Ecology and biodiversity

Biodiversity: the variety of natural life and habitats on Earth.

Ecology: the scientific study of the processes influencing natural life and habitats.Biodiversity is in our hands

We need to build and restore our ecological network. Due to the actions of humans, ecosystems across the planet are collapsing. Mass extinction is becoming an everyday occurrence. The government has announced that it will be monitoring biodiversity net gain development. This includes various mechanisms to try and rebuild an ecological network and prevent further losses. Changing the way we act and use our environment is urgent. It is also an exciting opportunity for us to increase our understanding of the landscape of Eden. Reconnecting human life to its ecosystems will allow us to become more sustainable. Conservation projects, such as wildlife bridges, result in better social and economic outcomes too. It is time to rebuild the garden of Eden.

Freshwater depletion

There is 326 million trillion gallons of water on our planet. It seems strange that water should be such a scarce resource, but less than one half of 1 percent of it is drinkable. Out of the rest, 98 percent is oceanic salt water and 1.5 percent remains locked up in icecaps and glaciers. The small percentage we can consume we call freshwater.

92% of freshwater we use in industrial agricultural production - you eat more water than you drink. The main reason for this is our diets: heavy in water-intensive meat and crops like soy. These subsidised foods make up a large percentage of global food production. Sprinkler irrigation is only 30–40% efficient, meaning that industrial farmers must double, or even triple the amount of water they use. 70% of this water then evaporates, or is otherwise wasted, never making it onto crops.

Some countries have been facing water shortages for decades. With the growing global population, the rising temperatures and the failure to change wasteful practices, freshwater shortages are becoming a reality across the whole globe.

Soil degradation

In October 2017, the UK environmental secretary warned that we are 30-40 years away from the eradication of soil fertility. There are very few harvests left. Demand for agricultural commodities has increased. This means we convert more forests and grasslands to farm fields and pastures. This transition to agriculture from natural vegetation often depletes soil. Many agricultural plants then increase soil erosion even further. Half of the topsoil on the planet has gone in the last 150 years.

Other aspects of agriculture also affect soil quality. These impacts include compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity. The effects of soil erosion go beyond the loss of fertile land. It increases pollution and clogs waterways, causing declines in fish numbers and other species. Degraded lands are also often less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding. Sustainable land use can help to reduce the impacts of agriculture and livestock. The United Nations estimate we need a further 6 million hectares of farmland each year to support the growing global food demand. We lose 12 million hectares a year due to soil degradation. To support our growing populations we need to make the transition from agriculture to permaculture.

Depletion of natural resources

'Money does not grow on trees' is a phrase dating back to the 19th Century. It has never felt more real. As our resources decline, we must turn to sustainable alternatives for everyday modern life appliances. Below is a forecast of when we will run out of each metal:

  • Oil - 2045 /2051
  • Coal - 2055 /2136
  • Gas - 2048 /2073
  • Uranium - 2041 /2081
  • Antimony - 2020 /2023
  • Lead - 2025 /2029
  • Indium - 2029 /2036
  • Rare Earths - 2088 /2856
  • Zinc - 2025 /2031
  • Silver - 2029 /2032
  • Gold - Production is declining 2031
  • Copper - 2039 /2049

(If production continues to grow / if production becomes static).

Read 'A Forecast of When We’ll Run Out of Each Metal' on the Visual Capitalist website.


Plants encompass pretty much all things we eat, wear and use. Climate change affects many wild plants and their habitats, causing them to decline often to the point of extinction. This has a knock-on effect across the ecosystem. For example, the netted carpet moth relies completely on touch-me-not balsam to survive. This native moth is one of the rarest in the Lake District, but due to conservation efforts, its population is now increasing. The introduction of invasive species is one the main causes of the moth's decline. Other causes of habitat destruction include the growing of biofuels and afforestation programmes. We need to increase our knowledge, assess our impact and increase conservation efforts. Restoration of wild plant habitats can help reduce CO2 emissions. Earth's habitats also provide cost-effective ways to control flooding and erosion. We need to look after our planet, so that it can look after us.

AnimalsWater vole reaching for blackberries

The climate and ecological crisis is not only affecting us, but all the creatures we share our planet with. Human disruption and destruction of animal habitats across the globe is causing mass extinction on an extreme level. It is possible to rebuild the resilience of the ecosystems surrounding us. We must become a force within nature, rather than against it, taking only what we need and living alongside our neighbours.

Healthy ecosystems have features that protect them against environmental change. These features include genetic diversity, ecosystem connectivity, and widespread geographical distribution of populations. A diverse gene pool ensures that some members of a species will have traits that will allow them to survive change. Habitat connectivity ensures that relocation is in reach for distressed individuals. A wide-spread population is less vulnerable to local disturbance.

In Britain, we have already seen the extinction of many animals, such as Lynx, Wolves and even Bears. Beavers and sea eagles are a recent success story of reintroduction. The positive effects of this on our ecosystem are tremendous. Owls, pine martins and dormice are some of the animals that now face extinction. Water voles, red squirrels and great crested newts in particular are something we can focus on local to Eden. We can make a difference.

See the 'Cumbria Biodiversity Evidence Base' on the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre website to discover more about the current state of Cumbria's biodiversity.

Last updated: Monday, 8 March, 2021.