Products from wild species everywhere: herbs in tea bags, fish fillet on a plate, wooden furniture in the apartment. Demand is high, but resources are limited. And they’re getting scarcer.

Many animals in the wild and naturally occurring plants are part of the basis of life for billions of people – but these offers of nature are more and more endangered.

People benefit daily from the use of wild species for food, energy, material, medicine, recreation and other vital contributions to well-being, the World Biodiversity Council IPBES said in Bonn.

According to an IPBES report on the sustainable use of wild algae, animal, fungus and plant species presented on Friday, the accelerated global biodiversity crisis with one million species of plants and animals threatened with extinction is endangering these contributions for humanity.

With approximately 50,000 wild species with various uses – including about 10,000 that are eaten – rural populations in developing countries are most affected by unsustainable uses. A lack of alternatives often forces them to continue using already endangered species, the authors explained. Wild species also include mushrooms and deer in the forest and wild berries and herbs – in contrast, for example, to domesticated livestock and cultivated fruit and vegetables.

Report after four years of work

The report was adopted at a congress in Bonn with more than 900 representatives of the 139 member states of the World Biodiversity Council. 85 experts from 33 countries worked on it for four years. IPBES, the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, has been working in Bonn on the UN campus there since 2014. The report is intended to show decision-makers options for action.

“70 percent of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species,” says the report. About a third of humanity uses firewood for cooking. Around half of the wood used annually around the world is felled for energy, predominantly in Africa. Most of the 120 million people who work in fishing are small business owners. The correct use of wild species is not only extremely important for the Global South. “From the fish on the plate, to medicine, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, the use of wild species is far more common than most people realize,” explained co-author Marla Emery.

Important source of income

The use of wild species is also an important source of income for millions of people. Wild tree species accounted for two-thirds of the global roundwood industry. The trade in wild plants, algae and fungi is a billion dollar industry. The report lists five uses: fishing, gathering, logging, hunting and observation. In most cases, the benefits of wild species have increased, but the degree of sustainability varies.

Take fishing, for example: it is estimated that around 34 percent of wild marine fish stocks are overfished, and 66 percent are caught in a biologically sustainable manner. But there are significant differences. Countries with stable fisheries management now have more plentiful stocks. Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks have been rebuilt and are now being fished at sustainable levels.

Fishing often hardly sustainable

In countries with little management in the field, the status of the stocks is often poorly known. Many small fish companies are not or only slightly sustainable, especially in Africa for inland and marine fisheries and in Asia, Latin America and Europe for coastal fisheries.

Matthias Glaubrecht from the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change in Hamburg summarizes the report as follows: “Humanity that continues to grow is still plundering planet Earth as if we had a second one.”

Rainer Froese from the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research (Geomar) in Kiel criticizes the report for not containing a “call for urgently needed actions, such as ending overexploitation with a binding schedule”, “only general “feel good wisdom” that everyone can agree». There is a reason why the situation has gotten worse almost everywhere over the decades. “There was no action.”

Learn from each other

The authors of the sustainability report believe that, among other things, secure tenure rights and fair access to land, fisheries and forests as well as reduced poverty favor sustainable use of wild species. For many indigenous people this is central. Scientists and locals could learn from each other and improve the conditions for sustainability.

The authors see some challenges for the future: climate change, increasing demand and more efficient extraction through technological advances. With regard to fishing, they advocate, among other things, a reduction in illegal and unregulated fishing and the abolition of harmful subsidies. When it comes to timber harvesting, they propose certification and management of forests for various purposes, as well as technical innovations and, as a result, less waste in the manufacture of timber products.