May 22

A groundbreaking study by the UK’s leading wildlife organisations has found that 60% of the species in the region are in decline.

Common seal image

The common or harbour seal has declined by nearly a third in Scottish waters as a result of pollution, disease and lack of food

Health check for UK wildlife

In the first study of its kind in the UK, scientists from 25 wildlife organisations, including the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB, Buglife and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The final report has revealed startling results, with a large proportion of UK species showing declines over recent decades, and more than one in ten of all the species assessed being at risk of disappearing from the UK altogether.

The ‘State of Nature’ report will be launched by UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening, with the help of Sir David Attenborough, who highlighted the incredible diversity found on UK shores. “Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals,” he said. “We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.”

Golden eagle image

Illegal killing, disturbance and intensive management practices threaten the majestic golden eagle and other animals

Assessments

The State of Nature report looked at the UK’s major taxonomic groups and habitat types, from woodland and farmland to wetlands and coastal areas, in an attempt to formulate an accurate representation of the situation across the UK’s four constituent countries. Data on trends in abundance and distribution of 3,148 species were collected, but while this is an impressive feat, it represents just 5% of the estimated 59,000 or more terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK. Yet 60% of these species were found to have declined over the last 50 years, and 31% have declined strongly.

As part of the study, a new Watchlist Indicator was developed, which measures how conservation priority species are faring, based on a set of 155 of the UK’s most threatened and vulnerable species for which there is sufficient data. Worryingly, the indicator shows that overall numbers of these species have declined by 77% in the last four decades, with little sign of recovery.

Ascension frigatebird image

The Ascension frigatebird is a UKOT endemic which has benefitted from conservation action

UK Overseas Territories

The report has also embraced and highlighted the wealth of globally important wildlife found in the UK’s Overseas Territories, from the Caribbean to the Antarctic. A worrying 90 species from these areas were found to be at high risk of global extinction. The incredible array of species found within these regions, from elephant seals and penguins to parrots and iguanas, includes some 180 endemic plants, 22 endemic birds, 34 endemic reptiles and amphibians, and an impressive 685 endemic terrestrial invertebrates – 16 times the number found in the UK.

Taxonomic groups

When looking at the results of the study by taxonomic group, it becomes clear that some groups are faring far worse than others. Invertebrate groups appear to be struggling the most, with a reported 65% decline in moths.

This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate,” said Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report. “These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.”

Heath fritillary image

The heath fritillary is one of the UK’s rarest butterflies

Continued pressure, but increasing hope

Pressures on the UK’s wildlife, from climate change to pollution and habitat loss, continue to grow. However, with the alarming results of The State of Nature report comes a positive message, with conservationists and wildlife organisations rising to the challenge to protect, reintroduce and translocate species, and to create and restore dwindling habitats where resources allow.

Sir David has described the groundbreaking study as both a stark warning and a sign of hope, saying, “For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife. This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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