The decline in wildlife in Berks, Bucks & Oxon mirrors national slump; 60% of UK species in decline, ground-breaking study finds.
Wednesday 22nd May 2013
West Berkshire heathland is vital for rare species such as adder and nightjar. Pic: Rob Appleby
The UK’s nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of the State of Nature, a ground-breaking report published today, Wednesday 22 May, by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.
The State of Nature report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening. Scientists from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK.
This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate.
The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether; and this trend is worryingly mirrored in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Sir David Attenborough said: “This ground-breaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.
“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.”
In Berkshire, for example, there are areas of heathland, now collectively known as the Thames Basin Heaths. They are home to a range of specialist heathland wildlife including smooth snakes, sand lizards, Dartford warblers and many butterflies and dragonflies. Over the years much of this habitat has disappeared and what remains is often fragmented into isolated pockets.
Where heathland is appropriately managed the wildlife that relies on this precious habitat can thrive locally. But all too often these species are confined to very small areas of suitable habitat and are restricted from expanding their numbers because of habitat fragmentation. This makes them incredibly vulnerable and susceptible to population crashes or even localised extinctions.
Our farmland birds have also declined sharply. Take the tree sparrow for example; there are no records of tree sparrows currently breeding in Berkshire and there hasn’t been since 1996, although back in the early 1970s they were widespread as a breeding bird throughout the county.
The garden tiger moth was also once common in Berkshire, but now appears much reduced, with just a handful of records from the last few years – a decline which is repeated across the whole UK.
Dr Kate Dent, head of conservation and education for Berkshire, said: “Landscape-scale conservation, working with local landowners and linking fragments of wildlife habitats, has to be the way forward, giving wildlife the best chance of a sustainable long-term future. The West Berkshire Living Landscape project is already proving that actively managing and restoring neglected heathland habitats can benefit birds such as the woodlark and Dartford warbler.”
Chris Williams, BBOWT’s head of conservation and education for Buckinghamshire said: “It’s vitally important to increase the landscape-scale conservation work such as the Chilterns Chalk Grassland project. The full impacts will come in the next few years, but at one site, on Dancersend nature reserve, more than 80 wild flower species emerged from the chalk scrapes just 12 months after we started restoring this rare habitat. Many of the plants are essential food sources for butterflies such as the chalkhill blue and silver-spotted skipper, which are gradually returning to the Chilterns.”
Neil Clennell, BBOWT’s head of conservation and education for Oxfordshire said: “Landscape-scale conservation work is vitally important across the county. We know from the work we’re doing with our landowner partners on the Water Vole Project, that linking up fragmented habitats allows water voles to colonise more streams and ditches in the Upper Thames area, and survive the droughts and floods of recent years.”
Chris Corrigan, RSPB South East Regional Director, said: “The South East’s wildlife reflects the declines that this new report highlights. The region has consistently shown the greatest declines in both the farmland and woodland bird indicator lists and there is nothing to suggest that these declines are slowing.
“From the mudflats and grazing marshes of North Kent through the downland in Sussex and the heathland of Hampshire and Surrey, wildlife is under threat. The South East is the country’s economic powerhouse and this puts extra pressure on our natural environment.
“The RSPB, together with a whole range of other conservation bodies and, perhaps more importantly individual landowners, is working hard to protect the wildlife that we have left – and make sure that it is around for future generations to enjoy. This may not be a new message but it is as important as ever and now there is compelling new evidence that it is even more urgent and that concerted efforts will be needed if our wildlife and our countryside are to be properly protected.”
A large proportion of land in the south east is farmland, which supports a wide range of animals and plants. However, some of our farmland species are amongst the fastest declining. For example, corn buntings and turtle doves have declined by 90% and 89% respectively since 1970, and 14% of all farmland flowering plants are on the national Red List.
Many farmers in Berks, Bucks & Oxon are doing fantastic work for wildlife and the environment through agri-environment schemes. Landowners who are signed up to Environmental Stewardship schemes, play a vital role in supporting key species and habitats, as well as making the countryside attractive and accessible for the public.
While there is no single reason for the declines of these species, some of the main factors believed to be driving the population falls of our farmland wildlife include: the loss of mixed farming, increased use and effectiveness of pesticides, changes in crops grown and increased field sizes.
Declines are happening across all 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.
There is some good news though; goldfinches have increased by 64% since 1970, and some bat species have benefited from conservation action, particularly through wildlife-friendly farming and agri-environment funding.
Chris Corrigan concluded: “None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”
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For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Samantha Stokes, RSPB South East, t: 01273 763610
Fen Gerry, RSPB Midlands, t: 07912 406 125
Wendy Tobitt, BBOWT 01865 788318