The intricate network of ecosystems, habitats and species comprising biodiversity provide the support systems that sustain human existence. Biodiversity gives us many of the essentials of life - our oxygen, water, food, clothing, health and relaxation. The value of biodiversity extends from the spiritual benefits to be gained from contact with nature, to the economic value of crops and livestock. The potential of wild species to provide us with new sources of food or medicines is vast, including thousands of new products that could be developed through advances in biotechnology.
Biodiversity contributes to what makes a place distinctive. Lancashire’s landscapes, such as its areas of limestone pavement, coastal estuary, clough woodland or high fell, have influenced and shaped local culture. Even in towns and cities oases of wildlife habitat make an important contribution to the quality of life.
Attractive and healthy landscapes create tourism and a demand for environmental goods and services. A recent study that showed over 100,000 jobs were related to the environment in North West England 2.1% (almost £3 billion) of the Region’s gross domestic product (2). Biodiversity conservation is central to maintain a healthy countryside and townscape.
However, the world is losing biodiversity at an ever-increasing rate as a result of human activity. In the UK we have lost over 100 species this century, with many more species and habitats in danger of disappearing, especially at the local level. On a world scale the rate of loss is now recognised to be a cause for serious concern, requiring concerted international action to prevent continued loss of biodiversity. The underlying reasons for biodiversity conservation make a compelling case. If we do not take action, we shall suffer both economic and spiritual loss. Moreover, we shall hand on to our successors a planet that is markedly poorer than the one we were privileged to inherit.
We all have a part to place in safeguarding the Earth's biodiversity and action needs to be taken at every level from local to global.
It has been recognised for a long time that human activities are changing or destroying wildlife habitats and natural ecosystems on an increasing scale, with the resultant loss of species. The loss of biodiversity is not just confined to the Amazonian rain forest but is an issue in the UK and Lancashire too (See Box 1).
With such environmental issues in mind, 150 countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (or ‘Biodiversity Convention’). This is one of several major initiatives stemming from the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which together form an International Agreement on sustainable development. The signatories recognised that action must be taken to halt the global loss of plant and animal species and genetic resources. Each nation has a responsibility to the rest of the world to conserve and enhance biodiversity within its own jurisdiction. At the same time the signatories agreed "to develop national strategies, plans and programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity," and to share resources to help implement such programmes.
One of the most compelling arguments for the conservation of biodiversity is that it is an integral part of long-term sustainability. One of the other main products of the Earth Summit is Agenda 21; a comprehensive programme of action needed throughout the world to achieve a more sustainable pattern of development for the next century. Developing and implementing a programme for biodiversity conservation at the local level is one of the core functions of Lancashire's Local Agenda 21 Strategy and district level strategies. (3).
The UK government signed the Biodiversity Convention at Rio in 1992 and this country is now well advanced in developing and implementing a national Action Plan.
The Government's response to the Biodiversity Convention – ‘Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan’ – was published in 1994 (4). This sets out the broad strategy for conserving and enhancing wild species and wildlife habitats in the UK for the next 20 years. The overall goal of the UK Action Plan is:
"To conserve and enhance biological diversity within the UK and to contribute to the conservation of global biodiversity through all appropriate mechanisms."
The objectives for conserving biodiversity which underpin this goal are "to conserve and, where practicable, to enhance":
One of the main outcomes of the UK Action Plan was the setting up of the UK Biodiversity Steering Group, which was given the task of preparing a detailed programme of action to achieve these objectives. The UK Steering Group Report, published in December 1995 and endorsed by the Government in May 1996, contains the following key components: