Mountains in Switzerland

Mountain ecosystems are intensely delicate

Mountains cover 24% of Earth’s land surface. They capture water from the atmosphere and store it as snow and ice that supplies streams and rivers throughout the year, serving humans, animals, plants and wildlife. Half the world’s population depends on mountains for their drinking water or hydroelectric power1.

The unique intersections between forests, fresh water, shrubland, peatlands and high elevation meadows provide multiple ecosystems. Some of these produce oxygen and retain and cool moisture, which are all vital in combating the effects of climate change. As well as being home to more than 900 million people2, mountains provide employment and recreation for many more. 

1 WWF     2 IUCN

Issues facing mountain ecosystems

Mountain ecosystems are intensely delicate as it takes longer for plants and animals to grow in colder temperatures with more extreme environments and for populations to recover from damage. Specialised vegetation is highly vulnerable to intensive agriculture practices spreading to higher elevations. Unsustainable land-clearing and commodity extraction cause erosion and sediment loss, increasing the threat of avalanches, landslides and flooding. As resources become scarce, mountain communities disintegrate and entire cultures and languages disappear. 

Mountainous plant species are threatened by changes to their habitat and plants from lower altitudes spreading upwards, both due to warming temperatures. Melting permafrost makes the ground unstable, releases carbon and changes ecosystems, and rapidly melting of glaciers cause flooding. Acid-rain gases may originate in urban areas but they can be carried for hundreds of miles, falling as snow or rain in mountains.  

Solutions to help mountain ecosystems

Careful management of development and industrial activities are vital. International finance practices hold companies and investors to account for their activities around the world. Habitat restoration projects that improve biodiversity through increasing native plants are vital to restore some of what has been lost. Connecting mountains, forests and wetland habitats through wildlife corridors is important for helping wildlife move around. 

Mountain recreation is important to many people and champions the importance of conservation, but it must be run and developed sustainably. Careful planning of trail expansion and sensitive building use and services are a must, as is sustainable usage. 

HOW WE CAN ALL HELP

  1. When we visit mountain areas, be respectful of the delicate ecosystem
  2. Always take your rubbish home and pick up any you see
  3. Support sustainable practices by choose environmentally conscious tour providers and hospitably centres
  4. Avoid peak season and choose less popular locations to reduce impact
  5. Choose environmentally friendly modes of transportation 
  6. Reduce activity that results in acid rain – reduce car use and burn fewer fossil fuels