The following article was published on 27th September 2023 on the National Biodiversity Network website
Landmark report shows UK wildlife’s devastating decline.
• World-leading study, State of Nature, finds no let-up in the decline of our wildlife, with one in six species at risk of being lost from Great Britain1.
• State of Nature, the most comprehensive report on UK wildlife, also shows that the species studied have, on average, declined by 19% in the UK since monitoring began in 1970.
• Most of the important habitats for the UK’s nature are in poor condition, but restoration projects can and do have clear benefits for nature and people, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The UK’s wildlife is continuing to decline according to a new landmark study published today. Already classified as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, nearly one in six of the more than ten thousand species assessed (16%) are at risk of being lost from Great Britain.
However, this figure is much higher for some groups such as birds (43%), amphibians and reptiles (31%), fungi and lichen (28%) and terrestrial mammals (26%). Much loved species such as Turtle Dove, Hazel Dormouse, Lady’s Slipper Orchid and European Eel now face an uncertain future. There have also been declines in the distributions of more than half (54%) of our flowering plant species, with species such as Heather and Harebell being enjoyed by far fewer people.
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Producing the report
State of Nature is the most comprehensive nature report covering the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Working with leading professionals from over 60 research and conservation organisations, the report – following previous editions in 2013, 2016 and 2019 – uses the latest and best data from monitoring schemes and biological recording centres, collated by the incredible work of thousands of skilled volunteers, to provide a benchmark for the status of our wildlife.
Since 1970, the abundance of species studied has declined on average by 19%. However, we also know that before widespread monitoring began, the UK’s biodiversity had already been highly depleted by centuries of habitat loss, unsustainable farming practices, development, and persecution.
As a result, due to human activity the UK now has less than half of its biodiversity remaining. The evidence from the last 50 years, presented in the State of Nature report, shows that the intensive way in which we manage our land for farming and the continuing effects of climate change, are the two biggest drivers of nature loss. At sea, unsustainable fishing and climate change are the major contributing factors.
Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive said:
“The UK’s wildlife is better studied than in any other country in the world and what the data tell us should make us sit up and listen. What is clear, is that progress to protect our species and habitats has not been sufficient and yet we know we urgently need to restore nature to tackle the climate crisis and build resilience. We know that conservation works and how to restore ecosystems and save species. We need to move far faster as a society towards nature-friendly land and sea use, otherwise the UK’s nature and wider environment will continue to decline and degrade, with huge implications for our own way of life. It’s only through working together that we can help nature recover.”
Many groups studied show worrying declines. More than half of plant species have decreased in their distribution (54%) as have 59% of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The distribution of invertebrates in the UK has also decreased on average by 13% since 1970, however there are much bigger declines in groups which provide important services such as pollination and crop pest control. The distributions of pollinator species, including bees, hoverflies and moths, have decreased by 18% on average, whilst those species providing pest control, such as the 2-spot Ladybird have declined by more than a third (34%).
The State of Nature report also found that out of the assessed habitats which are important for wildlife, only one in seven (14%) were found to be in a good condition and only one in fourteen (7%) woodlands and a quarter (25%) of peatlands were assessed to be in a good ecological state. Due to habitat damage from fishing gear, none of the seafloor around the UK was found in good condition. However, restoration projects, such as for peatland and seagrass beds, are now underway to stem declines. Not only will restoring these habitats have clear benefits for nature and people, but they can also help us mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Despite recent moves towards more nature-friendly land and sea use, as yet only a fifth of farmland is now in agri-environment schemes with only some of that helping nature, just 44% of woodland is certified as sustainably managed and only half of fish stocks are sustainably harvested. While all three measures have improved markedly over the past 20 years, there is still a very long way to go. The best available information suggests that nature-friendly farming needs to be implemented at a much wider scale to halt the decline in farmland wildlife and must be considered alongside the triple challenge of responding to the climate and nature crises whilst still meeting people’s needs for food, energy, and fuel.
Conservation action can work
Optimistically the report also highlights where concerted wildlife conservation action has made a key difference to many species and habitats. For example, large-scale restoration projects, such as Cairngorms Connect – which covers 60,000 ha – benefits a suite of woodland dependent species. In Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area the number of species increased markedly since trawling was banned in 2008. The RSPB’s Hope Farm has demonstrated that food production can function alongside measures to benefit wildlife as breeding bird populations increased by 177% over a 12-year period.
And a news release from The National Biodiversity Network Trust, states that Recording Wildlife is key to Nature’s Recovery:
The 2023 ‘State of Nature’ report shows the UK’s wildlife is declining. However, it is not too late to reverse the biodiversity crisis, and for this we need high quality evidence in the form of wildlife data.
The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) and its members are working hard to make sure that this data is available to those who need it – to make the decisions that will benefit nature and help species to bounce back.
Lisa Chilton, CEO of the National Biodiversity Network Trust, says:
“Nature’s recovery depends on the collection of wildlife records – information about what species have been seen where and when – so that we can measure and see if our conservation actions are working or not. In the UK, the collection of these vital records predominantly relies on an incredible community of organisations and volunteers, many of whom are members of the NBN Trust.
“You too can get involved in recording wildlife using one of the many apps and tools available such as iNaturalistUK, iRecord and iSpot. By doing so, you add to the knowledge of this country’s biodiversity and which species are in particular danger – needing our urgent help and protection.”
About:The National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) is one of the organisations within the State of Nature Partnership – which published the ‘State of Nature’ report, and The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) is the UK’s largest partnership for nature. It is a collaboration of over 200 organisations committed to sharing UK wildlife data and making it easily available. It started in April 2000 and Network members range from government agencies, research bodies, local environmental records centres, conservation charities, commercial companies as well as local and national wildlife recording groups
Members include some well-known organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust, Butterfly Conservation and the Woodland Trust, as well as lesser-known groups such as Longhorn Beetle Recording Scheme, Riverfly Partnership and Outer Hebrides Recording Group, to name just a few. The one thing that unites everyone involved in the Network is their desire for high-quality wildlife data to provide a robust evidence base for environmental decision-making.
Data providers share their biodiversity data via the NBN Atlas: nbnatlas.org an online platform to engage and inform people about the natural history of the UK. It can be used by anyone, free of charge and is the largest UK-wide collection of multiple sources of information about species and habitats and allows users to examine and map these data.
Featured image Harvest mouse accessed at mammal.org.uk