The UK’s nature is in serious trouble

More than 10% of UK species threatened with extinction, new study finds.

The UK’s wildlife continues to decline, according to the State of Nature 2019 report. The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied and that the declines continue unabated.

Following the State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea.

The State of Nature 2019 report also reveals that 41% of UK species studied have declined, 26% have increased and 33% shown little change since 1970, while 133 species assessed have already been lost from our shores since 1500.

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 17% and moths down by 25%. The numbers of species that require more specialised habitats, such as the high brown fritillary and grayling, have declined by more than three quarters. 

Grayling butterfly

Butterflies like the grayling (pictured) have suffered severe declines. Photo by Margaret Holland

The local picture

Locally in Berkshire, wildlife faces equally challenging times. The nightingale population has revealed a sharp decline in breeding numbers and unfortunately no territorial birds were recorded at all in 2018 and 2019 at our Hosehill Lake nature reserve.

Adders, downy emerald dragonfly and Dartford warblers are declining dramatically in Berkshire but have a continued presence on the nature reserves we look after.

In Oxfordshire, 63 wild flowers have gone extinct between 1968 and 1999. Over the last 200 years, ninety different species of flowering plant have gone extinct in the county. Snake’s-head fritillary is nationally scarce but at Iffley Meadows in Oxfordshire its population is stable.

BBOWT’s Water Vole Recovery Project, the longest standing local project in the UK dedicated to water vole conservation, has continued to work to conserve water vole populations in the three counties. Around 40 trained volunteers have surveyed on average 183km of watercourse annually over the past three years. The results have shown a continued expansion of water vole sites, with an overall increase of 71 %.

Although there are many challenges yet to overcome, undoubtedly over the past three years BBOWT has made a significant, substantial positive difference to the fortunes of wildlife across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

Water vole

Local targeted conservation work, like BBOWT's water vole recovery project, can turn the fortunes of wildlife around. Photo by Margaret Holland

Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture, and the ongoing effects of climate change, are having the biggest impacts on nature.

Pollution is also a major issue. Whilst emissions of many pollutants have been reduced dramatically in recent decades, pollution continues to have a severe impact on the UK’s sensitive habitats and freshwater, and new pollutant threats are continuing to emerge.

Hereford cattle grazing on a wild flower meadow

Wildlife-friendly farming practices could make a real difference for wildlife. Photo by Ian Boyd

Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: “We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations.

“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.

"Whilst the data that the report shows are alarming there is also cause for some cautious hope. The report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results for some of the UK’s nature. Species such as Bitterns and Large Blue Butterfly have been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals.

"Reflecting growing concern about the environmental and climate emergencies, public support for conservation also continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 26% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 40% since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09."

Commenting on the report, Estelle Bailey, CEO at Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, said:

“It’s still not too late to turn things around. The Wildlife Trust’s proposal for a Nature Recovery Network puts space for nature at the heart of our farming and planning systems, putting wildlife in the best position to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“A Nature Recovery Network would enable wildlife to move between habitats, giving nature the room it needs to sustain a healthy population in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

“Given the current political uncertainty and, in particular, the risks to our environment from a no-deal Brexit, we urgently need a clear commitment to an ambitious Environment Act and Agriculture Bill. These would provide the legislative foundation for the development of a Nature Recovery Network nationwide, helping turn nature’s recovery from an aspiration to a reality."

The future of conservation

The report has a foreword by a collective of young conservationists who are passionate about conservation and the future of our wildlife and nature to preserve it for future generations.

Dan Rouse, a young conservationist, said: “Nature is something that shaped my childhood, that allowed me to be free to use my sense of wonder, and to gain an insight into the wonderful world of nature! It's young people that are now picking up the baton to save our nature - we've already lost Corn Buntings and Nightingales in Wales - how long until they're gone from the rest of the UK? Along with the eerie calls of curlew and the gentle purr of the turtle doves.”

Sophie Pavelle, another young conservationist, said: “What a huge wake-up call 2019 has been! I have felt the loss of nature more acutely this year than any other. A dawn chorus less deafening, hedgerows less frantic, bizarre, worrying weather…it seems that in a more complex world nature is tired, muted and confused. People protect what they love, and if we can find quirky, empowering ways to encourage young people to connect with nature emotionally and see it as something they can truly champion - only then can we dig deep to find real hope for a brighter, sustained future for our natural world.”