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Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on the levels of the ecosystems (habitats) and species (flora, fauna, fungi, microorganisms) and genetic diversity, i.e. the variability and variety of the individuals within a given species.
Switzerland's rich biodiversity is the outcome of its geophysical diversity (differences in altitude, extremes of climate, diversity of the soils), on the one hand, and human influences, on the other.
Centuries of land use have generated and shaped Switzerland's mosaic of forests, open country, surface waters, and settlements. Traditional forms of land use, such as standard orchards, wooded pastures, chestnut groves and irrigated and dry meadows continue to exist today.
Land use has changed considerably, however, over the past century and reflects the changing needs and demands of society, such as
Biodiversity in Switzerland has come under pressure over the past 150 years: in particular, due to management practices that are intensive and no longer sustainable, the agricultural ecosystems used in agricultural production have suffered severe losses in terms of small structures such as hedges and dry-stone walls. This decline is also fostered by high levels of fertiliser and pesticide use, species-poor seeding and standardised mechanical management practices.
In many locations, rivers and streams have surrendered their natural courses to land reclamation structures, flood control measures and electricity production.
Many habitats in the settlement areas have disappeared due to the sealing of surfaces and walls.
In addition, since the middle of the last century, settlements and infrastructure have been expanding continuously which has led to a loss of space and the increasing fragmentation of the remaining habitats. Approximately 0.7 m2 of soil are sealed per second in Switzerland.
Finally, chemicals and nitrogen inputs via the air and waters, the spread of non-native species, the increase in the disruption caused by leisure activities and tourism, and climate change all have negative impacts on biodiversity.
Biodiversity has suffered significant losses throughout the world in recent decades and its status is considered as being under threat today.
Although the decline in the stocks of some species and the quantitative areal losses of certain habitat types has been halted over the past 20 years in Switzerland, the quality of most habitats is poor and continues to deteriorate.
The status of species diversity, which continues to be a matter of concern, is recorded in the Red Lists: 36% of the surveyed species in Switzerland are under threat (i.e. classified according to the IUCN categories as «vulnerable (VU)», «endangered (EN)» or «critically endangered (CR)»). These include species, whose loss is irreversible because their presence is very limited and localised or they arise exclusively or predominantly in Switzerland.
On the level of genetic diversity, the intensification of agriculture and concentration on high-yield crop varieties has given rise to the impoverishment of the landscape. However, it has been possible to halt some of the decline.
The increasing dominance of natural forest regeneration and the use of tree species that are suited to the location in which they are planted has played an important role in the promotion of genetic diversity since the mid-1980s.
Biodiversity provides natural goods and ecosystem services which make a crucial contribution to social and economic development. Such ecosystem services include, for example,
A study that attempted to put a monetary value on the global ecosystem services arrived at the sum of USD 33,000 billion per year -which represents 1.8 times global gross national product.
A deterioration in the status of biodiversity generates a threat to natural goods and ecosystem services and, hence also, a risk to sustainable economic and social development.
However, it is not only important to conserve the diversity of life to ensure the basic satisfaction of human needs, the recognition of its its value as such also constitutes an ethical obligation of humans.
The implementation of measures for the conservation of biodiversity has a long tradition in Switzerland. The Swiss hunting reserves were the first protected areas to have their status enshrined in law in 1875. Over the past 100 years, Switzerland has designated a range other protected areas, starting with the National Park (1914) and including areas as wide-ranging as amphibian spawning areas (2001) and dry meadows and pastures (2010).
Switzerland has a wide variety of instruments for the promotion of sustainable forms of land use, for the control of interventions involving the landscape, for the prevention of pollutant contamination and soil compaction, and for the conservation of habitats and species.
Switzerland introduced biodiversity monitoring, a tool for observing the status of biodiversity, in 2001.
The need for intersectoral policy programmes, agreements and concepts is acknowledged in Switzerland and corresponding tasks have been initiated (e.g. ecological compensation, Environmental Objectives for Agriculture, Swiss National Forest Programme, Réseau Ecologique National, REN (National Ecological Network)).
In addition, specific action plans have also been developed for the promotion and conservation of biodiversity (species promotion programmes, Nationaler Aktionsplan über phytogenetische Ressourcen für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (National Action Plan on Phytogenetic Resources for Food and Agriculture)).
Cooperation between private companies, environmental organisations, research and the administration has also been promoted over the past decade. In addition to initiatives for sustainable production, this has made an important contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, as evidenced, for example, by sustainable food production and certified wood production.
Through the monitoring of goal fulfilment, both scientific research and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country reports highlight the fact that although the existing instruments and measures have been implemented well and in part with success in Switzerland, they are far from sufficient. They have not been able to stem the loss of habitats and the species that live in them or the deterioration in habitat quality. To ensure the long-term conservation of biodiversity and its ecosystem services, the Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) has been working on the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy on behalf of parliament since 2009.
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