By Monica Bhatia
It is clear to see that so much of what we humans have on earth is given to us by the natural world – many of these are what keep us alive! So if the services that ecosystems provide us are so important, surely we should be doing everything in our power to keep these ecosystems alive and healthy. Unfortunately this isn’t always a priority. So let’s discuss ecosystem services, and the nature based solutions to keep them functioning.
To begin, it is key that we understand the components; an ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms within their physical environment and a service is a system supplying a public need. Therefore an ecosystem service can be defined as the benefits to humans provided by these ecosystems.
Before we continue, let’s look at the main ecosystems that make our lives oh so wonderful:
- Tropical rainforest
- Temperate forest
- Boreal forest
- Tropical grassland
- Temperate grassland
Now, what are the main ecosystem services? They can be split into four main categories:
1 – Provisioning services
These are the tangible goods produced or provided by ecosystems. One example of this is food, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which not only provides us food on a basis of survival. Another example is fuel wood, and this benefits not only individuals in regards to heat for cooking but also allows unusable wood excess to find a home and reduce waste.
2 – Regulating services
These are the benefits we gain from the regulation of ecosystem processes (regulation meaning the act of something being maintained by an authority). Examples of regulating services include pest regulation, climate regulation, and pollination. What is key to note when looking at these is the fact that we could not live without them; if pests were not regulated, crops would be devastated or even wiped out; if the climate wasn’t regulated, the earth’s surface temperature would soar even quicker, making the planet simply inhospitable sooner than is already predicted and if pollination wasn’t to take place, the habitats that wildlife rely on for food and shelter may not even exist.
Without pest predators like birds, plant life would likely struggle to feed our global populations because pests adore munching away on plants.
3 – Cultural services
These are the non-material benefits we withdraw from ecosystems, such as a spiritual, recreational, aesthetic and educational gain. While, unlike the provisioning and regulating services, our lives don’t necessarily depend on cultural services, they provide a different type of gain; it allows traditions to be withheld throughout decades, allows families and friends to bond in the outdoors, provides self peace and joy, and allows you to educate yourself with a more holistic understanding of the world.
Did you know, just 20 minutes spent outdoors can significantly lower your stress levels?
Simply, nature provides a stunning view; just look at those trees – and mountains – and that lake!
There are an estimated 413 ecosystems in the world. That is 413 things to learn about!
4 – Support services
These are the factors necessary for maintaining these ecosystem services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling. If these biological processes didn’t exist, nor would the animals and environments that produce all of the gains mentioned above, and our lives would be nowhere near what they are right now.
In the same way that bricks and cement build solid foundations for our houses, nutrients and soil build up ecosystems – it’s like a construction matrial!
At this point you might be thinking, we have all of this already, and we will in years to come, so what are we trying to solve? People think this because the things mentioned above such as food and wood fuel are labelled as “renewable”. If a resource is renewable, it is meant to mean we will always be able to have it, however, this is often not the case. It can happen where over exploitation occurs – thinking it’ll never run out – yet an infinite resource can turn finite. Why don’t we look at an example:
Trees. We can always plant them, and the world is full of them. The fact that they can be grown again and again means that they are an infinite resource. Wood is in demand as we use it for heating and energy, so we cut it down. If we cut down the trees at a faster rate than we can grow them back, there is a possibility of there being a period where there are no trees (as we would still be waiting for more to grow). If you’re a bit business savvy, you could even call it supply and demand.
So now we know where our issue lies, we can begin to ponder the solutions, and more specifically, the nature based solutions. Nature based solutions are actions that work with and enhance nature to help address social challenges. The solution begins with us – we need to take on lifestyles where we withdraw the gifts of nature that we need to survive, while allowing it to flourish and recover between periods where we take from it. If you are reading this article, I can assume that you are intrigued as to what the nature based solutions to ecosystem loss are – they can be carried out on an individual, organisational or governmental scale, but considering you may want to make a change, let’s begin with the steps you can take.
It is all about consumption really. More or less everything we buy, eat or wear is a derivative of nature, even if it isn’t so obvious, somewhere down the supply chain of the products you own, an ecosystem service comes into play. There are two main questions we can ask ourselves; what do we buy/consume, and how much do we buy/consume. You should always check when buying natural products that they are derived ethically, in a way that doesn’t harm the ecosystem it comes from, here are some marks to look out for that ensure that your product is doing as little damage as possible:
Additionally, we just need to buy less if it is derived from nature – remember how we mentioned supply and demand? We need to give what we take away time to be replenished. If you want to go all the way and make as little interruptions in ecosystems as possible, consider some lifestyle changes; ensure your home runs on renewable energy sources, or install a smart meter so you can keep an eye on what you use.
When we talk about organisations, we are discussing amazing groups such as the WWF, which collect funds in order to preserve these habitats and shield them from being exploited. This trend has developed and progressed into other organisations but this needs to be a more commonplace practice for businesses.
But where the most influence is held, is in our governments. If stricter environmental rules were insisted upon, we wouldn’t have products that are not ethically sourced in a way that is as unobtrusive as possible, as it simply wouldn’t be allowed – yet laws and policymakers often turn a blind eye and allow too much to be derived in the wrong way (often only focusing on economic benefit), meaning we are losing many more ecosystems than we should. (speaking your mind is the best way to show a government that you disagree with a policy – sign petitions at www.gov.uk > petition-government, or maybe express your views in an instagram post and tag @borisjohnsonuk @ukgovofficial and @ukparliment !)
I would like to thank you so much for reading, I hope I have done a decent job in educating you on ecosystems and nature based solutions – stay safe, and stay caring for the planet 🙂
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