New report reveals devastating loss of UK wildlife

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.

Read the full 2019 State of Nature report

A garden tiger moth resting on buddleia during the day

Garden tiger moth by Denis Jackson

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

The UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. The Scottish wild cat and greater mouse-eared bat are among those species teetering on the edge of disappearing.

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 17% and moths down by 25%

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.

The main drivers of nature decline identified by the UK State of Nature report 2019

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.

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.”

Species such as bitterns and the large blue butterfly have been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals

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 the bittern 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.

The Scottish wildcat is classed as critically endangered and is thought to be functionally extinct in the wild

The Scottish wildcat is critically endangered. Photo by Elliot Smith

Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigns and Policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said “Nature is in big trouble but we know how to bring it back. Local action is already making a real difference and now the government needs to play its part. We need a Nature Recovery Network established in law – one that is locally developed and nationally connected – this would help join up our last remaining wild places by creating vital new habitats. It’s time to make nature a normal part of childhood again and restore wildlife so it can recover and thrive across urban jungles and the countryside once more – where it can be part of people’s daily lives.”

Tim Mitcham, Director of Conservation at The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, said “Our natural world is in a critical condition. We continue to lose our most precious remnants of wild natural space and vast numbers of our insects and birds. Our existing laws are too weak and the climate and ecological crisis we face is not being taken seriously enough. Turtle doves and nightjars no longer live in the North West, the Manchester Argus butterfly is locally extinct and just 2% of our magnificent lowland mosslands remain, the rest destroyed by peat extraction and development. This needs to change.

Turtle doves and nightjars no longer live in the North West, the Manchester argus butterfly is locally extinct and just 2% of our magnificent lowland mosslands remain

“Through our My Wild City project in Manchester we are encouraging people to grow wild gardens and think about what we can do to remove the barriers that stop wildlife from moving around our towns and cities. In Pennine Lancashire we are working with farmers to restore species-rich grassland; creating stepping-stones between areas of fragmented habitat. These restored grassland sites support many species of bees, butterflies and birds and also provide vital ecological services for humanity, such as pollination and natural pest control for agricultural crops. We are re-wetting peat-extracted mossland sites and other wetlands in Greater Manchester to provide a network in which the endangered willow tit can recover and thrive.

With a Nature Recovery Network engrained in law, we can do more to restore and connect our local wild places, to help put nature into recovery.”

The silhouette of a child playing with a stick under a tree at sunset

Photo by David Tipling/2020VISION

The State of Nature 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, a 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.”

Click here for a full copy of the State of Nature 2019 report and to find out how you can do your bit to save UK wildlife.

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Barn owl by Andy Rouse/2020VISION