Is Cornwall’s nature in a state?

Ben Watkins

With global leaders headed to Cornwall this year for the G7 summit to consider the climate crisis and other global environmental issues, what can we do at a local level to contribute towards these major challenges? Cornwall is famed across the world for its natural beauty, but a shocking new report has found that much of our local wildlife is in decline.

In 2019 the national State of Nature report gave the worrying news that since 1970, 41% of species have declined in abundance across the UK. This led to talk of an ‘ecological emergency’ and calls for it to be tackled alongside the climate crisis. Cornwall Wildlife Trust wanted to know if the same was true here in Cornwall, so teamed up with Cornwall Council and the University of Exeter and analysed a huge volume of local species and habitat data collected largely by volunteer ‘citizen scientists’.

The resultant State of Nature Cornwall 2020 report shows that many species groups are in trouble; nearly half of terrestrial mammals are now found in fewer places in Cornwall than in the 1980s and nearly half of our breeding birds are in serious decline. Whilst the report paints a generally gloomy picture, it does include some good news, detailing where concentrated conservation efforts have brought species back from the brink of local extinction.

Chough Land's End by Pete Warman

When we work together we can turn the fortunes of species around, for example the return of choughs to Cornwall (image by Pete Warman)

Cheryl Marriott, Head of Conservation at Cornwall Wildlife Trust commented on the report,

‘There are parts that make for difficult reading; Cornwall’s wildlife is in a bad way and continued species decline will inevitably lead to local extinctions. But more positively, we did find that public appreciation of wildlife has surged during lockdown and we know from our work that together we can make a difference and bring nature back. That gives me hope we can still turn the situation around’.

The findings will be used by Cornwall Council in the Local Nature Recovery pilot they are delivering as one of only 5 national projects testing this new approach for nature, as set out in the Environment Bill. Cllr Rob Nolan, Cornwall Council Portfolio holder for Environment and Public Protection explains:

'Understanding how wildlife is faring is vital in our plans for nature recovery. Humans are very much part of the wider ecosystem and this report helps us see the links between people and nature, one and all! The findings will help us to prioritise the places and species in greatest need of action here in Cornwall.'

Cornwall Council are asking residents to have their say on what is needed for nature’s recovery by completing a new Nature Recovery Plan survey on the Let’s Talk Cornwall website.

Cornish Hedge and Stile by John Beedle

152 kilometers of hedgerow and Cornish hedgerow has been lost (Image: Cornish Hedge and Stile by John Beedle)

Dr Ilya Maclean from the University of Exeter added 'There is an opportunity for Cornwall to show real leadership in reversing species decline and I suspect the next few years will prove decisive. I am cautiously optimistic that with the right measures, and the right will, this can be achieved.’

The full report will be launched in the early spring. You can view the key findings  summary on the dedicated State of Nature Cornwall 2020 page of the website.