Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly - Colin Wilkinson (rspb-images.com)

No let-up in net loss of UK’s nature


Thursday 03 October, 2019


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, which 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.

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.”

Pamela Abbott, Chief Executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust said:
“In the face of evidence of continuing declines in biodiversity in the UK, now more than ever there is a need to scale up the effort and impact of conservation work across Norfolk. All the evidence shows that connecting fragmented habitats is an effective and vital way of helping endangered species. NWT has seen key species such as common crane benefit from our large scale restoration of fragile wetland habitats in the Broads; the once extinct pool frog reintroduced to restored pingos in the Brecks. Our challenge and ambition is to build on such stories of success to create a compelling narrative where everyone can contribute to making a difference for nature in Norfolk.”
 
In Norfolk ambitious wetland restoration projects have happened over several years at Hickling Broad and Upton Broad and Marshes, benefitting species including bittern and fen orchid. This year as part of ‘Tipping the Balance’, two of the largest Broads in Norfolk are having their underwater ecology ‘manipulated’ to restore their clear water and in turn the water plants that were once commonplace across Broadland’s waterways.
 
In the west of the county at Roydon Common National Nature Reserve, NWT has returned biodiversity by restoring, re-connecting and recreating habitat on a landscape-scale. At least 15 species of dragonfly occur there, including the rare black darter, 30 species of butterfly, 450 types of moth and it is the only place in East Anglia to host the raft spider, one of the two largest British spiders.

In the Brecks, NWT has restored pingos - ancient glacial ponds - which has made them the ideal habitat for pool frogs, the UK’s rarest amphibian. It became extinct in the UK in the 1990s but has been reintroduced to a site in Norfolk since 2005 by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and Norfolk Wildlife Trust, including the most recent release of tadpoles and frogs this summer.
 
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