Habitat loss poses arguably the greatest threat to the world’s biodiversity. Our impact on the planet has never been greater, and human activity has become the dominant influence on our environment and climate. We are inflicting unprecedented changes on the natural habitats on which wildlife depends, through deforestation and destructive fishing, the burning of fossil fuels, industrial-scale mining activities and land-use changes for agricultural expansion. The statistics speak for themselves: in Indonesia alone, over six million hectares of primary forest – an area twice the size of Belgium – were lost between 2000 and 2012. Globally, a third of all forest cover has now been cleared and another 20% has been degraded.
of reefs are threatened as a result of threats driven by humankind, including unsustainable fishing, pollution, anchor damage and climate change.
acres of tropical rainforest are estimated to be lost every day, along with a further 80,000 acres that are significantly degraded on a daily basis.
Nowhere left to call home
As wetlands are drained, limestone hills are quarried, forests are felled and coral reefs razed, ever-growing numbers of plants and animals are running out of suitable habitat; being rendered homeless, in effect. The most recent IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorises almost 8,000 species of fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal and bird as globally threatened, with habitat loss a recurring theme.
The conversion and degradation of natural habitat adversely affects biodiversity in a number of ways, some dramatic and obvious, others more insidious. Habitat loss not only jeopardises the survival of individual species, but also destabilises the complex interactions between organisms and undermines the ability of ecosystems to function effectively as a whole. These impacts are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, especially in species-rich areas.
Habitat destruction is an assault on the very fabric of our natural world. We urgently need to find ways to slow down and reverse this process before the intricate tapestry of life on Earth begins to unravel and species are irretrievably lost. Historically, the designation of protected areas has proved effective in safeguarding pockets of threatened habitat, but it is only one piece of the jigsaw. The complexity of the bigger picture calls for a multifaceted approach.
Our work to tackle habitat loss
The threats and circumstances of each conservation challenge are unique. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) uses a range of approaches to address the causes of habitat loss. Central to all of these approaches is our commitment to working with local partners to ensure that solutions are sustainable and take full account of the social, cultural, economic and political context in which we are operating.
Recognising that tackling such an enormous problem required a proportionately large response, FFI joined forces with Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin – to establish Halcyon Land & Sea, a large-scale initiative designed to curb the loss of critical biodiversity-rich habitat. Later joined by Hugh Sloane, Halcyon Land & Sea enabled FFI to safeguard 9.5 million hectares of critical habitat in its first two decades, including many areas that were in imminent danger of destruction. Crucially, where we have purchased land to safeguard it, the rights have then been entrusted to local ownership as soon as our partners have been equipped with the necessary skills and capacity to manage these sites independently.
Overall, this incredible initiative has allowed us to influence the conservation of some 55.8 million hectares of habitat – an area almost the size of Kenya – with interventions ranging from straightforward site management support to stimulating local livelihood and enterprise initiatives that generate direct income for the surrounding communities.
However, it is safe to say that habitat conservation is inherent in almost every facet of our work – from engaging with governments to ensure that critical ecosystems are adequately protected, to supporting more effective management of protected areas and championing the role of communities in sustainable resource management, to direct species interventions that depend on effective habitat protection as a key element of success.
“Protecting habitat is a complex process, requiring anything from changes in management practices on the ground to changes in overarching legislation. We look at each site on a case-by-case basis, aiming to understand why it is threatened and what action is needed to protect it, and develop a unique intervention to ensure these habitats can survive into the long term – be it through land purchase, establishing community tenure or rights, putting in place active patrols, or removing invasive species.”
Learn more about our approach to tackling habitat loss
What you can do
Protecting critical habitat will be crucial if we are to save species like the Sumatran tiger and all those who share its ecosystem, but we can’t do it without your help. As a charity, we depend on the support of our members to ensure that we can tackle the threats to our natural world. Please support us today.
There is no doubt that our planet is under pressure as never before. Learn about some of the conservation challenges we need to tackle, and how you can help.