Food, medicine, survival: why wildlife conservation is vital to us all

Wildlife protection is much bigger than the cuddly panda, despite the limelight it occupies in headline conservation news. The diversity of the natural world sustains us, allows us to adapt and innovate – ultimately it enables our continuing survival.

We rely on the natural world for a huge amount of resources; from the clothes we wear for warmth, to the food and medicines we depend on. Yet this reliance on natural resources too often becomes commercial abuse. Over the last few years the environmental debate has increasingly topped the agenda, influencing government policy and controlling the development of businesses.

Yet with its rising status, “green issues” has also become a buzzword; it’s enabled companies to wear a thin sheath of environmental protection to hide their central agenda for commercial development and financial gain.

Where’s the media storm?

The UN meeting on biodiversity next month is set to put conservation back onto the central agenda, yet it seems to have fallen at its first hurdle as the event has barely been visible in the headlines compared to the media storm surrounding the Copenhagen Summit last year. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Robert Bloomfield, co-ordinator for the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity, suggests that one reason for the lack of coverage given to the Convention on Biological Awareness in Nagoya is because biodiversity, compared to climate change, is a complex narrative that people struggle to grasp.

It’s easy to empathise with the plight of the panda and to understand the devastation that will be caused by climate change. However, biodiversity is intrinsically linked to climate change, as well as sustaining the habitats of the largest animals to the smallest micro-organism. The near destruction of the green sea turtle in the Caribbean is an example of the wider environmental devastation that can be caused by destabilising eco-systems.

Predator v prey

Diversity within eco-systems ensures stability and this is key to why biodiversity matters. If you were to take a predator out of an eco-system, it’d be difficult to predict the knock-on effect it’d have within the food chain due to the complexities of the inter-relationship between organisms (known as the trophic cascade).

Research has suggested that diverse ecosystems are better at supplying amenities like clean water, while diversity in crops offer better protection from new diseases and pests thereby better ensuring food security. Diversity within the natural world also inspires, allowing for innovation within new technologies and medicines.

Therefore not only is conservation vital, but as is finding a narrative that enables the public to understand the complexities of the natural world and how changes within it could dramatically impact their everyday lives.

Along with this self-interested argument for wildlife protection, there is a much more fundamental debate about the human psyche; during our time on this planet we have done untold damage to the natural world, isn’t it about time we started to conserve rather than destroy?


An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Green Issues
2 comments on “Food, medicine, survival: why wildlife conservation is vital to us all
  1. Mighty Mike says:

    Hello- thanks for your great blog article- I have been increasingly more concerned with the issues of honey bee deaths each year and the mystery behind what is happening to them. We are looking for a magic bullet to answer why this is happening, but fail to look at the entire picture! I am quite sure it is many things, not just one…..we need to conserve, protect and respect our environment before we knock everything out of balance so much, that we get beyond the point of no return.


    • bethan john says:

      Hi Mike, thanks for the comment, sorry it took so long to appear in the post – I’ve been on holiday up in the wilds of Snowdonia (North Wales) with no internet. You are right, I think the problem is that many people – myself included – who don’t have a science background struggle to appreciate how inter-related the natural world is and how small changes within eco-systems can have a huge impact. I’d like to think that in last few years there has been a significant improvement in the reporting of environmental issues, yet I would like to see a dramatic increase in scientists and journalists working together – not just when there’s a “story” – to make these issues more accessible

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