The climate crisis and plastic pollution have made headlines in recent years, but there is another environmental catastrophe steadily bubbling away that may be even more threatening to humanity.
Devastating declines in biodiversity are driving fears of a ‘Sixth Mass Extinction Event’. Population shrinkages in insects, mammals, fish, birdlife and plantlife, driven by factors including habitat reduction, climate change and over-consumption, pose a very real risk of ecosystem collapse.
But a rise in pro-nature tourism indicates growing awareness among eco-conscious operators and travellers of these issues, and that people are willing to get their hands dirty – sometimes literally – in the effort to combat them.
In what is set to become one of the biggest trends for 2020, many responsible tourism businesses are looking at ways they can help to protect land and crucial habitats for some of the planet’s most endangered species. These range from guides informing researchers about sightings and behaviours of rare big cats, to getting hands-on with fascinating reintroduction and rewilding projects. Here’s a look at what sort of thing is on the cards…
In Lisbon, travellers can stay in stylish, innovative eco hostel Impact House, where meals are served using vegetables grown in a vertical garden. The worms that keep the soil healthy are fed on leftovers, creating a closed loop of sustainability.
Eating locally-produced food on holiday is among the most effective ways to reduce your trip’s carbon footprint, and here your food mileage can be measured in centimetres. With space at a premium in city centre accommodations, vertical gardens such as this are becoming more popular, and naturally provide a boost to insect life.
Another area where we expect substantial growth in future is with pro-nature menus in hotels and restaurants. That might mean dining on vegetarian food at a luxury eco-lodge in Jordan, or following an entirely vegan-friendly itinerary as you journey through Belize and Guatemala.
Providers that can offer guests menus featuring less meat and dairy or foods that contribute to deforestation such as palm oil will be more sought-after by ethical and environmentally aware travellers. Going forwards, we think we’re going to see businesses increasingly looking at their own operations and how they can be developed to make them more wildlife-friendly, and less carbon-intensive.
Rewilding is the process of restoring core wilderness areas to allow for keystone species (such as beavers or apex predators like wolves) to be protected or reintroduced. Obviously such moves can be controversial, but there is growing awareness of the benefits to nature.
In Sweden, groups exploring the picturesque Bergslagen Forest (two hours northwest of Stockholm) might encounter moose, roe deer, beaver and even lynx. But the biggest wonder of all is hearing wild wolves howling in the darkness.
Guides on these trips report sightings of packs, and bag up droppings, to help with the work of the Scandinavian Wolf Research Project. While local farmers anticipate threats to their livestock, on the other side of the argument more wolves equals fewer moose and deer, equals much healthier forests and vegetation.
For more information, visit responsibletravel.com.