About Biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

Swallowtail caterpillar
Swallowtail caterpillar
(Photo Credit: A Kelly)
Biodiversity is short for biological diversity. It refers to the variety of all life on earth: plants, animals and micro-organisms. Importantly, biodiversity encompasses all living things - not just wildlife.

Why does biodiversity matter?

Biodiversity makes a tremendous - but often overlooked - contribution to the quality of our day-to-day lives. For example:

  • Biodiversity is a source of food, fibre, energy and pharmaceuticals. Between 25 and 50% of prescription drugs are derived from nature. However, only a tiny fraction of the world’s biodiversity has been assessed for its potential benefit to humankind.
  • We are “hard wired” to respond positively to biodiversity. There is a growing body of empirical evidence which demonstrates that contact with nature can improve learning performance in school children, enhance emotional development, be an effective treatment for depression and reduce stress levels.
  • Biodiversity provides us with indispensable “life support services”. It helps to purify air and water, reduces flooding, promotes nutrient recycling and soil formation, and decomposes wastes. The UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment has demonstrated that the benefits we derive from these ecosystem services are worth billions of pounds a year. To take just one example: the role that coastal wetlands play in buffering the effects of storms and flooding has been estimated at £1.5 billion annually. 
  • Biodiversity has been a source of enjoyment, inspiration and spiritual nourishment for millennia.
  • Biodiversity has intrinsic value, and many people argue that all species have the right to exist.

Biodiversity is under severe threat

Biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate as a result of habitat destruction, invasive alien species, over-exploitation, pollution and climate change.

  • Nearly 500 species have become extinct in England in recent times, the majority since the 1800s.
  • Since 1945, some 40% of the UK’s reedbeds have disappeared.
  • Since 1800, approximately 75% of England’s lowland heaths have been lost.
  • Some 46% of the ancient woodland in England and Wales has been destroyed since 1946.
  • Globally, current rates of extinction may be 1,000 times greater than natural background levels.

The Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Process

For more information about the BAP process in the UK, visit the website of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

For more information about the international agreement which underpins the BAP process, visit the website of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“The worst thing that can happen - will happen - is not energy depletion, economic collapse, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The process…that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”

Prof. E.O. Wilson, Harvard University.