No let up in loss of UK's nature

The State of Nature Report 2019 has been released.

The UK’s wildlife continues to decline according to the State of Nature 2019 report.

The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied and that the declines continue unabated.

Following the State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea.

The State of Nature 2019 report also reveals that 41% of UK species studied have declined, 26% have increased and 33% shown little change since 1970, while 133 species assessed have already been lost from our shores since 1500.  

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 17% and moths down by 25%. The numbers of species, such as the High Brown Fritillary and Grayling, that require more specialised habitats have declined by more than three quarters.

The UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. The wild cat and greater mouse-eared bat are among those species teetering on the edge of disappearing.

Read the full report

Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture, and the ongoing effects of climate change are having the biggest impacts on nature.

Pollution is also a major issue. Whilst emissions of many pollutants have been reduced dramatically in recent decades, pollution continues to have a severe impact on the UK’s sensitive habitats and freshwaters, and new pollutant threats are continuing to emerge.

Read the full report

State of nature - 1 in 7 species at risk of extinction

Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: 

“We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations.

It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.

“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.”

Cautious hope

Whilst the data that the report shows are alarming there is also cause for some cautious hope. The report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results for some of the UK’s nature. Species such as bitterns and large blue butterfly have been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals.

Nature is in big trouble but we know how to bring it back.

Reflecting growing concern about the environmental and climate emergencies, public support for conservation also continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 26% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 40% since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09.

Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigns and Policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“Nature is in big trouble but we know how to bring it back. Local action is already making a real difference and now the government needs to play its part. We need a Nature Recovery Network established in law – one that is locally developed and nationally connected – this would help join up our last remaining wild places by creating vital new habitats. It’s time to make nature a normal part of childhood again and restore wildlife so it can recover and thrive across urban jungles and the countryside once more – where it can be part of people’s daily lives.”

Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire said:

“This report is of huge importance and value: monitoring the way that nature changes is the only way we will be alerted to serious areas of concern - and the only way we will be able to assess the success of our conservation actions. We have achieved very effective impacts in certain areas of Cambridgeshire – from a hugely thriving dormouse population in Brampton Wood to seeing healthy water vole numbers on the river Cam and tributaries through collaborative work and with the invaluable help of volunteers; however the combined future threats of water abstraction – Cambridgeshire's chalk streams recorded worryingly low flows this summer – coupled with climate crisis and developments such as the Ox-Cam arc on the horizon are going to require robust measures. As a charity we can only do any of this work with thanks to grants, donations and members.

“Further north in the county the restoration of the Great Fen continues apace: with 99% of fenland habitats lost in the last 200 years and the remaining fragments under threat, a current two year collaborative project, Water Works, is looking to push barriers with pioneering paludiculture wet farming trials about to get under way - this new method of farming will help avoid future carbon emissions from peat soils, and lead to new products and markets for farmers. The project holds significant impacts for future farming practices.

“In Northamptonshire's Nene Valley - a highlight of our work in the county - we’re working from Northampton to Peterborough to build a Nature Recovery Network. Our Farming for the Future project is engaging with farmer and landowners to revive depleted areas and help increase wildlife habitats. We are currently working with more than 50 farmers and restoring more than 100 hectares of wetland and meadow habitats, including 7km of scrapes for breeding waders. While in the North Chilterns Chalk area of Bedfordshire, the appliance of ground breaking research at a number of nature reserves has seen butterfly species buck national trends of decline: for example the habitat of the rare Duke of Burgundy is now being better understood and therefore better managed year on year. Totternhoe nature reserve in particular has more than half the number of UK butterfly species coupled with rare chalk grassland species."

Young conservationists

The report has a foreword by a collective of young conservationists who are passionate about conservation and the future of our wildlife and nature to preserve it for future generations.

Dan Rouse, a young conservationist said:

“Nature is something that shaped my childhood, that allowed me to be free to use my sense of wonder, and to gain an insight into the wonderful world of nature! It's young people that are now picking up the baton to save our nature - we've already lost Corn Buntings and Nightingales in Wales - how long until they're gone from the rest of the UK? Along with the eerie calls of curlew and the gentle purr of the turtle doves.”

Sophie Pavelle, a young conservationist said:

“What a huge wake-up call 2019 has been! I have felt the loss of nature more acutely this year than any other. A dawn chorus less deafening, hedgerows less frantic, bizarre, worrying weather…it seems that in a more complex world nature is tired, muted and confused. People protect what they love, and if we can find quirky, empowering ways to encourage young people to connect with nature emotionally and see it as something they can truly champion - only then can we dig deep to find real hope for a brighter, sustained future for our natural world.”

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