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Zafer Kizilkaya

Zafer Kizilkaya

Biodiversity – It's more than just a 12-letter word

Written by: Tim Knight

Biodiversity. That word is required to do a lot of heavy lifting. How can you hope to encapsulate the quintessence of nature – its teeming abundance, bewildering variety, breathtaking beauty, sheer exuberance and crucial importance – in only six syllables?

Fauna & Flora Senior Writer Tim Knight explains what it encapsulates for him.

Ultimately, words are inadequate to convey what we feel when we’re confronted with life on Earth in all its glory: towering redwood trees; the unfathomable song of the whale; a pocket-sized tsunami of rampaging army ants; the quirkiness of the kiwi; monarch butterflies in their millions gilding a Mexican pinewood; a raging river’s raw power; the jaw-dropping plumage of a peacock; a cheetah in top gear; the mind-blowing mimicry of an orchid mantis; kaleidoscopic coral reefs; the heart-stopping stoop of a falcon in free fall; luminous fungi lighting up the rainforest night.

Close-up of the iridescent wings of a swallowtail butterfly. Credit: Jeremy Holden/Fauna & Flora International

Close-up of the iridescent wings of a swallowtail butterfly. Credit: Jeremy Holden/Fauna & Flora

Dictionary definitions cannot begin to do justice to these natural wonders. What we can say is that the human connection with the natural world resonates at a deeply spiritual, atavistic level, whether we’re armchair naturalists sitting spellbound in front of a Sir David Attenborough wildlife documentary, or Indigenous communities who rely on the fruits of the forest for survival.

Nature is dying

When we talk about biodiversity loss, it’s worth reminding ourselves what lies behind that rather abstract term. The destruction and depletion of the natural world impoverishes us all – and on so many levels. And this crisis is unfolding before our eyes. We live in a world where habitat loss and species extinctions are threatening to reach unprecedented levels.

Chinese logging activities scar a remote wilderness in Myanmar. Credit: Jeremy Holden/Fauna & Flora International

Logging activities scar a remote wilderness in Myanmar. Credit: Jeremy Holden/Fauna & Flora

Deforestation, urban and agricultural expansion, unsustainable fishing practices and extractive industrial activities, together with pollution and the spread of invasive species, are taking a devastating toll. The situation is exacerbated by our changing climate and the heatwaves, severe storms, wildfires, droughts and floods to which it gives rise. We are pushing nature to the brink of collapse, unpicking the rich tapestry of life on which we all ultimately depend.

Biodiversity is more than just a word in the conservationist’s lexicon. We rely in it for health, food security and the other life-support functions that it provides, not least as a crucial natural ally in our fight to combat the climate crisis. Today, it matters more than ever. When we lose biodiversity, we’re not only waving goodbye to the myriad life forms that enrich our time on this planet, but also destabilising and jeopardising the very processes that underpin all life on Earth.

Kaieteur waterfall, Kaieteur, Guyana.

Healthy and stable ecosystems are what makes our planet tick. Credit: Jeremy Holden/Fauna & Flora

We’re in this together

In the face of this existential threat, the conservation movement has done everything in its power to hold the line and to raise the alarm. Obviously, we need the world – and global leaders in particular – to act with us. In the meantime, Fauna & Flora and our partners are redoubling our efforts to protect and restore what we can, while we can.

The good news is that the wider world has become increasingly engaged, providing us with a window of opportunity, albeit a brief one. There is broad acknowledgement that the climate and biodiversity crises are two sides of the same coin and, as such, need to be tackled hand in hand, not separately. Once a fringe issue, biodiversity loss is now front and centre in the global consciousness. Doors are opening. Opportunities for more courageous conversations and bolder decisions are presenting themselves.

There is still time to repair the damage we’ve inflicted on the worldwide web of life. Credit: Edward Marshall/Fauna & Flora

Conference calls

The long-awaited biodiversity conference, COP15, was finally held in Montreal in late 2022. The biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, COP15 came hot on the heels of the latest UN climate conference, COP27, which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The twin crises that these two extended meetings were intended to address are fundamentally inseparable. Widespread species loss and wholesale habitat destruction are exacerbating the climate emergency, which in turn destabilises and degrades the natural life-support systems that are essential to our survival.

Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

The climate emergency is having a disproportionately severe impact on communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/Fauna & Flora

So much rides on the decisions made at global gatherings such as these. The most recent ones took place against a backdrop of increasing conflict, economic hardship, biodiversity meltdown and apocalyptic droughts, floods and wildfires. As Montreal’s favourite son Leonard Cohen once said: I’ve seen the future, brother; it is murder.

Well, yes, but it doesn’t have to be. Our fate is still in our own hands, and it’s never too late to join the fight for the future of the planet.

Carry on conserving

Conference pledges, even when not watered down with caveats, are never the silver bullet we would wish them to be. But irrespective of the outcome of these and future high-level talks, Fauna & Flora’s brand of locally led conservation will continue to fly the flag for the world’s biodiversity and to support concerted, collective action on the ground to tackle the climate crisis.

Saiga saga - Signs of hope for the yo-yoing antelope 2

Field staff from FFI’s in-country partner ACBK weigh a newborn saiga calf on the Ustyurt Plateau, Kazakhstan. Credit: Bakhtiyar Taikenov/ACBK

Rather than waiting for the miracle, at Fauna & Flora we’re redoubling our efforts to support our partners and all their crucial work at grass-roots level – work that offers a genuine ray of hope and points the way forward.

Forget your perfect offering. As Leonard reminded us, there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Saving nature together

Too many species are in grave danger of being wiped off the face of the Earth. Like the threads in a tapestry, every last one of them is a vital part of the bigger picture.

Please support our work to protect the biodiversity on which we all depend – before it’s too late.

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Tim Knight profile picture

Tim Knight

Senior Writer

Tim has worked closely with Fauna & Flora since 1999. He has edited Fauna & Flora magazine since its inception in 2001 and is the author of With Honourable Intent, the definitive history of Fauna & Flora, published in 2017.