NATURE CONSERVATION

Closer to Nature: Our Role in Protecting the Environment!

As biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are happening at an alarming rate, all the services nature provides for our survival, such as food, medicine, clean water and even carbon sinks, are compromised.

Some of the causes behind this are urbanisation, intensive agriculture, fisheries and forestry, pollution, spread of invasive alien species and climate change events. Nature conservation may be an incredibly important part of the solution since it seeks the responsible and sustainable use of natural resources, allowing it to regenerate.

There are several ways to contribute to it, not only in protected areas but also in cities near you and you can learn more about it in this blog post.

Why is it so important to protect nature?

We are part of nature. On Earth, each and everyone of us depends on nature, from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we step on and cultivate our food, the energy we consume. Humans have changed 70% of the planet’s natural areas into settlements, farmland and other ways of land use to explore and obtain resources (UNCCD, 2022). Although this helped the development of the society in many ways, it has caused damage to unique ecosystems and species that may never recover.

 

Have you ever wondered how the vanishing of ecosystems and species might impact your own life? Brace yourself for a journey into the complex web of nature!
The Earth is like a big bubble where plants, animals, landscapes, and the a biotic components interact and depend on each other.

 

 

Like the internet, across the globe the ecosystems are interconnected realms, each contributing to a harmonious balance and a self-sustaining masterpiece in evolution. You can witness the energy flowing, nutrients cycling, seeds dispersing, and creatures embarking on epic migrations. But some ecosystems are facing destruction and becoming fragmented by human actions — roads slicing through, forests vanishing in the blink of an eye. It's a wild ride of diversity and function that is at risk, and your place in this grand narrative is more significant than you think (IPBES, 2019)!

🍿 Popcorn, Relax and Learn about Nature 🐸

A good and easy way to know more about our planet and how our impact can influence our future is by watching the documentary “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

 

Habitats: Guardians of Life, Homes in Need of Preservation

 

A habitat is the place or the environment where an organism finds all the environmental conditions to survive. We pass by habitats of many species that we may not notice like rivers, forests, beaches or even urban parks. There are endless types of habitats and microhabitats around the world and many are crucial for the survival of species or for the natural and cultural heritage of countries.

 

Unfortunately, Europe is facing a critical challenge as 81% of protected habitats are in poor or bad states (EEA, 2023). To avoid more losses and improve the quality of the services they provide to society, the EU is fighting this crisis through multifaceted strategies.

Natura 2000 network

At the heart of the European conservation efforts lies the EU's Natura 2000 network, encompassing 18% of the EU's land area and 10% of its marine territory (European Commission, n.d. -f). The Birds and Habitats Directives offer protection to around 2000 species and habitats, forming the backbone of this network (European Commission, n.d.-f).

Here are some examples of Natura 2000 sites that are under the Birds and/or Habitats Directives in some EU countries:

Austria: Neusiedler See - Nordöstliches Leithagebirge

The Neusiedler See - Nordöstliches Leithagebirge, a paradise where Alpine and Pannonian landscapes collide with oak forests, salt marshes, reed beds, and water areas hosting a biodiversity bash. This is the gathering spot for thousands of birds including endangered species. Beyond the glitz, these habitats are ecosystem providers, regulating water levels, preventing floods, and bringing that perfect temperature vibe to the neighbourhood (European Commission, n.d.-g).

Cyprus: Chersonisos Akama

This western coastal wonder boasts a unique lowland vegetation pattern with 22 terrestrial habitats, including rare serpentinophilous grasslands. The flora flaunts 700 plant taxa, 42 of them don’t exist anywhere else in the world. The vegetation provides habitats for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, supporting the pollination of other plants and agricultural crops. The peninsula is a breeding haven for 170 species, including the Cyprus scops owl. The beaches are nesting sites for Green and Loggerhead turtles, sea caves harbour Monk seals, and a marine ecosystem host dolphins (European Commission, n.d.-b).

Ireland: Lower River Shannon Sac

With the most extensive estuarine habitat in the country, it's a VIP spot for common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), lampreys, and  Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Birdwatchers, get ready for tundra swans and fulmars owning the scene, specially in the winter with over 50,000 individuals. But it's not just a wildlife hotspot; it's a coastal lifeline! Sandbanks, estuaries, and reefs support fisheries, providing livelihoods, food security, and a scientific spectacle of coastal ecology (European Commission, n.d.-d).

Italy: Boschi del Ticino

Europe's largest river park, spanning a colossal 31.7524 km2 in the heart of Pianura Padana. This riparian mixed forest made up of species from the Fraxinus, Quercus and Ulmus genus, is a feathered heaven for birds to breed, migrate or spend the winter. This habitat hosts endangered celebrities like the Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) and the glamorous False Ringlet butterfly (Coenonympha oedippus). But that's not all – these green guardians also double up as they provide water purification, fish to eat, and your go-to leisure spots (European Commission, n.d.-a).

Portugal: Costa Sudoeste

This site is a coastal biodiversity hotspot! Featuring salt marshes, cliffs, dunes, and lagoons. Endemic communities like low scrub and cushion-shaped shrubs, dominated by Cistus palhinhae, add a unique touch. But it's not just about plants; the site hosts the Portuguese bog, iconic mammals like otters and Cabrera's rat make appearances, while Ribeira do Torgal harbors the rare river mussel (Unio tumidiformis). All these are areas popular destinations for recreational activities such as boating, fishing, bird watching, and kayaking (European Commission, n.d.-c).

Sweden: Vindelfjällen

Where the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) struts its stuff in one of the country's exclusive breeding spots. This is a spectacular area for large mammals like wolverine (Gulo gulo), eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), and brown bear (Ursus arctos), with undisturbed alpine heaths and western taiga as their red carpet. These forest, heat, and scrub habitats stabilise the soil, preventing erosion, and keeping landslides at bay (European Commission, n.d.-h).

Rewildering Europe

The restoration initiatives are diverse. Removing barriers on rivers, including dams and weirs, addresses a critical issue as over a million barriers impede river health. Rewilding, championed by initiatives like Rewilding Europe, focuses on returning land to its natural state, allowing nature to heal and manage itself (Rewilding Europe, n.d.). Rethinking agricultural systems becomes pivotal, given the impact of land management on pollinators and habitats.

 

The Bern Convention

The pioneering treaty in nature conservation fosters international collaboration to conserve species and habitats. By promoting national conservation policies, considering environmental impacts in planning, and supporting education, it ensures a holistic approach to biodiversity (Council of Europe, 2016).

 

The Ramsar Convention

This is the global framework for wetland conservation, facilitating cooperation among Contracting Parties. By setting international standards and providing a forum for shared initiatives, it addresses the challenges of wetland ecosystems (Ramsar, n.d.).

 

The Nature Restoration Law

The groundbreaking proposal for a Nature Restoration Law by the European Commission means a continent-wide commitment. As part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, it aims to restore ecosystems, particularly those with high carbon capture potential, to mitigate climate change, enhance biodiversity, and fortify Europe against natural disasters (European Commission, n.d.-e).

In the face of alarming habitat decline, these strategies collectively strive to rejuvenate Europe's nature, promoting biodiversity, safeguarding ecosystem services, limiting global warming, and bolstering resilience — essential steps towards a sustainable and resilient future.

 

But what about cities? Are there nature in cities too?

In the heart of our bustling cities, urban nature emerges as a silent hero, offering essential services and contributing to a more sustainable future. Beyond the concrete confines, green spaces play a pivotal role in supporting our physical and psychological well-being, acting as vital contributors to medicine, food, and clean water (Grima et al, 2020). With cities being responsible for over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consuming a significant share of the world's energy (FAO, 2016), integrating trees and forests into urban landscapes becomes paramount. A greener urban planning and management not only regulate temperatures (e.g. using structures like greenwalls), prevent erosion, and provide recreational spaces but also promote social equity (e.g. community vegetable gardens), bridging the divisions between social classes (FAO, 2016). In the ever-evolving urban landscapes, let's celebrate the transformative power of green spaces — a force that not only mitigates climate change but also enriches our lives.

How can I get involved with nature?

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed with so much to be done to preserve nature and to reduce the damages on Earth, but all our choices matter and many little actions contribute to bigger impacts and even to our own mental well-being. There are some ideas for you to explore and get involved with to boost nature conservation:

 

  • Learn and get informed about the state of nature, what is being done and what we still need to do, for example at The State of Nature in the EU report or the The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species;
  • Contribute to environmental awareness and conservation, by sharing on your social media or with people around you the news about nature from nature news, for instance;
  • Participate in civic activities to promote environmental protection, such as municipality assemblies;
  • Volunteer and get involved with local environmental NGOs or associations to help their work;
  • Adapt your lifestyle for more environmentally friendly choices - Collect solid waste from the natural environments, remove invasive alien plant species from natural areas; Collect native seeds and prepare seedbeds to plant.

Ok, then, what green skills should I develop?

The number of skills that you can develop are endless, depending on your preferences on the natural fields. It doesn’t matter if you're a more outdoorsy or a more digital kind of person, there are projects for everyone, which you can explore at https://eu-citizen.science/projects. There are some examples of programmes that you can actively participate in, while contributing to scientific endeavours and developing a range of green skills.

Species Identification and Registration

🦇 Bat Monitoring Programme - https://www.batmonitoring.org/

  • Project Focus: Bat research and study.
  • Participation Levels: Ranging from occasional observations to more committed citizen-science protocols.
  • Benefits: Participants contribute to bat research, gaining exposure to various protocols and access to a professional dashboard

 

🔎 Skill Development:

  • Observation Techniques
  • Data Collection and Upload
  • Protocol Implementation
  • Utilising Professional Dashboards

Invasive Species Awareness and Mapping

👾 Invasoras.pt -  https://invasoras.pt/

  • Project Focus: Addressing biological invasions with a focus on invasive plants in Portugal.
  • Objectives: Raise awareness, map invasive species, and engage the public in control activities.
  • Initiatives: Citizen science mapping and control programs.

 

🔎 Skill Development:

  • Identification of Invasive Species
  • Mapping and Documentation
  • Public Engagement and Awareness
  • Participation in Control Activities

Use Technology for Biodiversity Documentation

📷 iNaturalist App - https://www.inaturalist.org/

  • Project Focus: Biodiversity documentation using the iNaturalist app.
  • Activities: Observing, photographing, and documenting various species in their natural habitats.
  • Tips for Encounters: Walk slowly, maintain silence, avoid sudden movements, and be ready to use a mobile phone for photography.

 

🔎 Skill Development:

  • Wildlife Photography
  • Ethical Wildlife Observation
  • Data Submission and Documentation
  • Understanding Species Behavior and Habitats

Organise a Plantation of Native Species

Engaging in a native species plantation project provides a hands-on learning experience that goes beyond theoretical knowledge. These two guides may give you a few ideas of what to expect when planning a tree plantation - Tree and hedge planting guide and Guidance for successful tree planting initiatives - Don’t forget to adapt the species, timings of the plantation, and regulations to your region!

 

🔎 Skill Development:

  • Native species identification and ecology
  • Planting Techniques
  • Habitat Enhancement: Learn how to create or improve habitats for wildlife by selecting and planting species that provide food and shelter for various organisms.
  • Responsibility and stewardship toward the environment
  • Project Planning and Management
  • Community Engagement

By understanding the problems, recognizing the magnificence of nature, and taking action, we can be the heroes our planet needs.

Let's make Earth a greener, healthier, and happier place for everyone, including our future selves.

We got this! 🙌

 

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