Perilous state of the UK’s nature highlighted in report published today


Turtle dove in St Ouen's Bay. Photo by Miranda CollettFor the first time ever, the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The report published today (22nd May) shows that some 60% of British animal and plant species have declined in the past 50 years, and one in 10 could disappear.

The report, State of Nature, compiled by 25 wildlife organisations – from the RSPB to the British Lichen Society – collates assessments of 3,148 species. It offers clues to the fate of the UK’s 59,000 species. Download the full report here

Among those seeing the largest falls in numbers are turtle doves, water voles, red squirrels and hedgehogs.

Red squirrel. Photo by Miranda CollettThe report’s summary states that:

  •  We have quantitative assessments of the population or distribution trends of 3,148 species. Of these, 60% of species have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly;
  •  Half of the species assessed have shown strong changes in abundance or distribution, indicating that recent environmental changes are having a dramatic impact on the nature of the UK’s land and seas. There is also evidence to suggest that species with specific habitat requirements are faring worse than generalist species that are better able to adapt to a changing environment;
  •  A new Watchlist Indicator has been developed to measure how conservation priority species are faring, based on 155 species for which we have suitable data. This group contains many of our most threatened and vulnerable species, and the indicator shows that their overall numbers have declined by 77% in the last 40 years, with little sign of recovery;
  •  Of more than 6,000 species that have been assessed using modern Red List criteria, more than one in ten are thought to be under threat of extinction in the UK. A further 885 species are listed as threatened using older Red List criteria or alternative methods to classify threat;
  •  Our assessment looks back over 50 years at most and over a considerably shorter period of time for many species groups. It is well accepted that there were considerable (albeit largely unquantified) declines in the UK’s wildlife prior to the last 50 years, linked to habitat loss;
  •  Although robust data are in short supply, it is clear that the UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) hold a wealth of wildlife of huge international importance. However, over 90 of these species are at high risk of global extinction;
  •  Our ability to monitor the state of nature, and respond with appropriate conservation action, is hampered by a lack of knowledge on the trends of most of the UK’s plant and animal species. As a result, we can report quantitative trends for only 5% of the 59,000 or so terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK, and or very few of the 8,500 marine species. Our knowledge is strongly biased towards vertebrates and we know little about the fortunes of many invertebrates and fungi. Much needs to be done to improve our knowledge;
  •  What we do know about the state of the UK’s nature is often based upon the efforts of thousands of dedicated volunteer enthusiasts who contribute their time and expertise to species monitoring and recording schemes;
  •  The threats to the UK’s wildlife are many and varied, the most severe acting either to destroy valuable habitat or degrade the quality and value of what remains;
  •  Climate change is having an increasing impact on nature in the UK. Rising average temperatures are known to be driving range expansion in some species, but evidence for harmful impacts is also mounting;
  •  We should act to save nature both for its intrinsic value and for the benefits it brings to us that are essential to our well-being and prosperity;
  •  This report carries a message of hope: targeted conservation has produced a legacy of inspiring success stories and, with sufficient determination, resources and public support, we can, and will, turn the fortunes of our wildlife around. It also serves to illustrate that with shared resolve we can save nature.

The report, which once again highlights the need for monitoring our wildlife and the important role of volunteer observers, was launched today by Sir David Attenborough and can be downloaded in full here

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