Our wildlife is in ‘crisis’ according to a new report launched this month entitled the State of Nature, which brings together data and expertise from over 50 organisations (including BTO, RSPB, WWF, ZSL, National Trust, Woodland Trust, Butterfly Conservation et al).
Britain’s wildlife is in ‘crisis’ as ‘56% of UK species are in decline’ and ‘165 species are considered Critically Endangered in Great Britain’ – these, according to the report, are the ‘most likely’ species to go extinct and some of the hardest hit are well-known and popular, such as hedgehogs and turtle doves.
Sir David Attenborough, writing in a foreword to the report, sets the scene: ‘Escalating pressures, such as climate change and modern land management, mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and well-being of those who live in the UK. Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before.’
The State of Nature report pools the data, expertise and local knowledge from more than 50 nature conservation and research organisations and is a beneficiary of much of the 7,500,000 volunteer hours that go into monitoring the UK’s nature every year.
‘Volunteers monitored over 9,670 species from birds to butterflies, plants to pondlife, spiders to snails,’ reports the BTO. The cutting edge overview also covers UKs seas, British Antarctic and British Indian Ocean Territories and other Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
What’s different about this news is that the species in decline are here in the UK – they’re not in Africa or Asia. They’re in our gardens. (Or not in our gardens as the case may eventually, and sadly, be). With regret, we’re used to reading about the grim outlook for elephants (and other wonderful beasts) and there’s little or no doubt that the illegal trade in ivory is partly responsible for their plummeting numbers; however, there are other reasons for their demise such as the loss of habitat and the way land is managed. Our native wildlife may not suffer the oppression of illegal hunting but it does share the common ground of the two most important factors that affect the state of nature here in the UK, and elsewhere overseas, these being agriculture and climate change.
With around 75% of the UK in the hands of intensive food production, the impact of agriculture on wildlife and the potential for its impact on species populations is there for all to see. There are wildlife-friendly farming schemes out there, to encourage the conservation of wildlife including farmland birds. However, if the 7,500,000 volunteer hours are anything to go by, it would seem that farmers need more scientific assistance, measurement and support to give them the resources to put the necessary improvements in place which are capable of achieving the giant improvements required today.
The NFU’s response to the State of Nature Report is mixed. NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: ‘As the report acknowledges, agricultural policies of the past did focus on maximising food production resulting in the intensification of farming in the years after World War II. However, since the early 1990s, in terms of inputs and in terms of numbers of livestock and area of crops grown British agriculture has not intensified – in fact, it’s the reverse.’ Mr Smith was quick to point out that there are other causes cited in the report, ‘such as urbanisation, climate change or increasing predator pressure need greater attention.’
Climate change is perplexing and the way to tackle it divides the greatest of minds.
Urbanisation – on the other hand – is much more tangible and therefore easier to grasp. We continue to unsympathetically encroach on nature until it’s forced to retreat beyond its usual acceptable limits of geography and therefore has no choice but to look elsewhere for food, shelter and a place to breed. Some may go on to thrive, others won’t.
It’s pleasing to see how many partnerships are behind the report. I sometimes feel that one or two wildlife charities – who shall remain nameless – try to own the nation’s nature. And that’s why I’m pleased that this is open source (available to all) as wildlife is ‘free living’ and our aim should be to protect its right to roam.
It can only be good that so many wildlife charities are pooling their resources as the last headline any nature lover wants to read is that ‘Nature is faring worse in the UK than in most other countries.’ In point of fact, it’s ranked 189 out of 218 countries on the ‘Biodiversity Intactness Index.’ I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I don’t think it’s good!
By Simon H King
PS. Start helping nature by feeding the wild birds