From the smallest insect to the enormous great whale, and from the lowliest fungus to the largest tree, the earth is home to a vast array of plants and animals. This variety of life, which includes every living species of plant and animal, and also includes the genes that make them what they are and the communities that they form, is known as biodiversity.

Why is it important?
Biodiversity provides the basic ingredients for our quality of life - our food and our clothing, our health and our relaxation. All our food comes from plants and animals. We still make use of some wild plants and animals, but most of our food comes from farm crops and animals. All of these, however, originated from wild ancestors and were ‘improved’ by selective breeding. Sometimes, however, these ~improved’ species lack the ability to fight disease and we often need their wild relatives to supply the genes that give them resistance. Much of our medical care depends on wild plants and, occasionally, animals. Indeed our agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, which are of immense economic importance to us, rely heavily on biodiversity. So we need to maintain biodiversity because of its potential use in feeding and clothing us, keeping us healthy and its importance to our economic development. Today the earth’s environment is changing more rapidly than ever before, largely because of human activity. Plants and animals do evolve and adapt to change, but they can only adapt when there are enough of them to maintain a healthy genetic mix. All the animals and plants in the world depend, in different ways, on other species. If one species is lost - if it becomes extinct - then other species suffer too and that includes us!

Not just a local issue!
The loss of a species from an area may have far reaching effects. Many animals migrate over long distances and depend on the plants and other animals that live indifferent parts of the world: wildlife knows no political boundaries. So it is important that all the countries of the world work together to maintain the variety of life.

How can we keep this variety of life?
In 1992 over 150 countries attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and signed the Convention on Biological Diversity. Each of the countries agreed to
produce action plans and programmes to conserve biodiversity. A Biodiversity Action Plan has been developed for the UK and SNH is making an important contribution to it.

How are we maintaining biodiversity in Scotland?
SNH promotes policies which aim to maintain biodiversity in Scotland. But it
is not just up to experts and professionals - it’s up to all of us and in all our interests. Most of SNH’s programmes and projects are partnerships: sometimes with the owners and managers of land; sometimes with industry, local authorities, communities and voluntary groups.

We all need a home
Every animal and plant needs a home and particular conditions for their survival. And this is where everyone can help.
Nature is not just in the countryside - it’s all around. Our cities provide plenty of opportunities to recreate habitats for wild animals to live in. There
are many ways in which individuals and groups can get involved. For example, in Edinburgh a group of volunteers revitalised the Water of Leith which is now home to kingfishers - an enchanting sight in the heart of the city. In the wider countryside SNH provides grants and promotes projects such as the Firths Initiative and the Countryside Around Towns Scheme to encourage practices that enhance and maintain biodiversity, so that wildlife may no longer be rare and need special protection. In the meantime, however, the designation and management of particularly vulnerable habitats has an important role. Throughout Europe, on land and at sea, a network of protected areas is being set up to protect our most precious habitats. This network will be made up of Natura 2000 areas and will build on the existing network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Where a helping hand is needed
Over the years many of Scotland’s plant’s and animals have lost their habitats; some now face extinction. For these threatened species, careful management of their habitats and even legal protection are not enough to allow them to survive – they need a helping hand. 

We all matter
Humans, animals and plants all need to live together side by side. So when we think about biodiversity we should remember that while we must look after nature we must also think about our social, economic and recreational needs.

(Taken from “Biodiversity: The variety of life” by SNH)