Valuing biodiversity is the best way to save it!


‘We must improve measures of national wealth, such as GDP, to take account of natural capital and the costs of replacing it, so we can live within environmental limits and reduce the pressures on biodiversity’ was the winning suggestion chosen by a hundred scientists meeting at the Linnean Society in London earlier this year.


Six leading thinkers were asked to challenge our orthodox views about biodiversity loss and come up with new solutions, at an International Year of Biodiversity event co-hosted by JNCC and the Linnean Society on 11 February 2010.  The packed meeting of over a hundred natural and social scientists and policy advisers challenged the ideas put forward and voted on the scientists’ proposals.Dr Sandra Knapp, Vice-President and Botanical Secretary of the Linnean Society, Peter Bridgewater and Susan Baker from the University of Cardiff © JNCC


Coral reefs can recover from bleaching events in the Galapogos Islands, with reef communities re-assembling with different species more tolerant to warmer conditions according to Terry Dawson of the University of Southampton.  So, the projections of mass extinctions from models of the impact that climate change will have on biodiversity may be overstated.  According to him, our ecosystems are not as vulnerable as everybody assumes, and the evidence is in the recent fossil record, which shows how communities can repair themselves.  He says we should prepare now for a future of novel ecosystems and landscapes.


Ammonia from livestock and other nitrogen compounds are the key pollutants affecting biodiversity, said Mark Sutton from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.  He argues that modern intensive food production will need to be managed at a landscape-scale to avoid the worst impacts of pollution on biodiversity.  Mark’s simple idea to tackle the threat from pollution is that we should eat less meat, giving multiple environmental benefits, including reducing ammonia emissions.


Invasive species spreading around the globe and eventually making every country’s wildlife the same is a bigger threat than climate change according to Angela Robinson from the Scottish Government.  Once an invasive species has become widely established it is very difficult to control and can kill off native species. These changes, unlike climate change, are effectively irreversible.  The GB Non-Native Species Strategy sets out the key measures needed including: early detection and rapid response; control and eradication; building awareness and understanding; legislation; and research and information exchanges.


Changes in the way we use land continues to be the main direct cause of biodiversity loss, according to Roy Haines-Young of the University of Nottingham.  People put different values on a piece of land.  When a woodland is felled, one person loses treasured local biodiversity but another gains through selling the timber.  Land use is the point at which many different economic sectors intersect with biodiversity so we need policy tools, such as economic valuation and other measures of worth to achieve multi-functional ecosystems which deliver many different benefits for people. 


Participants at the Linnean Society and JNCC event were encouraged to select which pressures they considered most important © JNCCWe should protect un-fished areas, rather than closing heavily used areas that have been damaged by fisheries, according to JNCC’s own Mark Tasker, who looked at the effects of exploitation of the planet’s resources. Mark coined the phrase ‘let sleeping logs die’ to emphasise the way we are losing the natural cycle of decay and the biodiversity that relies on dead material from our over-exploited ecosystems.  Overall he thinks we need to tackle population growth and over consumption, which he sees as the main underlying cause of biodiversity loss.


So, the elephant in the room is population growth, concluded Susan Baker from the University of Cardiff, echoing other speakers.  After reviewing the progress of the Convention on Biological Diversity and other agreements she argued that economic growth is incompatible with protecting biodiversity.  She says we need to make more effort to change the economic model - to go beyond Gross Domestic Product.  However, unless human population also becomes a biodiversity issue, we will be unable to balance the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development.  


Concluding the debate, Peter Bridgewater, Chair of JNCC, said better linking between international conventions is essential.  Although they all have different historical reasons for their origins, he thinks there is no reason why all biodiversity-related agreements cannot be brought together as protocols of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  A unified approach would deliver better policy and ultimately reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity. The outcomes of this meeting will influence a new strategic plan for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity which will be agreed later this year in Nagoya, Japan.


Key facts

Defra Chief Scientist Bob Watson emphasised the critical linkages between climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem services, food security and development.  He says we must address the underlying causes by mitigation but also decouple pressures from the impacts by adaptation.  We must also make best use of scientific evidence and further mobilize and catalyse resources.



Lawrence Way

Head of Surveillance

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866860