June will see the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, at which the Convention on Biological Diversity was presented. This has driven much of the current thinking on biodiversity conservation, biodiversity action plans and targets to achieve. And yet people still do not understand what the word biodiversity means or why professional ecologists continue to use it.
There have been many hours spent, by some very large conservation brains, trying to come up with a better word. Wildlife – too fluffy animal, doesn’t include the fungi? Nature – too sweet and Victorian, does not cover bacteria and other unmentionables? Conservation – describes the activity not the object and could include Stonehenge or the local Leonardo da Vinci as well as dormice.
So it seems we are stuck with biodiversity at the moment. The complaint is that people do not understand, it is too jargony, we should converse in more user friendly language. Well, yes, we should always try to speak in terms that are understandable but the lack of comprehension of the full meaning of RAM or the difference in performance of dual core versus quad core processors has not stopped the burgeoning laptop industry. Actually, perhaps what we have to do is use it more and explain it better?
Biodiversity is actually a made up word, a contraction of the words Biological Diversity and an attempt to convey the importance of all life – be it beast or bug or plant. Use of the word biodiversity has been around for twenty years and is used to describe the variety of all life on the planet, from genetic variation within species to the large numbers of different species and the various habitats that populate the world. More than that was the recognition that biodiversity in all its myriad forms was important to the world and we should worry when we lost it.
We can use the term woodland biodiversity or the biodiversity of an upland ash wood to encompass everything that occurs in that wood, rather than having to detail the individual hover flies or fungi. The term can also include the species that we do not yet have names for but believe are a vital part of the ecosystem (ah, ecosystem, another confusing term – but one for another blog, not this one!)
All in all a very useful word and one we should make more use of.
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer