SoNaRR2020: Ecosystems are resilient to expected and unforeseen change

Our assessment of SMNR aim 2

The well-being of humans around the planet is threatened by an ecological and environmental breakdown. Time is running out to respond to this crisis and avoid a catastrophic situation for Wales and the world.

Building the resilience of ecosystems must form the basis of a swift and immediate response.

A resilient ecosystem is:

An environment that can respond to pressures by resisting, recovering or adapting to change; and is able to continue to provide natural resources and benefits to people.

Assessment of ecosystem resilience

Assessing ecosystem resilience is complex, our assessment has tried to detect patterns emerging across the national landscape by collating expert judgements for each ecosystem. There is no method for quantifying baseline or absolute resilience so ratings of low, medium and high were given to each attribute based on the criteria of diversity, extent, condition and connectivity.

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Diversity

Diversity matters at every level and scale, from genes to species, and from habitats to landscapes. It supports the complexity of ecosystem functions and interactions that deliver services and benefits.

Most habitat types have seen a reduction in diversity over the last 100 years, with the rate of decline increasing from the 1970s onwards.

This indicates that ecosystems are not resilient, and many species are not recovering. If diversity continues to be lost, then it may result in the collapse of ecosystems and the services they provide.

Extent

The size of an ecosystem will affect its capacity to adapt, recover or resist disturbance. Fewer species can survive in a smaller area, and the number of species is altered when habitat is lost, leading to species loss and ecosystem decay.

31% of Wales is considered to be semi-natural habitat. At least 40% of Welsh habitats are spread out in such small patches that this implies low resilience.

Condition

The condition of an ecosystem is assessed using biological and environmental factors linked to habitats and species.

Very few Welsh habitats are reported as being in good condition due to a number of pressures. Freshwater habitats, for example, are mainly affected by nutrient enrichment and physical modifications.

Connectivity

Connectivity is the link between and within habitats. For wildlife, it is related to the distance an animal can move to feed, breed and complete life cycles which may need different environments. It can take the form of natural corridors, stepping-stones or patches between the same or related vegetation types.

Environmental factors such as geology, soil type or movement of water affect a landscape’s connectivity.

In Wales connectivity is at its lowest in lowland habitats where the landscape has been simplified by the loss of semi-natural habitats and intensively managed land dominates.

Opportunities for action

To achieve the SMNR aim of resilient ecosystems, Wales needs to place nature at the centre of decision making. We have identified five priority opportunities for action:

Develop the assessment of ecosystem resilience

Assessing ecosystem resilience is complex, and there are few relevant published tools or methods available to measure ecosystem resilience at a national scale.

Effective ecosystem management

Ecological resilience can be improved by maintaining and enhancing habitats and species to aid the recovery of biodiversity and restore functionality to ecosystems.

Build on Wales’s policy framework

Wales already has the policy framework to promote a healthy and resilient place for people and nature. In implementing the Future Generations, Environment and Planning Acts there are many opportunities to pursue Wales' ambition for sustainable development.

Optimising regulation

The resilience of ecosystems relies upon the regulation of activities that act as pressures on the environment. Controls are in place to regulate these activities, but there is a need to ensure that they are implemented consistently with the objective of sustainable management of natural resources.

Build wider engagement

A commitment to transformative change is needed from all parts of society. This can be achieved by wider engagement and working together on the importance of nature-based solutions, promotion and adoption of good practice, and more integrated policy interventions.

Download the full chapter of SoNaRR the sustainable management of natural resources, aim 2 - resilient ecosystems

Read our short guide on how we define and assess ecosystem resilience