Why are habitats so important?

Today many people lead busy and often stressful lives, surrounded by modern technology including air conditioning, cars, central heating, computers, digital television, high speed trains, mobile phones and the internet, and have lost touch with the natural environment, do not see or appreciate it, take it for granted, and may even think that habitats and their native flora and fauna are expendable.

What are habitats?

Plants grow in association with other plants and the communities they form are called habitats, or vegetation types, and include woodland, grassland, heath, peat bog, marsh, swamp, aquatic vegetation, sand dunes and saltmarsh. Different species of plants and animals live in different habitats, and the places that the plants and animals occupy in their habitat is called a niche. Some animals use more than one habitat at different times of the year, or for different purposes, e.g. Swallows and Cuckoos spend the autumn and winter in Africa but come to the UK in the spring and summer to breed, ground-nesting birds such as Golden Plover breed on the hills but spend the winter in lowland fields and on the coast, Bewick and Whooper Swans spend the summer in Scandinavia but come to the UK for the winter.

Why are habitats important?

Some of the reasons are:

  • Plants produce the oxygen that we breathe, through the process of photosynthesis;
  • It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population employs herbs as primary medicines. 40% of the pharmaceuticals in use in the US today are plant based. Everyday medicines such as Aspirin and Penicillin originate from willow and fungi. Mother Nature is providing cures for cancer;
  • A small number of plants, and grasses in particular, provide the staple diet for the majority of people, especially barley, oats, potatoes, rice, rye and wheat;
  • The animals that we eat in the UK are vegetarian and largely eat forages (grass and other vegetation), cereals and other home-grown crops, as well as some compound foodstuffs and products from the human food and brewing industries;
  • Economically-important fruit crops such as apples and pears, berries and cherries, damsons and plums, are pollinated by invertebrates;
  • The landscape, flora and fauna have inspired artists, poets, songwriters and writers to draw, paint and photograph, right books, poems, stories and songs;
  • Trees and woodlands help alleviate flooding, filter air pollution, provide shade and shelter, reduce noise pollution and screen unsightly buildings or operations;
  • Nature is now being recognised by the medical and psychological profession as being important for our health and well-being, e.g. Contact with nature can reduce stress levels and patients in hospital recover more quickly if the view out of the window includes vegetation;
  • Working animals such as horses & ponies, guide dogs & sheep dogs, & our pets, are descended from wild animals and the ancient lineage and DNA is an important part of biodiversity;
  • Our one species, Homo sapiens, is completely and utterly dependent upon the variety of life on earth, our one and only home. We should not live a part from nature, because we are very much a part of it.