More than one in ten UK species threatened with extinction, new study finds

It’s not too late to save UK nature but we must act now - that is the conclusion from a coalition of more than 50 leading wildlife and research organisations behind the State of Nature 2016 report.
More than one in ten UK species threatened with extinction, new study finds

Photo by Adrian Langdon

Following on from the ground-breaking State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 53 wildlife organisations have pooled expertise and knowledge to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our native species across land and sea. The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

There are many inspiring examples of conservation action that is helping to turn the tide. From pioneering science that has revealed for the first time the reasons why nature is changing in the UK, to wide ranging conservation work. In Cornwall, partnership working between conservation organisations and farmers has achieved improvements of river and wetland habitats and created farm ponds and new wet woodland for the benefit of wildlife and to improve water quality. Progress has been made in our understanding of Cornwall’s marine environment thanks to intensive survey and mapping work over 2 years by staff and volunteers at the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. In 2014 a comprehensive map of the habitats and species of the intertidal zone of the whole of the north coast of Cornwall, all 370 miles of it, was completed.

As the UK Government and devolved administrations move forward in the light of the EU Referendum result, there is an opportunity to secure world leading protection for our species and restoration of our nature. Now is the time to make ambitious decisions and significant investment in nature to ensure year-on-year improvement to the health and protection of the UK’s nature and environment for future generations.

The State of Nature 2016 UK report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation and research organisations at the Royal Society in London this morning [Wednesday, September 14], while separate events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast over the next week.

Sir David Attenborough says,

“The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before.

“The rallying call issued after the State of Nature report in 2013 has promoted exciting and innovative conservation projects. Landscapes are being restored, special places defended, struggling species being saved and brought back. But we need to build significantly on this progress if we are to provide a bright future for nature and for people."

“The future of nature is under threat and we must work together; Governments, conservationists, businesses and individuals, to help it. Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”

In order to reduce the impact we are having on our wildlife, and to help struggling species, we needed to understand what’s causing these declines. Using evidence from the last 50 years, experts have identified that significant and ongoing changes in agricultural practices are having the single biggest impact on nature.

Prof Jan Pentreath, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust President, who was previously the Chief Scientist of the Environment Agency and the Government’s independent zoological advisor to the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee says,

“This Report again stresses the essential role of the local county wildlife trusts in halting and reversing the continuing decline in the variety and quantity of wildlife across the UK. We in Cornwall are on the front line with regard to protecting many of the critical areas highlighted in the report – from dolphins and basking sharks to maerl beds and sea grass communities. On land we continue to expand our own set of nature reserves to act as vital havens in threatened areas, acquiring critical tracts of land as funds become available. We also work continually to create more habitats across Cornwall generally. And, just as importantly, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust enables large numbers of volunteers to work alongside professionals in recording both common and rare species, as well as labouring hard to restore their habitats.”

Victoria Whitehouse, Head of Nature Conservation at Cornwall Wildlife Trust says,

“Cornwall Wildlife Trust is keen to support people in getting involved in their local wildlife, for example through helping us to gather information Cornwall’s iconic animals, the bottlenose dolphin and basking shark, through our Seaquest project. We don’t know enough about these wonderful marine animals so with more information we can better understand how to protect them for the future.”

The widespread decline of nature in the UK remains a serious problem to this day. For the first time scientists have uncovered how wildlife has fared in recent years. The report reveals that since 2002 more than half (53%) of UK species studied have declined and there is little evidence to suggest that the rate of loss is slowing down.

Mark Eaton, lead author on the report, says,

“Never before have we known this much about the state of UK nature and the threats it is facing. Since the 2013, the partnership and many landowners have used this knowledge to underpin some amazing scientific and conservation work. But more is needed to put nature back where it belongs – we must continue to work to help restore our land and sea for wildlife.

“There is a real opportunity for the UK Government and devolved administrations to build on these efforts and deliver the significant investment and ambitious action needed to bring nature back from the brink.

“Of course, this report wouldn’t have been possible without the army of dedicated volunteers who brave all conditions to survey the UK’s wildlife. Knowledge is the most essential tool that a conservationist can have, and without their efforts, our knowledge would be significantly poorer.”