Biodiversity is short for biological diversity and means the variety of all life on earth. Biodiversity includes every living thing; plants, animals, fungi, algae, bacteria, even viruses. It includes rare species and common ones, and you can look at the biodiversity of a whole continent, or a small location like a single field.
A species with a bigger ‘gene pool’ is more able to adapt when its environment changes through disease, climate or pollution. Some of the most obvious examples of genetic diversity within a species are differences in colour, size, shape or behaviour.
This is the number of different species in a particular area. For example, the different species of bacteria, algae, plants, invertebrates (e.g. worms, flies, dragonflies, snails, leeches, etc.) and vertebrates (fish, birds, mammals) associated with a lake or river.
Communities of plants and animals interconnect with each other and with their environment. For example, in a river there is a complex web of interactions between bacteria, algae, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates and non-living factors such as light levels, temperature, sediments and water chemistry. All of these things together make up the river ecosystem. As well as rivers and lakes, Powys has woodland, grassland and moorland ecosystems.
The diversity present within a species (genetic diversity)
The number of different species (species diversity)
The number of different habitats that contain different communities of plants and animals (ecosystem diversity)
Biodiversity is essential for human life. It provides us with food, shelter, fuel and medicines and is the inspiration for some of today’s developing technologies. Biodiversity enhances our landscape and our sense of health and well-being. Plants that lived millions of years ago provide us with coal, oil and gas today. Plants also give us fuel in the form of wood, peat, grass and sugar cane. Plastics and synthetic materials were originally made from oil and, therefore, from plants.
The huge variety of plants and animals provides us with food – we depend not only on the plants and animals we eat but also on insects that pollinate our food, for example. We need to maintain the genetic diversity of fruit and vegetable varieties so we can keep growing them as our climate changes, and cope with outbreaks of pests and diseases.
The natural world provides the basis for many modern medicines for all sorts of conditions from headaches and digestive ailments to malaria, cancers and heart disease. Even the most unappealing species can be of tremendous value. The mould Penicillin notatum provided the very first antibiotic and, together with other micro-organisms, has saved millions of lives.
Ecosystems as a whole provide our fresh water and pollinators for our food crops, alleviate flooding, store carbon away from the atmosphere and offer us great recreation opportunities and valuable income from tourism.
The way we live in the modern world means that species and habitats are being lost at an alarming rate. Most people probably don’t realise that 98% of our traditional meadows have already been lost. These grasslands take hundreds of years to develop, and once they’re gone they no longer provide the diverse range and number of countryside flowers that insects, such as bees, need to survive. Without bees and other pollinating insects we couldn’t produce most of the fruits, vegetables and other plants that we take for granted.
To meet the nature conservation aims of the UK BAP, we need to take action across the whole of UK, including Wales. Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) have been produced for many UK counties and national parks to prioritise action at a local level. There are two LBAPs covering Powys; one for the Brecon Beacons National Park and one for the rest of Powys, ‘Our Partnership with Nature: A Local Biodiversity Action Plan for Powys’, which was published in 2002. Action taken to conserve biodiversity within Powys will contribute to the protection of natural resources within Wales, the UK and the rest of the world.