This version is for browsers with a low level of support for CSS.
Home Content Area
Biodiversity is a vital source of medicines, and a diverse landscape gives us quiet places to relax and unwind. Investing in biodiversity is a way of investing in our health.
One of nature's most spectacular medicines was discovered by the Nobel-prize-winning English bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming, back in 1928: in a strain of mould he discovered penicillin, the prototype for all antibiotics. The market value of that discovery is almost impossible to quantify. But biodiversity is not just an ever-ready source of new medicines (see box on page 18). Its health benefits are much wider-ranging thanks to its regenerating effect on mind and body. According to a WHO definition, health is much more than the mere absence of disease. Human health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being. Unspoilt landscapes and the biodiversity they harbour make a vital contribution to this, as numerous studies have confirmed. Considering the rising costs in the health care sector, promoting high-quality, biodiverse landscapes looks like an excellent investment.
Biodiversity for well-being. Medical researchers have long discussed the benefits of plants and animals in health care settings. For example, they can help to speed up recovery. A study demonstrated that patients with a view of trees and meadows regained their health more quickly than others who had a view of a plain brick wall.
To explore the interface between landscape and health, the Swiss Foundation for Landscape Conservation (SL-FP) joined forces with the Swiss Association of Doctors for the Environment (AEFU) to launch the project "Paysage à votre santé", supported by the FOEN among other sponsors. One of the project's first studies, carried out at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, verified that the landscape has more all-encompassing effects on health than was previously believed. Since biodiversity in the form of living organisms and habitats is an important element of the landscape, its conservation merits special priority. "Near-natural and diverse environments that are easily accessible and perceived as attractive by the population promote physical activity, have positive mental health benefits, improve concentration and reduce frustration, anger and stress," explains Pia Kläy of the FOEN's Landscape and Land Use Section.
Biodiversity for exercise. Wild areas close to residential developments hold a special appeal for children. These natural outdoor spaces meet their elementary needs for activity, exploration and autonomous play. Following ecological upgrading work on a stream near the Telli high-rise development in the Swiss canton of Aargau, local children took ownership of it with spontaneous enthusiasm. As a resource for exercise, the natural world plays an important part in motivating a more physically active lifestyle. This in turn is a key factor in good health. Green spaces in cities also perform a range of ecological functions. For example, they have useful effects on the microclimate and reduce the immissions load in urban centres.
Biodiversity for learning. Studies show that even short bursts of outdoor activity, say during a lunch break, can refresh the mind, stimulate creativity and promote concentration. In view of these services provided by biodiversity, the Swiss Foundation for Nature and the Economy (Stiftung Natur & Wirtschaft), supported by the FOEN, wants to turn the environs of business premises into recreational zones for employees and habitat areas for animals and plants. The Foundation has set its sights on enhancing the humdrum routine with more life, diversity and colour. Already, an area the size of Lake Sempach has been certified to its standards.
For Reto Locher, the foundation's managing director, the relationship between biodiversity and well-being has yet another, more profound dimension. In making room for the dynamic creativity of nature - to which we are intimately linked with it, by virtue of millions of years of evolution - we take a step back from ourselves and practise humility. "Realising the diversity of all the species, and appreciating them - and ourselves - as living beings, is an experience that teaches us humility, respect and responsibility", says Reto Locher. This can enhance our well-being tremendously.
Historically, almost all medicines were made from plants and animals. Even today, we still use nature as our pharmacy. It is thought that 50,000 to 70,000 plant species are used in traditional medicine worldwide. People in developing countries rely on medicinal plants that grow in the wild. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is therefore crucial to these people's survival. Destruction of the rainforest in many parts of the Amazon has already made essential medicinal plants very rare or very expensive - with fatal consequences for the health of local inhabitants.
Although Swiss consumers are more used to taking the active ingredients in tablet form, we are every bit as dependent on global biodiversity. Around half of the drugs in standard use today are based on active ingredients extracted from animals or plants, or are formulated to replicate natural substances. The worldwide annual revenue from such medicines amounts to some 200 billion US dollars.
End Content Area