Why is wildlife and biodiversity so important?
Hannah Henshaw – NatureSpy Wildlife Biologist
Conserving natural habitats and the wildlife which sustain them can often be perceived as an unnecessary luxury that requires resources and space which could be better spent elsewhere.
However, many people don’t realise how essential they are for both the economy and human health.
Lots of people already feed wildlife such birds and hedgehogs because of the positive feelings and satisfaction derived from the interaction.
Interestingly, studies are now beginning to show how this interaction has the ability to help people cope with stress, reduce minor health problems and lower blood pressure, with wildlife now being increasingly appreciated for their therapeutic use much like domestic pets.
Having access to wildlife and nature is also more likely to encourage physical activity which can help combat the rising levels of obesity and its associated health problems.
The vast evidence for using nature as a tool for improving health has led to the rise of urban green spaces (parks, gardens and allotments) to allow those in urban areas the opportunity to have contact with nature as well as providing areas for wildlife, visually improving the landscape and decreasing pollution.
There are also additional economic benefits such as creating employment opportunities, increasing house values and encouraging investment.
The popularity of recreational activities and outdoor exercise in and around nature, known as ‘Green Exercises’ has also increased with The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) initiating the Green Gym scheme.
There is a variety of evidence suggesting that being in contact with wildlife, or even looking at pictures of natural settings, has the ability to improve mental health.
Recent studies have looked at how a natural environment can have significant positive effects on stress, depression, anxiety alleviation, improving community and social bonds, reducing crime and violence, aid behavioural and social development in children, aid recovery from illness and improve concentration levels.
Below are some of the key contributions wildlife biodiversity and ecosystems make, and some of the direct benefits we receive.
Importantly, all forms of wildlife you see every day; from slugs to birds, play vital roles in these ecosystem services.
Provisioning services: products which are taken or extracted from ecosystems (food, fuel, genetic resources i.e. flowers).
Regulating services: benefits which have been derived from the regulation of natural ecosystem processes (air-quality maintenance, climate and water regulation, erosion control).
Supporting services: processes such as nutrient and water cycling and oxygen production.
Cultural benefits: Non-material but equally important (strengthening communities, religion, culture, exercise, recreation and education).
Genetic diversity: which needs to be retained to produce strong and hardy crops and resilient livestock resistant to disease, adverse climatic and environmental conditions and pests.
Medicinal studies: numerous studies on the anatomy, chemical processes and physiology of wildlife have led to important developments in human medicine. For example, looking at bone loss in bears caused by inactivity during hibernation has been used in understanding osteoporosis in humans!
Disease control: Spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, avian influenza and Malaria, have increased in their emergence with the decreases in biodiversity.
Sustaining all types of wildlife therefore is crucial for the continued benefits we all receive and for safeguarding our wildlife and landscapes for future generations.
There are a few simple things you could do to help your local wildlife such as:
● Hanging up a few bird feeders
● Providing fresh water for birds and hedgehogs
● Leave a small patch of grass to grow in your garden
● Creating a log pile for insects to attract birds
● Plant some wild flowers for butterflies and bees
● Take some time to watch and appreciate the wildlife around you!