There isn’t currently a way of finding out the population of every known species living in the UK, a way of examining each habitat, or seeing how either have fared over the last few decades, but the State of Nature Report is the closest we’ve come in recent years.
This comprehensive report is the product of 53 organisations (RSPB, ZSL, the Wildlife Trusts etc.) collaborating and sharing their datasets to highlight what we need to think about when conserving wildlife in the UK. At first glance most of the statistics aren’t looking so good; it doesn’t matter if they’re investigating vertebrate or invertebrate populations, in uplands or seas, as most are in decline. The stats look a bit like this:
- Between 1970 and 2013 56% of species have declined.
- 75% of marine invertebrate species studied showed long-term declines.
- The UK is ranked 189 when using a measure that compares the intactness of biodiversity across 219 countries
- 165 species in the UK are critically endangered (the same category as the Sumatran tiger, mountain gorilla and Javan rhino).
- Public spending on UK biodiversity has fallen by 32% since 2008.
The report highlighted the main threats to wildlife and showed how there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution for each of the above problems. The usual heavy hitters reared their ugly heads once again and top of the pile, responsible for nearly ¼ of the total impact on wildlife, was the intensive management of agricultural land. Increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, loss of marginal habitats like hedgerows, Autumn instead of Spring sewing and abandonment of mixed farming systems have left the environment coming second to production on many accounts. Climate change came in second as warmer temperatures and unseasonal weather patterns have led to animal populations moving away from their historical homes to find more suitable conditions.
“We must save nature for our own sake, as it provides us with essential and irreplaceable benefits that support welfare and livelihoods” (The State of Nature Report, 2016)
Far from solely being the proprietors of doom the organisations involved set out to propose solutions and showcase conservation success stories. The Environmental Stewardship programme is making headway with farmers and encourages them to adopt environmentally friendly practices. Because of programmes like this bats have enjoyed a 23% population increase since 1999. Its future, however, remains unknown as funding partly comes from the European Union.
Conservation organisations can hold their heads high as unsurprisingly habitat creation is having a positive impact on wildlife. New woodlands, like Heartwood in Hertfordshire that is aiming to plant 600,000 trees in 12 years, are helping to restore previously lost ecosystems. Wildlife sanctuaries in the form of Marine Protected Areas and Marine Conservation Zones are also doing their jobs, boosting biodiversity in certain areas of our seas.
The report called out for more investment in our Natural Capital, the practice of valuing assets like fresh water and clean air, and initiatives to connect children with nature to secure the future conservation of our wildlife. Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, echoed concerns about the future of our wildlife, praised the report and spoke of on-going consultations for the 25-year plan recommended by the Natural Capital UK Committee. However, there were no solid commitments in her speech to hold the Secretary accountable in the future and with no solid policy making plans, nature in the UK can’t feel too secure.
Read The State of Nature Report in Full, here.