World Wildlife Day 2022: Ecosystem Restoration in the UK

A common blue butterfly sitting on a stalk of lavender.It’s World Wildlife Day, a day for celebrating the Earth’s biodiversity of life. This year, the theme is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”. Earth is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, the sixth mass extinction event of the planet’s history (the last one was the one that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs, to give some perspective). The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day couldn’t be more appropriate. The latest IPCC report on climate change points out that our way of life relies on the health of ecosystems around the world - ecosystems which are currently under threat.

What makes a key species?


Key species are those that need to be prioritised in conservation efforts. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that more than one million species are under threat of extinction globally, with human actions largely responsible. Wild habitats don’t just look pretty, we rely on them in more ways than you might think. Water, food, medicine, homes; all are linked in some way or another to the fate of our wild ecosystems. 


Why is ecosystem restoration so important?

A pathway running through a temperate rainforest.

The UK is home to some of the rarest and most fragile habitats on the planet. There are just 210 chalk streams anywhere in the world, and 160 of them are found in England. Chalk streams not only provide a habitat for a vast array of wildlife, they can also reduce the impact of flooding by carrying away excess water. We are also home to temperate rainforests, an ecosystem rarer and possibly more threatened than tropical rainforests. Temperate rainforests are among the most biodiverse habitats anywhere in the world. Lichens, fungi, bryophytes, and many animal species rely on them for survival, and they’re the last suitable habitat left for a number of species.


Humans have been managing landscapes for many thousands of years. In a lot of places, human intervention has actually improved the quality of a habitat. Today, however, we’re at real risk of going too far and irreparably damaging the systems we depend upon for survival.


Half of the world’s habitable land is given over to agriculture. Over three quarters of this is used to raise livestock for meat production - just one of the reasons why reducing your meat consumption is one of the best things you can do for the environment. The UK has very few truly ‘wild’ habitats left, and those that remain are vulnerable to destruction. 


Habitats are inextricably linked with the survival of the species that reside in them. Pick the right species to conserve, and you can protect many more at the same time. These are known as ‘umbrella species’. Giant pandas are one example of an umbrella species; they require the preservation of swathes of mountain habitat in order to survive. By choosing to protect giant pandas, all the other species that live in the same habitat can be protected too.


In the UK, one such umbrella species might be the European stone-curlew. Preserving suitable breeding habitats for these rare visitors might be key to protecting countless other species that also thrive in the same ecosystems.


How can you help?

Tackling biodiversity loss often seems like an insurmountable challenge. But there are many things we can all do to make a difference. Charities such as the Wildlife Trusts and the BTO work tirelessly to protect nature in the UK - consider donating or volunteering your time to support their activities. Research local conservation projects near you and ask about ways to get involved. Or simply make it a goal to spread the word and educate as many people as you can about habitat restoration.