What is biodiversity?

“Biodiversity underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water, health and recreation, and protection from natural disasters. Its loss also affects us culturally and spiritually. This may be more difficult to quantify, but is nonetheless integral to our well-being”

– Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Put simply, Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. It is essential for sustaining the natural living systems or ecosystems that provide us with food, clean water, fuel, health, wealth, and other services we take for granted in our everyday life.

Biodiversity is the basis of human existence, our life support system.  Ecosystems regulate climatic processes, breakdown wastes and recycle nutrients, filter and purify water, buffer against flooding, maintain soil fertility, purify air, and provide natural resources such as wood, textiles, and of course food. All agriculture depends fundamentally on Biodiversity, as do marine and freshwater food resources.

The scope of biodiversity can be quite overwhelming, but the premise is quite simple: every living thing depends on another, whether its a direct or indirect connection. When the status of one is changed, it has knock on effects for others. It is all connected.

Healthy biological diversity involves many species and their relationships between one another and the landscape. Like an engine, the Earth has many parts, each performing a specific task. Each part works together with its neighbour to make the engine function properly. If one part is damaged or missing, the engine will no longer work.

To allow continued biodiversity loss means losing the essential services that biodiversity provides, and prevents handing down an invaluable gift to future generations. 

Biodiversity is currently being lost at an unprecedented rate globally, and Ireland is no exception. The decline in biodiversity has been more rapid in the past 50 years than ever before in human history and human activity is leading to increased extinction rates.  Biodiversity loss in Ireland is caused mainly by:

  • Habitat destruction (for example through construction and wetland drainage or infilling)
  • Invasive alien species (such as Japanese Knott Weed and Zebra Mussel)
  • Pollution (for example from use of excess fertilizer leading to excessive levels of nutrients in soil and water)
  • Land use change (such as conversion of land to plantation forestry or agriculture)
  • Unsustainable and excessive consumption
  • Climate Change
How to help

You can help by protecting and increasing biodiversity in your local area. Every small action helps towards the larger goal. Here’s a list of 7 things you can do to help protect and increase biodiversity.

  1. Make Wildlife Welcome
    • Support the birds, reptiles, mammals, and plants that live in your neighborhood. You can also attract more wild species by providing water, food, shelter, and privacy. You can plant native flowers and trees, hang bird boxes, bat boxes or insect hotels.
  2. Protect Habitats
    • Explore habitats in your area.  Help clean up and protect beaches, parks, reserves, and fields where wild plants and animals live. Put your rubbish in a bin, not on the ground.
  3. Volunteer Your Time
    • Give your time to groups in your area who are working towards cleaning and greening your community.
  4. Harness Your House Pet
    • If you have pet who likes to chase birds or rabbits think about how you could stop them. You could bring them for extra long walks to tire them out, or provide them with more toys to distract them. If you have a cat who brings you dead birds, think about keeping them indoors during the day when you’re not around. This could save the lives of many birds, especially during nesting season.
  5. Be a Smart Shopper
    • Shop locally sourced food and Irish made products. This reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport your goods. Buying products with less or no plastic also helps reduce the need to create and dispose of this waste. This reduces the amount of non-degradable waste in landfills and in the ocean.
  6. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Follow the four R’s in this order to create a positive impact on the planet.
  7. Leave Wild Things in the Wild
    • Watch wild things and learn from them, but don’t bring them home. Plants and animals often die outside of their habitat. Even if they don’t, they have been taken out of the web which they are a part of and can no longer do their job. It is more sustainable and healthier for the animals if you create an area in your own garden for wildlife by planting native plants and providing food and shelter for animals.

Ireland’s biodiversity stems in large part from the exceptional diversity of its geology – the bedrock that underlies the landscape. This has shaped our landscape with its mountains, rivers and very varied coastline. As a result of this variety, we have an exceptional diversity of habitats, given the size of the island. The second factor influencing our diversity is our mild, moist climate which allows unusual combinations of plants and animals to survive. For example, in the Burren, County Clare, arctic-alpine plants are found side-by-side with species that are otherwise more common in Mediterranean countries.

Ireland is home to: ~815 flowering plants, ~80 native ferns, 700+ mosses and liverworts, 3,500 fungi, 1,000+ lichens, and 1,400 algae. There are 32 terrestrial mammals, 10 bat species, two species of seals, ~24 whales and dolphins, and ~425 species of birds – half of which breed here.

Featured image credit: Short eared owl – by Donal Power