The Natura 2000 Network was established to safeguard biodiversity on the European continent. But what exactly is biodiversity, and why is it so important to protect it?
Biodiversity is the variety of forms of life on the Earth, meaning the sum total of all living beings and their related ecosystems, or all plants and animals, their genes and the ecosystems to which they give rise.
No one knows exactly how many species currently exist on the Earth, taking into account everything from micro-organisms to elephants and whales. Some scientists hold that there could be 4 million, while others set the number as high as 100 million. The one certainty is that we know only a portion of the total, or roughly 1.5 million. In all likelihood, Man will never be able to discover some of these species, given that, with the current rate of extinction, which is 100 to 1000 times higher than the normal frequency, it is calculated that approximately 50 different species disappear from the face of the Earth every day.
Today, in Europe alone, the following percentages of species are at risk of extinction: 42% of mammals, 15% of birds, 45% of butterflies and reptiles, 30% of amphibians and 52% of fresh-water fish. Moreover, whenever a species disappears, be it large or small, the balance of the ecosystem in which it lives is altered, resulting in environmental damage that translates into damage for human beings. For the fact is that biodiversity serves as the source of what are referred to as the ecosystem services for the various populations of Man.
Biodiversity supplies resources in the form of food, water, fodder, wood, textile fibres, medicines etc., in addition to providing services that can be divided into the categories of support, regulation and cultural services.
Biodiversity and the ecosystems to which it gives rise have the capacity to clean our waters, purify our air and ensure that our land remains productive. They regulate the climate and provide us with food. They supply raw materials and resources for medicines and other purposes.
The loss of biodiversity, on the other hand, contributes to insecurity with respect to supplies of food and energy, increase vulnerability to natural disasters, such as floods and tropical storms, undermines levels of health and reduces the availability and quality of water resources.