Biodiversity is an essential requirement for life on Earth. The term refers to the variety of habitats, species and genes as well as their interactions. From Ticino to the Jura, Switzerland boasts an extraordinarily varied landscape which provides a habitat for countless species, right in the heart of Europe. However, biodiversity is under threat and the federal government has measures in place to sustainably protect this natural heritage.
Microclimates and topography – a boon for biodiversity
Switzerland has over 230 natural habitats, including meadows, river banks, moors, forests and even urban areas. It is also home to roughly 64,000 species of plants, fungi and animals. Of these, 45,890 are recorded. Switzerland owes its rich biodiversity to its varied climate and landscape. The variety of species is especially high in alpine regions and forests. Rivers and streams are also irreplaceable habitats for many rare species. Biodiversity is critically important for human well-being and the economy, too. The federal government has measures in place to protect and preserve Switzerland's natural heritage.
Fluctuations in biodiversity
Switzerland was one of the first countries in the world to monitor its biological diversity. Specialists regularly compile inventories of the animals and plants found in all parts of the country. Biodiversity has fluctuated considerably over the centuries. It is thought that Switzerland’s biodiversity peaked in the latter part of the 1800s. Although the number of species is rising, this is due to the arrival of non-natives, making certain habitats more uniform and depriving them of their uniqueness. Despite preservation efforts, Switzerland's biodiversity is under threat and its long-term conservation is far from guaranteed.
Loss of biodiversity
Biological diversity in Switzerland has been on the decline since 1900. Despite preservation efforts, Switzerland's biodiversity is under threat. There are losses at all three levels: ecosystem diversity, species diversity and genetic diversity. Today, half of the natural habitats and one third of species in Switzerland are at risk. These developments have a negative impact on genetic diversity. Many biotopes like meadows are becoming increasingly homogenised. The primary causes of biodiversity decline are urban sprawl, intensive land and water use, the spread of exotic invasive species and pesticide and nitrogen inputs from agricultural land.
The Federal Constitution requires the federal government and the cantons to safeguard biodiversity. The conservation of natural resources is enshrined in several pieces of legislation, including the Nature and Cultural Heritage Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Hunting Act, the Water Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the Gene Technology Act. Legal provisions on the sustainable use of biodiversity can be found in the Spatial Planning Act, the Agriculture Act, the Forest Act and the National Park Act. Switzerland has also signed the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to reverse the worldwide decline in the number of species of animals, plants and other organisms. In 2012 the federal government also designed and adopted a strategy on biodiversity conservation and development.
National Parks and 'zones de tranquillité'
Switzerland currently has around 15 regional national parks, where flora and fauna can thrive naturally. In 1914 the first Swiss National Park opened in the canton of Graubünden. Additional parks have been created since 2008 on the basis of the Nature and Cultural Heritage Act. Parts of the Swiss mountains also have designated wildlife areas. The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) introduced these 'zones de tranquilité/Wildruhezonen' with a view to protecting wild animals and plants. Walking through and flying over these areas are prohibited, and all are clearly signposted. A map indicating the location of these areas is available on the FOEN website.