Conservation is the preservation or restoration of wildlife and the natural environment.As the Earth has evolved, many species of plants and animals have become victims of climatic and evolutionary changes. However, there are already close to six billion people living on the planet and this number is constantly growing. This means that plants and animals are not only threatened by climate changes or natural evolutionary changes, but also by an ever-increasing range of human activities.
There are many threats to plants and animals posed by humans, including:
- Increased trade in animal and plant products, such as meat, fur, ivory and medicines
- More and more plant and animal habitats being destroyed or altered, making life for some species impossible
- Increased trade in live animals to be kept as pets or to be used in animal research
- Animals that have lived in their environment quite happily for a long time are now being forced to compete with new animals introduced by humans, such as rabbits, rats, goats, dogs and cats
- Climate change, contributing to the frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes
Why is conservation so important?
Biodiversity and ecological value
Human interference, through activities such as burning and clearing vegetation, can quickly upset the ecological balance between the plants and animals that live together within an ecosystem and the natural processes that take place there. By managing the impact of humans and conserving habitats effectively, we can protect not only a single species but also the flora and fauna of an entire ecosystem. On a global scale, this means we can maintain biodiversity and reduce the possibility of losing endangered species.
There is much to be said for the benefits of being surrounded by nature, and research suggests that it can have a positive impact on health. We all like to be able to visit the countryside and see nature in all its glory, and unless we conserve areas of outstanding natural beauty we will very soon not be able to do this.
Economic demands and economic value
Tropical rainforests provide sources of products that include exotic fruits, medicines and tropical hardwoods; these constitute a large proportion of international trade from developing countries. As a consequence, large areas of tropical rainforest habitat have been lost to deforestation. However, some practices, such as sustainable cocoa agriculture, are carried out in a way that contributes economically, socially and environmentally to the local communities in which it is grown.
The species that offers the greatest threat to the survival of many varieties of plants and animals is the human race. We are capable of causing dramatic damage to our environment, so surely we have a responsibility to protect and conserve the lives of other animal and plant species? If the exploitation of resources is limited and controlled, without the widespread and irreparable damage caused by the large-scale demand of multifunctional companies, this would enable the ecosystem to rejuvenate itself quickly. There may be species with valuable properties that we have not yet discovered, and by destroying these species we may be denying future generations.
What will happen if we don’t value conservation?
As a result of a lack of conservation of habitats, some species are now classified as endangered. There are, in fact, three levels of threat and categories used today. These are:
- Critically endangered
These classifications are based on the probability of extinction. The more likely it is that a species will become extinct, the more endangered it is classified as. It is believed that the number of seriously threatened species is at least 5,000 and this figure only reflects species we know about.
Extinction is a natural result of a species losing their niche, often being replaced by others. For example, after dinosaurs became extinct, a great diversification of mammals was seen. There is much debate about why the dinosaurs became extinct, but it is clear that it was a natural process. However, today, the most common cause of extinction is not nature but humans. Our activities have resulted in the loss of at least one vertebrate species every year for the last one hundred years. For example:
- The dodo became extinct in the 17th century because sailors killed them for sport, and cats, dogs and rats introduced to their island home attacked them.
- Steller’s sea cow, in the Bering Sea, became extinct because it was killed for food and oil. It was the largest known sea cow.
Protection of species in the wild
There is a pressing need to provide for the world’s endangered species. In response to this need, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES) came into force in 1975. The Convention is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. These controls require that all import, export, re-export and introduction from all of the species covered by the Convention have to be authorised through a licensing system. The species covered are:
- Those threatened by extinction
- Those not necessarily threatened by extinction, but in which trade must be controlled
- Those which are protected in at least one country which has asked other CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade
CITES has proven both successful and unsuccessful. It certainly increases people’s awareness of conservation issues, forces the strengthening of conservation measures, reduces demand for the products of endangered species and deters people for buying products of endangered species. But it also encourages the illegal trading of products on the ‘black market’ and it is almost impossible to measure whether it has contributed to the recovery in numbers of previously endangered species.
What can we do?
There are lots of ways that you can take positive action to help conserve threatened habitats and wildlife:
- Energy: If you reduce your use of electricity, you will make a difference by influencing the amount of fossil fuel burned in power stations.
- Rubbish and recycling: Did you know that every year an average household in the UK will throw away about one tonne of rubbish? All rubbish has to go somewhere, and complicated materials such as new plastics and some metals will not degrade for hundreds of years. Invariably, our rubbish ends up in landfill sites and will damage the local environment for many years to come. In order to reduce this problem, we need to reduce the demand for raw materials such as aluminium, paper and plastic. Less demand for paper means fewer areas are deforested, while less demand for aluminium reduces the need for mining (which causes huge swathes of natural habitats to be destroyed). Recycling is fundamentally important as it takes far less energy to re-use materials than it does to extract them from the Earth in the first place. We must all become more responsible in what we buy, how often we use things and what we do with our rubbish. After all, the world was not created just to house our rubbish.
- Animal products: We must all be more careful about reading the labels of things that we purchase – and if any part of a product comes from a wild animal (such as ivory) we should not buy it.
Download Conservation Project Plans:
Conservation Literacy Project Plans (Open Access)
- Literacy Project 1: Perfect Poetry (Foundation and Key Stage 1)
- Literacy Project 2: A Life Spent Saving the World (Key Stage 2)
- Literacy Project 3: What’s in the News? (Key Stage 2+)
- Literacy Project 4: Beastly Stories (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Literacy Project 5: Environmental Action (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Literacy Project 6: Perfect Posters (Key Stage 1 and 2)
Conservation Numeracy Project Plans
- Numeracy Project 1: Rubbish Survey (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Numeracy Project 2: Deadly Data (Key Stage 2)
- Numeracy Project 3: Mad Measurements (Key Stage 2)
- Numeracy Project 4: Water Conservation (Key Stages 1 and 2)
Conservation Science Project Plans
- Science Project 1: Animal Classification (Key Stage 1)
- Science Project 2: Feed the Birds (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Science Project 3: A Precious World (Key Stage 2)
- Science Project 4: Habitat Heaven (Key Stage 2)
Conservation Geography Project Plans
- Geography Project 1: Rescue the Rainforests (Key Stage 2)
- Geography Project 2: Road to Nowhere (Key Stage 2)
- Geography Project 3: Save Our Seasides (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Geography Project 4: Glorious Galapagos (Key Stage 2+)
Conservation Citizenship Project Plans
- Citizenship Project 1: Caring for Animals (Key Stages 1 and 2)
- Citizenship Project 2: What’s in the News? (Key Stage 2)
Conservation Art & Design Project Plans
- Art and Design Project 1: Special Sculptures (Foundation and Key Stage 1)
- Art and Design Project 2: African Animal Masks ( All Key Stages)
- Art and Design Project 3: A Sustainable Lunch (Key Stage 2)
- Art and Design Project 4: Captivating Calendars (Key Stage 1)