The viability of life on this planet is critical to all of us. Our very existence is dependent on the survival of the natural ecosystems which supply our air, water, food and shelter. Degradation of these systems results in the lowering of air and water quality, soil fertility, and plant and animal productivity. Most of us can do very little to influence the broad sweep of the global environment but we can influence events and actions at the local level. Each one of us has some impact on the areas in which we live and the places which we visit. It is highly desirable that this impact be positive rather than negative. Outdoor leaders are in an excellent position to influence the members of their groups to move towards the positive end of the impact scale. Chapter 24 details specific actions to minimise damage to the areas which we visit. A skilled leader can go further than this by initiating or encouraging positive actions such as picking up litter or repairing ugly campfire scars.
Natural ecosystems function better and are more stable in large, unfragmented areas. One large area can support bigger populations of plants and animals and a greater diversity of species than the same area divided into small islands. Large populations are at less risk of inbreeding and are better able to accommodate changes in their habitat. Large areas can securely protect the habitats at their core and resist external influences better than small areas with convoluted borders. In large reserves wildlife is more readily able to migrate away from areas damaged by wildfire or degraded by drought, flood or infestation. Substantial areas with high diversity of species have been shown to have considerable resilience. They often have the capacity to recover from disasters which could destroy small populations or monocultures. Healthy natural ecosystems provide invaluable insurance against major environmental degradation or even extinction.
Natural ecosystems are also a reservoir of potentially valuable genetic material which could be used for the production of new products, foods and medicines. Future industries may depend upon the continued existence of these natural genetic laboratories. Natural ecosystems are also havens for emotional and physical renewal in an increasingly urbanised society.