In the life sciences, action taken to protect and preserve the natural world, usually from pollution, overexploitation, and other harmful features of human activity. The late 1980s saw a great increase in public concern for the environment, with membership of conservation groups, such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the US Sierra Club, rising sharply and making the green movement an increasingly-powerful political force. Globally the most important issues include the depletion of atmospheric ozone by the action of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (thought to contribute to the greenhouse effect), and deforestation.
Conservation may be necessary to prevent an endangered species from dying out in an area or even becoming extinct.
But conservation of particular habitats may be as important, if not more important. Habitat loss is believed to be the main cause of the great reduction of biodiversity and the rate of extinction occurring on Earth. There is concern about loss of species and biodiversity, because living organisms contribute to human health, wealth, and happiness in several ways. Humans often enjoy being in natural environments, especially those who spend much of their lives in towns and cities. Human cultures may be dependent on the natural environment to sustain them and maintain a stable society. This is particularly true of societies in the developing world. There is also an economic argument for conservation. It is believed that many undiscovered useful chemicals may exist within organisms on Earth that could be developed into important drugs – but when a plant or animal becomes extinct, the chemicals it contains are also lost.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) publishes annual reports on endangered species, known as the Red List.
UK conservation groups The first conservation groups in Britain include the Commons Preservation Society (1865) in London, which fought successfully against the enclosure of Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest; the National Footpaths Preservation Society (1844); and the National Trust (1895). Government bodies with a role in conservation include English Heritage (1983), English Nature (1991), formerly the Nature Conservancy Council, and the Countryside Commission.
In the UK the conservation debate has centred on water quality, road-building schemes, the safety of nuclear power, and the ethical treatment of animals. Twelve coastal sites in Great Britain, including five Special Areas of Conservation, have been designated by the European Commission (EC) to be part of a network of Natura 2000 sites. The EC will provide funds to help preserve these sites from development, overfishing, and pollution, and to monitor rare plants. These sites include the north Northumberland coast, with its sea caves, its breeding population of grey seals in the Farne Islands, and Arctic species such as the wolf fish; the Wash and north Norfolk coast, with its population of common seals, waders, and wildfowl, and its extensive salt marshes; and Plymouth Sound and estuaries, with their submerged sandbanks.
‘Turning the Tide’ ‘Turning the Tide’ is a £10 million project, launched in 1997 by the Millennium Commission, to protect and restore Britain's only magnesian limestone cliffs, between Hartlepool and Sunderland. The area is rich in wild flowers, with grassland and denes (steep, wooded valleys). Intensive farming and the use of fertilizers have damaged the flora and fauna of the area. The beaches are polluted as a result of more than two centuries of coal-mining along the Durham coast. Waste from the mines was dumped into the sea and onto the beaches, leaving heaps of spoil 3.7–4.6 m/12–15 ft high. The restoration project aims to remove spoil from the beaches and return the cliffs to their natural grassland. Action by governments has been prompted and supplemented by private agencies, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. In attempts to save particular species or habitats, a distinction is often made between preservation – that is, maintaining the pristine state of nature exactly as it was or might have been – and conservation, the management of natural resources in such a way as to integrate the requirements of the local human population with those of the animals, plants, or the habitat being conserved.
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Conservation has roots in economics, owing to concerns about the possible depletion of resources brought about by overhunting, overharvesting,...
Conservation describes the use of the resources of the Earth in a way that is not wasteful or destructive. It involves environmental...