly used term, but what does it mean, why is it so important and what can you do to help to protect it?

What is biodiversity?

In the simplest terms, biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth and is a combination of the words ‘biological’ and ‘diversity’. This includes every lifeform, be it plants, animals, fungi and even microorganisms like bacteria. The greater the variety of these lifeforms that live within a habitat or landscape, the more biodiverse that environment is. You can find a more detailed description of biodiversity here.

Why should we care?

So, why should we care about biodiversity? For a start, we depend on it to survive. Life as we know it is only made possible due to the complex web of interactions between the different lifeforms that live on earth. For example, we rely on certain plants and animals for the food we eat, while trees and other plants produce the oxygen we need to breathe and remove harmful pollutants from the air. Many people also feel that we have a moral duty to respect all forms of life and do our best to ensure their survival.

Government research shows 70 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food globally are pollinated by bees, but the insects are declining in many parts of the world.  (Photo: WTML/V A D Wilson)
Government research shows 70 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food globally are pollinated by bees, but the insects are declining in many parts of the world. (Photo: WTML/V A D Wilson)

The factors behind this loss are many; habitat destruction, pollution, exploitation and climate change are just some of the reasons why the variety of life on Earth is declining. Should global biodiversity continue to be lost at the current unprecedented rate, the world will become a very different place, with the starkest predictions claiming the survival of humanity itself will be at risk.

How can we increase biodiversity?

The UK is not immune to the global biodiversity crisis. The latest State of Nature Report, compiled by leading UK conservation and research organisations, showed that 56% of our species declined between 1970 and 2013, with 15% already extinct or threatened with extinction from our shores.

The UK's dormouse population is thought to have dropped by 38% since 2000 alone. (Photo: Bjorn Schulz)
The UK's dormouse population is thought to have dropped by 38% since 2000 alone. (Photo: Bjorn Schulz)

So, what can be done to improve biodiversity? An immediate priority is to protect the semi-natural habitats we have left. Ancient woodland, for example, is the UK’s most biodiverse land habitat, but is under increasing threat, with more than 400 ancient woods lost or damaged since 1999 alone.

By fighting to protect this irreplaceable habitat – the Woodland Trust has saved close to 1,000 ancient woods from damage or destruction – we are preserving the wealth of biodiversity it contains. Additionally, we currently have more than 22,000 hectares of ancient woodland under restoration, undoing the damage caused by human action and helping native woodland wildlife to flourish there once more.

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If the biodiversity decline is to be reversed, we also need to buffer and extend these places where wildlife can thrive and better connect them together. That is why the Trust will have planted 64 million native trees across the UK by 2025, part of our landscape-scale conservation approach, which aims to develop diverse, wildlife-rich landscapes that have the resilience to cope with future pressures and shocks.

Ancient woodland brims with life, but this biodiversity must be protected. (Photo: WTML)
Ancient woodland brims with life, but this biodiversity must be protected. (Photo: WTML)
Planting a tree will help to make your garden more biodiverse (Photo: Jill Jennings / WTML)
Planting a tree will help to make your garden more biodiverse (Photo: Jill Jennings / WTML)

What can you do?

There are plenty of things you can do to try to boost biodiversity. If you have a garden, why not make it as wildlife friendly as possible? Planting a tree would be a great start. Another option is to try to limit your negative impact on the environment. Even small changes, such as walking instead of driving whenever possible, can have a big impact if we all make the effort.

You can also support the Woodland Trust’s efforts to boost biodiversity. Becoming a member is the best way to help us plant and protect UK woodland, but there are plenty of other ways to get involved, from volunteering through to campaigning. However you choose to help, we’ll be extremely grateful for your support.

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