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What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity stands for all living things on earth. All living things, including ourselves - humans, do not live in isolation. We are all linked in what is known as the 'web of life'. This 'web of life' is often very complex, but it is possible to identify different groups of animals or plants that have something in common and can be associated together into groups known as 'ecological communities' or 'ecosystems'.  Biodiversity is an issue of global importance and steps are being taken to halt its loss here in Ireland and globally; Ireland has signed up to the EU target to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

Why is Biodiversity important?
Biodiversity has an important role to play in all of our lives but our effect on it can be detrimental. To understand why this is, it is important to first examine what biodiversity provides us with. Here are just a few ways it benefits us:

  • Medicine – Much of traditional medicine is based around plant extracts found in nature. Modern researchers are increasingly looking towards biological resources to find treatments and cures for illnesses. To date plant-based medicines provide more than 3 billion people with their primary health care. With the destruction of the rainforests and other such areas, we could be losing vitally important undiscovered plant species that can be used to fight illnesses, such as cancer. Examples of widley used medicines derived from plants include aspirin and quinine.
  • The destruction of ecosystems has the potential to have serious negative impacts on communities both globally and locally. An example of this is the destruction of the rainforests. Rainforests have an important role to play as they contribute towards the regulation of global climate. The destruction of the rainforests causes erosion, loss of species and changes in climate.
  • As individuals we often take our surroundings for granted. Do we really appreciate the beauty of biodiversity when we walk through a forest or when sitting in a park or garden? Do we ever stop to think what our lives would be like without any trees?
  • Our landscape and biodiversity reflect a great deal of our history and culture, things that we take pride in and that have inspired people to paint, write poetry or stories and sing songs about for centuries. Without their high biodiversity value many of Ireland's famous beauty spots would not be as inspiring as they have been to our artists and poets. It is important that we pass on this, our natural heritage, to future generations.

Take Action to Protect Ireland’s Biodviersity
Ireland’s biodiversity enhances the health and wellbeing of everyone on this Island. Therefore we should all play our part in actively protecting it for our benefit and for that of generations to come. You may never have considered that you could play an important part in protecting biodiversity, but you can. No matter what your level of interest or the sector you belong to there are actions you can take. The following sections outline these actions.

  • Just think – anything you pour down your drain, sink or toilet might eventually end up in our rivers or sea – so never pour fats, oils, grease or household hazardous materials such as paint thinners, solvents, unused paint or pesticides down the drain, sink or toilet. Also, if you are one of the 33% of Irish homes with a septic tank never put bleaches or detergents down your sinks or toilets as they kill the organisms that break down the waste and your tank will stop working!
  • Transporting food and products from overseas can contribute to climate change and therefore threaten biodiversity. Be in tune with nature - buy fruit, vegetables and other fresh food when in season, and where possible, locally produced.
  • Pesticide chemicals are used to kill and eliminate insects that eat our beloved plants, however what many people do not realise is that these insects are eaten by larger insects and birds which are then poisoned by the chemicals, these insects and birds are then eaten by mammals and insects to which the chemicals are passed on. In other words the pesticide chemicals get in to the food chain and poison more creatures than they were intended for. There are however many ways around using pesticides, for example, attract good bugs to your garden like the Ladybird, Lacewings and Butterflies, which all love to eat aphids and greenfly! These can be attracted to your garden using natural attractant (available from many environmental gardening shops). Alternatively you can plant flowers that naturally attract these insects (e.g. Buddleia) and this also helps to create a more beautiful garden. Also, plants that produce nectar containing flowers are great for attracting these bug buster.
  • Be careful what you plant in your garden, some non-native plants can have a negative impact on other plants. For example the Rhododendron, which was introduced from Spain has invaded and seriously threatened three Irish habitats that are considered of international importance under the Habitats Directive. The plant grows very quickly and creates dense thickets which blocks out the light that other plants need to grow. It is also toxic to herbivores. Invasive aquatic plants are also causing problems in Ireland. Some non-native aquatic plants used in ponds and aquariums can get in to the freshwater courses and create an unbalanced eco system and threaten native species. These native species like yellow flag, flowering rush or white water lily.
  • Hedgerows in the countryside cannot be cut during bird nesting season which lasts from the start of March to the end of August each year. The same should apply to hedges in your garden; care should be taken not to damage nests if you are doing any essential maintenance on your garden.
  • Beware when purchasing souvenirs, such as woodcarvings, ivory, tortoiseshell or ornaments with fur, or feathers, on holidays abroad. Many of these are products whose trade is regulated and permits are required to bring them home. There are strict laws governing exports of wildlife so you risk having your souvenir confiscated. Ignorance is not a defense!
  • The saying that “a pet is for life, not just for Christmas” applies even more to exotic pets, such as parrots, lizards and snakes, which can be difficult to look after and whose trade is regulated by these laws. Don’t buy exotic pets unless you are fully informed of their care requirements and are satisfied that you can provide them. You are better off buying them from reputable outlets. If you do buy them through a private sale, be particularly careful that the seller can prove that he or she acquired them legally. Otherwise you are breaking the law!
  • Illegal trade in tropical timber is contributing to forest destruction and is bleeding poor countries of the revenue they could derive from regulated, sustainable logging efforts. Many hardware outlets are now selling only timbers that have independent certification from, for example, the Forest Stewardship Council. This is a welcome development so if you’re buying timber, check that the store has such certification.
  • If you are using alternative medicine, talk to your practitioner, especially if you are buying them abroad. Above all, avoid buying medicines containing tiger or bear derivatives, as these are almost invariably illegal and have no proven medical value.  (The increased focus on alternative medicines has revived the use of traditional remedies derived from plants and animals. A small proportion of these contain ingredients whose trade is regulated – e.g. orchid roots.)
  • Buy a compost bin and make your own compost or buy peat-free compost for your garden.
  • Join an environmental organisation – there are plenty listed on www.NoticeNature.ie
  • Make International Biodiversity Day (22nd May) a local event - you could hold nature walks/talks and help the community to notice nature in your area.