'Alarming decline' in England's biodiversity

| 11th March 2010
The Dainty Damselfly
The Dainty Damselfly has been extinct in England since the 1950s
England becoming a country of 'beauty spots rather than beauty', and must act fast to address declining biodiversity, says the government’s environment watchdog

Nearly 500 species of animals and plants have become extinct in England as a result of human activity since 1800, according to a report by Natural England.

In the first ever audit of England’s lost and declining species, 12 per cent of land mammals, 22 per cent of amphibians and 24 per cent of butterflies were shown to have been lost.

Seven of the species, including the Irish Lady’s Tresses orchid and the Pashford Pot Beetle, have been lost in the last 10 years and some, including the Great Auk and Ivell’s sea anenome, are now globally extinct.

The populations of a further 943 species are at precariously low levels including the northern bluefin tuna, the Natterjack toad and the red squirrel, which Natural England says could become extinct in the next 20-30 years without urgent action. 

Beauty spots

At a local level, biodiversity loss is even more extreme according to the study. In 23 of England’s counties a plant species is being lost every two years.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said Britain had turned from ‘a country of beauty to a country of beauty spots.’

‘Biodiversity matters and with more and more of our species and habitats confined to isolated, protected sites we need to think on a much broader geographical scale about how we can reverse the losses of the recent past and secure a more solid future for our wildlife.’

Intensive farming

The intensification of agriculture was highlighted as a major cause of biodiversity loss, in particular the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, the ploughing of grasslands and the loss of mixed farms. 

Natural England’s chief scientist rejected the idea that producing more food and protecting biodiversity couldn’t go together:

‘The question of whether you have food or wildlife is a false dichotomy,’ said Dr. Tom Tew.

‘As we move towards what some people are calling the perfect storm of climate change, rising populations and increasing demand for food, water and energy, what we need to see is more sustainable farming,’ he added.  

Re-introduction of species

The report also highlighted the successful reintroduction of extinct species such as the polecat weasel, the red kite and the pool frog but warned that reintroducing species ‘is not the panacea’.

‘There’s no point in putting animals back into a habitat if the cause of their extinction has not been rectified. We need to address the causes of biodiversity loss rather than the symptoms,’ said Dr. Tew.   

Useful links

Natural England study

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