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Nature Conservation

This is the only planet in the Universe where life exists.  There is life on other planets across the Universe. We don’t know which of these sentences is correct.  Whichever one is correct is rather remarkable when you think about it.  We do know that there is life on this planet.  We can be fairly sure that this is the only planet in the Universe where species such as mountain gorillas, lions, tigers and the humble dunnock have evolved.  We can also be confident in the belief that the dodo, passenger pigeon, Steller’s sea cow and Tasmanian tiger have only ever lived on this planet, yet all these became extinct due to human beings.  We destroy habitats and ecosystems to serve our needs and our greed.  Ever since we learned to make tools we have been responsible for the extinction of thousands of species.

As humans developed, communities became more mobile causing increasing numbers of species to become extinct.  Does it matter?  Is nature conservation important?  To even ask these basic questions is obscene in my opinion.  Every species evolves to fill its own particular niche in nature, but we have become outside that norm and now try to control the natural world.  We act like God, but we are not.  We have developed an intelligence to create the high-tech world that many of us live in but we don’t appear to have developed the visionary thinking to see the consequences of our selfish and irresponsible attitude to the natural world.  With our self-appointed dominance of the planet surely there must come a responsibility?

Photo credit: Mountain Gorilla, Barrie Cooper

We need to acknowledge that conservation of the natural world is fundamental for our sustained quality of life on Planet Earth.  So let me explain just a few (of the many) reasons why nature conservation from a human perspective is important.  It might not convince some of the World’s leaders and others whose decisions can ultimately decide the fate of biodiversity, but here goes.

Our planet is made up of a rich mosaic of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and oceans.  In addition to supporting a plethora of wildlife, ecosystems such as these provide food, shelter and materials for the survival of human communities across the planet.  Damaging ecosystems ultimately affects the economic and social sustainability of communities that depend on them.  Put simplisticly, pollution and destruction of marine ecosystems threatens the very survival of some coastal communities due to the loss of natural resources.

Ecosystems have an important role in the local and global water cycle by regulating and purifying water for consumption by people and their animals.  For example, forests in hills and mountains act like a sponge and release water much more slowly than if rainfall just flowed directly down deforested slopes.  This effect can significantly reduce the chances of flooding in lowland areas and results in a more prolonged water supply for local communities.  The long-term economic benefits of this natural form of water management are significantly greater than any perceived short-term benefit resulting in the destruction of forests and other vegetated ecosystems.  Indeed, short-term thinking for quick financial gain is a major problem for the natural environment partly because of a lack of understanding of the long-term benefits of habitat conservation at the local and global levels.

Photo credit: Lemur meditating with Barrie Cooper, Barrie Cooper

In addition to providing water directly for human use, wetlands provide other important benefits for people such as food, raw materials and as a means of treating wastewater.  Wetlands can filter human and animal waste and enable communities to have sustainable lifestyles due to the ecosystem services they provide.  Yet we have lost over half of the World’s freshwater wetlands since 1900 despite them being so important, not only for people, but also for the rich biodiversity they support.  Fresh water security is regarded as a major threat to the sustainability of some communities during the approaching decades.  Even now, two-thirds of the world’s population live with a scarcity of water for a part of every year.  Why aren’t we protecting more wetlands and nurturing this special ecosystem?

Intertidal mudflats are an ecosystem that has been significantly depleted in recent years.  For example, along the coasts of China and South Korea, huge areas of mudflats have been reclaimed and developed for use as ports, industrial zones, retail and recreation areas.  Ironically, intertidal mudflats are an important source of food for humans and offer a natural coastal defence to local communities.  People harvest fish and shellfish along these coastal zones but many have lost their livelihoods due to coastal development.  Intertidal mudflats are one of the richest habitats on Earth and are a vital habitat for migratory shorebirds such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  The mudflats are full of small invertebrates and crustaceans that are the main foods for shorebirds.  The animals living in the mud are important parts of the food web that support local fisheries which are harvested by humans.  Many species of shorebirds rely on intertidal areas for food and roosting outside the breeding season, which equates to about nine months of the year.  So the destruction of intertidal mudflats has resulted in serious declines of many migratory bird species and a significant reduction in fish quotas in many coastal areas.

Nature provides many plants that are used as traditional medicines and are a source of materials for the pharmaceutical industry.  Future medicines are probably waiting to be discovered in tropical rainforests yet these important ecosystems are being destroyed every minute of every day.  It’s a crime to humanity in addition to the indigenous people and species that these forests support.

Photo credit: School at Gorilla Site, Barrie Cooper

Ecotourism is now providing significant economic benefits to many communities across the world.  Wildlife tourism has become increasingly popular during the last few decades and many countries and communities have recognised that their special wildlife can bring tourists to areas that otherwise would be rarely visited.  As such, tourism infrastructure has developed in the form of lodges, hotels, wildlife guides and associated services such as transport, food and retail.  The economic benefits are quite significant, as can be seen in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.  Wildlife tourism brings tangible benefits to communities across the world. For example, in Uganda, the mountain gorillas of Bwindi bring an income to the local community that not only provides jobs, but also funding for schools and health centres.  In 2011, an RSPB study showed that the re-introduction of the white-tailed eagle benefited the Isle of Mull by five million pounds a year and supported the equivalent of one hundred and ten full-time jobs.  A study I was involved in during 2001 showed that the RSPB’s Leighton Moss nature reserve directly or indirectly supported the equivalent of at least fifty-nine full time jobs in the local area.  There are other case studies across the world that clearly show the economic and social benefits of ecotourism.  Nature conservation in these areas is the catalyst to sustainable living for local communities that also have the added benefit of all the ecosystem services provided by the habitats used by wildlife.

Photo credit: Bumblebee, Barrie Cooper

Another simple example of the importance of nature is that pollination by bees and other insects is a fundamental necessity for many plants on our beautiful planet.  Pollination of agricultural crops has been a basic principal ever since humans began to cultivate plants for food.  Bees have been our greatest allies in supporting our agricultural development.  Take a look at this report: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140502-what-if-bees-went-extinct

It’s claimed that bees pollinate seventy of about one hundred crop species that feed ninety percent of the world’s population.  According to the report, honeybees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.

The bottom line is we simply cannot exist in isolation because we rely on nature to support our lifestyles even in this modern, urbanised and high-tech world.  Another interesting recent point to note is that research has even shown that we benefit both physically and mentally by being in nature.  Research has shown that depriving children of connecting with nature is not good for them or for the planet.

These examples are just a brief snapshot as to why it is vital to conserving nature.  We are a part of the ecology of this planet and are affected when we interfere with the balance that nature has created.  We cannot continue to destroy habitats and complete ecosystems without paying a significant price to our very own sustainability.  Instead of sleepwalking into the future with a machete in our hands we need to wake up and smell the roses (and all the other plants).  We need to accept that it is time to care for what remains of the amazing natural world that we are privileged to live on.  We almost certainly live on a unique planet, let’s show it some love and care for it like it cares for us.

Blue Sky Wildlife supports local wildlife specialists who can demonstrate their commitment to the places they visit. Responsible ecotourism has massive benefits for both local people and the environment. Most of the operators listed have provided details of their ecotourism commitment, including how they engage with their local communities, culture, tradition and history, while conserving their local environments.

To review this information, visit the conservation tab and learn about the local wildlife specialists commitment to nature conservation.

About the author

Barrie Cooper
Ecotourism Expert & Adviser
E: barriecooper@outlook.com
M: +44 (0)7764959684

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