The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). The term biodiversity describes the variety of all life and natural processes on Earth, including all living things from microscopic bacteria to large animals and small plants; we also form part of biodiversity, and no matter how far removed we may seem from the 'natural' environment in our daily lives, we are intimately connected with ecosystems and their processes through our diets, our use of materials, water and much more.
Today, 201 natural and mixed World Heritage sites in 81 countries protect over 177,000,000 ha of land and sea, the equivalent of half of Europe. The World Heritage Convention is unique in that it recognizes and protects both cultural and natural sites, but it is also the only international legislative instrument that regularly monitors sites to ensure integrity, protection and management. Of the ten criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List, four cover natural sites and two are specifically related to biodiversity.