The State of Nature reports, produced every 3 years, are a snapshot of how wildlife is faring in the UK.
State of Nature 2019 measures the decline in abundance and distribution of species against a 1970 baseline. It points out that before 1970, wildlife had already been depleted by centuries of persecution, pollution, and habitat loss.
Some of the figures for changes since 1970 are:
- 13% decline in average species abundance
- 5% decline in average species distribution
- 53% of species show strong changes in abundance
- 41% of species are in decline and 26% are increasing
The pressures that have caused net loss of biodiversity and continue to impact it include:
- intensification of agriculture leading to decline in farmland nature
- +1C average UK temperatures since the 1980s
- building on natural habitat
- warming seas and overfishing
- public spending on biodiversity has decreased by 42% between 2008/9 and 2017/18
Some of the main figures are represented in an infographic.
Drivers of change
The report expands on some of the pressures on nature, in a section headed ‘drivers of change’.
Agriculture is the most important. 72% of the UK’s land area is managed for agriculture, one third of it arable and two thirds pasture.
There has been a 54% fall in the abundance of farmland birds since 1970, related to autumn sowing and increased pesticide use. Butterfly numbers are down, and there is concern about pollinators due to pesticides like neonicotinoids.
There has been good take-up by farmers of agri-environment schemes, but whether due to time-lag, or a lack of remedial action at landscape scale, they are yet to reverse declines in species.
Climate change has the second largest impact on nature. It is driving rapid changes, and will continue to do so for decades or centuries to come.
Conserving nature-rich areas of the UK will help to mitigate the effects.
I’m picking out a couple of interesting facts from this section, rather than summarising it.
Hedgehogs are on Great Britain’s Red List, as vulnerable to extinction. They are, though, increasing in numbers in low-density urban areas.
Foxes and herring gulls are thriving in urban areas, but there is concern for their conservation status in traditional habitats.
Although conservation has a long history in the UK, there’s a need to think big to turn around the fortunes of nature.
We need more, bigger and better joined spaces for nature. Nature can’t be stuck in isolated islands in a hostile sea of intensively-managed countryside. There must be corridors for wildlife to flow through.
There’s also a need for targeted Species Recovery Projects, and these should be for insects, plants and fungi, not just mammals and birds.