Can we allow nature to regenerate without intervention?

Biodiversity loss is a complex issue involving many overlapping processes. While nature can recover when left to do so, it requires dramatic changes in our behaviour for this to happen. Creating large, protected areas is not practical in many landscapes as our lives are so entwined with nature. Instead, it will require better management of natural resources and landscapes.

When allowed to regenerate naturally, forests and grasslands can become home to higher levels of biodiversity than those that have been planted by humans, although in some places like the UK even ancient forest which is now recognised as a haven for biodiversity was originally planted or managed by people. Well-informed management can do better than nature when the areas for regeneration are limited. 

According to some estimates, however, an additional 35% of land area will need protection on top of the 15% already protected if further biodiversity loss is to be avoided. Setting aside that much land may be challenging as humanity is estimated to be overusing our planet's resources to the point where we will need 1.6 Earths to meet our demands sustainably. There is much debate on where those additional protected areas should be.

If we want ecosystems to persist and regenerate, we will need to give them a helping hand by finding ways of living and working alongside nature. To do this, systematic conservation planning will be needed at both regional and global scales to preserve biodiversity. Fisheries too will need to be managed in more sustainable ways. 

Science plays a very significant role in identifying and developing the best ways to help. Growing crops in more land-efficient and water efficient ways can help to ease the pressure on biodiversity. Techniques such as precision farming and targeted fertiliser application can reduce the environmental footprint of farming in some regions. 

Implementing nature-based measures that restore natural ecosystems can also benefit human populations and help to tackle climate change by, for example, storing carbon. Some ecosystems have healthy biodiversity thanks to land management by local people rather than in spite of it. Techniques employed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Brazil and Canada – such as using plants that are best suited to promote natural regeneration and the recovery of species after an area of forest has been used for cultivation – have been found to sustain high levels of biodiversity by reducing deforestation and habitat degradation. 

To find out more visit: Why efforts to address climate change through nature-based solutions must support both biodiversity and people | Royal Society; Demographic trends and policy options | Royal Society; Preserving global biodiversity requires rapid agricultural improvements | Royal Society