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.
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.
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”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Dr Jo Smith, CEO of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust says:
“In and around the Trent, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is exploring exciting new opportunities to improve and restore the connectivity and nature value of wetland areas. These vital habitats provide corridors for wildlife to move around and join up and help us to better manage water levels and flow. Using lessons learnt from elsewhere in the UK we’re also exploring the potential to rewild and reintroduce species, which could see the return of cranes, beaver and water vole, for the benefits this could bring to Derbyshire’s environment and economy.”
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.”
Paul de Zylva, campaigner at Friends of the Earth said “As we lose nature we lose a huge part of what makes us happy and healthy. The UK’s ministers and business persist in planning and funding – often with public money – disastrous projects and practices which will only continue to destroy nature. Our government has made repeated declarations in recent years to halt, and reverse, the decline of nature – even leading negotiations on global commitments around this. The years following have shown a complete inability to do any more than ‘talk the talk’; setting targets as little more than a PR exercise without any ambition to follow through on them.”
Photo: Swift by Ben Andrews, courtesy of the RSPB