World Environment Day 2021: A look at the value of ecosystem restoration

Climate Change and Sustainability June 05, 2021

As our understanding of the global environment crisis improves, it has become increasingly apparent that ecosystem restoration offers many opportunities to tackle the encroaching deterioration of the natural environment. On Saturday 5 June, World Environment Day will mark this impetus for regeneration and restoration with a series of events hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme.

With the goal to “reset our relationship with nature”, World Environment Day 2021 will focus on the value of restoration across all ecosystems. Restoration offers hope not just for our rainforests and oceans, but also for our farmlands, wetlands, cities and beyond. The potential of ecosystem services to recover when supported through restoration initiatives presents a vital opportunity to change the path of our natural environment from one of deterioration to one of prosperity. A focus on restoration will have the effect of “preventing, healing and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”.

Amongst the many diverse ecosystems worldwide, wetlands are particularly valuable to the natural environment. Globally, approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015, diminishing the vital habitat and natural services these areas offer. In the UK, 90% of wetland ecosystems have been lost. Wetlands serve a multitude of important ecosystem services, including flood protection, erosion control and pollution filtration. The need to restore our deteriorating wetlands extends far beyond their capacity to reduce the severity of flooding events. While these areas act as natural buffers that soak up and store water, they are a dynamic habitat that supports a vast array of wildlife. A focus on restoration and protection of the world’s wetlands will maintain the rich feeding and resting grounds of migratory birds, the habitat corridors utilised by many native species, as well as providing breeding grounds for a diverse range of bird species. Up to 40% of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands, although now more than 25% of all wetlands plants and animals are at risk of extinction. A thriving wetland will also act as an effective carbon sink, naturally locking away carbon and filtering the water with its microbial life. Restoring deteriorating wetland will ensure these natural functions continue to provide essential services, provide a secure habitat for the country’s wildlife and offer potential to mitigate the accelerating impacts of global heating.

Similarly, active restoration of farmland offers great potential in protecting a declining environment. Half of all habitable land worldwide is used for agriculture and consequently, it is vital to ensure this area offers suitable habitat for neighbouring wildlife. The Wildlife Trust observes that many species have come to adapt to the farmland environment, however more recently, 60% of the UK’s farmland species have been found to be in decline. The story is much the same globally. Since 1989, France’s farmland bird populations have shrunk by a third. Since 1980, Europe’s total farmland-bird population shrunk by 300 million birds. And in Canada and the United States, 74 percent of farmland bird species shrank in number from 1966 to 2013. Intensification of food production, which has led to a dependence on chemicals, monoculture cropping, and surrounding habitat degradation, has put considerable pressure on native wildlife as well as causing wider environmental issues. Changes in agricultural practice to mitigate this loss of food sources and habitat for wildlife will regenerate a diverse environment. The more diverse our farmlands and surround landscape, the stronger the buffer against the impacts of environmental changes.

Forging a space for wildlife to return is also crucial in the restoration of urban green spaces. In the UK, it is estimated that the nation’s gardens and urban green spaces account for a larger area than all reserves combined. 33% of London is public green space (parks and gardens). Worldwide these figures are also significant: Barcelona, 11%; Edinburgh, 19%; Brussels, 18.8%; Hong Kong 40%; New York, 27%; Paris, 9.5%; Johannesburg, 24%.  Nurturing these spaces in our cities and towns will be vital to species restoration and offer significant health and well-being benefits. Greener cities, with diverse flora and fauna will significantly improve air quality, store carbon and reduce the intensity of heat in so called “heat islands”. A drive to green our urban spaces, restoring the plant species in our gardens and parks, will create healthy spaces not just for people, but for the planet too. A resurgence in urban biodiversity will have a far-reaching impact by supporting the wildlife that is currently threatened in the concrete city space.

RSK prides itself on its long-standing commitment to environmental and sustainability goals. Signing the Pledge to Net Zero and joining the Science Based Targets initiative earlier this year, RSK is committed to ensuring it maintains a sustainable foot print, preserving and regenerating the environment for generations to come. Ecosystem restoration is a vital area of RSK’s work to ensure this is achieved inline with these commitments.

For more information about the global events to mark this year’s World Environment Day, please visit the website.