About biodiversity

In this section:

Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, is the variety of life on earth.


Biodiversity is often thought of in terms of numbers of species - the staggering variety of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms found on the planet. To date, 1.75 million species have been formally identified; however scientists think that the real figure is closer to 13 million.

In every ecosystem, living things form communities that interact with each other and with the environment around them. These interactions, operating over millions of years have resulted in the beautiful, habitable world that we live in today, and continue to provide essential ‘services’ that keep our environment in balance, allowing human beings to survive.

Biodiversity operates at a number of levels ranging from the genetic differences within species (the differences between varieties of crops, for example, or between individual people), to the huge range of natural communities and ecosystems in the world (e.g. heathlands, wetlands, broadleaved forests, steppe, tropical rainforests...).


Threats to biodiversity

Biodiversity is in decline. The current rate of global species extinction is the highest it has been since human beings evolved. According to the United Nations Environment Programme's 1995 Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA), species extinction since the year 1600 has occurred at 50 to 100 times the natural rate, and is expected to accelerate to between 1,000 and 10,000 times the natural rate by 2020. We are also losing ecosystems at an alarming rate.

Many people think of rare species as exotic animals and plants in some far off rainforest. However, local extinctions have been taking place in our own county for hundreds of years – an example is the plant Nottingham catchfly (Silene nutans). This species can sadly no longer be found in the Nottinghamshire area. Sherwood Forest is home to Britain’s rarest and most spectacular species of false scorpion (Dendrochernes cyrneus). It is found at just three other sites in the UK and is rare throughout the rest of Europe. Anoother rare resident, Corticeus unicolor is a nationally rare darkling beetle included in the National Red Data Book. In the UK it is found only in Nottinghamshire.

Since the 1920s, Nottinghamshire has lost 90% of its heathland and 97% of the county’s flower-rich meadows have been lost since the 1930s.

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What biodiversity does for us every day

Life support

Biodiversity is important to everyone because it provides us with essential services that keep our environment in balance - in short, LIFE SUPPORT.

These services include:

  • Purification of water
  • The oxygen cycle - plants and animals exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen, providing the air that we breathe
  • Energy transfer from sunlight to plants - the basis of food webs on earth
  • Decomposition of waste
  • Renewal of soil nutrients
  • Pollinators, such as bumble bees (in rapid decline throughout the UK), allow most of our crops to reproduce
  • Pest control - spiders, ladybirds and other species keep pest species in check
  • Wetlands - control floods and filter toxins from the water

In addition to these life support services, biodiversity is the source of all of our food and provides us with the basic materials from which we build our homes, produce clothing, paper, furniture and other goods. Many of our most effective drugs come from fungi or plants. If we continue to lose species and habitats at current rates, we could unknowingly wipe out potential future cures of disease.

Good for nature: good for the economy

A good environment with high biodiversity is also good for the economy (see also Natural health).

The conservation sector creates jobs and provides tourism opportunities that bring in millions of pounds to the local economy each year. For example, Sherwood Forest Country Park receives over 3 million visitors every year. It has been estimated that around 25% of these visitors (750,000) need overnight accommodation in the area, thus boosting the fortunes of local hotels, B&Bs and campsites.

Source: NCC

“For too long, environmentalists and industrialists alike have seen a false trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth. We must introduce a new way of thinking - one that sees economic and environmental health as interlinked, mutually supportive goals.”

Nitin Desai - United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Natural beauty

The majority of people value the natural world for its beauty and aesthetic appeal. One of the key indicators of quality of life is access to nature and to green, open space. People bring nature into their homes in the form of flowers, plants and the companionship of pets. Increasingly, those fortunate enough to be able to travel chose to spend their leisure time in wild places, finding solace from the increasing pressures of urbanisation.

Artists, poets, writers and sculptors find inspiration in nature. Wild animals and plants are often used as cultural icons and symbols of spiritual values, which provide a vital connection between past and future generations. Furthermore, the British natural landscape around us is an integral part of our cultural identity and national heritage.

It is difficult, if not impossible to place a monetary figure on these values.

“The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration”.

Claude Monet

Natural health

Easy access to healthy, natural environments provide recreational activities, from rock climbing to taking a brisk stroll. Moderate regular activity, such as cycling, brisk walking, or taking part in practical conservation work promotes health and prevents heart disease, strokes, depression, anxiety and sleep problems. Physical inactivity has serious effects on human health, which cost the UK economy over £8 billion a year.

The potential value an urban park, in terms of the costs saved from avoided inactivity has been estimated for the major cities of the UK. In Nottingham Unitary Authority, the provision of an urban park could save the economy an estimated £2835,000, including £588,000 to the NHS.

Source Natural Fit: Can Green Space and Biodiversity Increase Levels of Physical Activity? http://www.rspb.org.uk/policy/health

'“The countryside can be seen as a great outpatient department whose therapeutic value is yet to be fully realised.”

Dr William Bird

Making the connections…

As humans, we all have a relationship with nature and we want a healthy Earth that can sustain us, our children and their children in the future. However, most people have lost their direct connection to nature, which means that we don’t tend to realise how we're damaging our own life support systems, our own health and the future of our own family.

Find out how you can make a difference by clicking What you can do

“We live on one planet, connected in a delicate, intricate web of ecological, social, economic and cultural relationships that shape our lives. If we are to achieve sustainable development, we will need to display greater responsibility - for the ecosystems on which all life depends, for each other as a single human community, and for the generations that will follow our own, living tomorrow with the consequences of the decisions we take today... sustainable development is not only a necessity, but also an exceptional opportunity to place our economies and societies on more durable footing.”

Kofi Annan - Secretary-General of the United Nations

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Biodiversity is the variety of life | Copyright © 2006 Nottinghamshire Biodiversity Action Group