'State of Nature' 2016 report shows continued loss of Britain's biodiversity

| 14th September 2016
Who ate all the pies? Robin redbreast on an English farm. Photo: John Bennett via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Who ate all the pies? Robin redbreast on an English farm. Photo: John Bennett via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The 2016 'State of Nature' report, published today, offers many small victories to celebrate, writes SUSAN CLARK, but overall it's not good news: 15% of our native species are under threat of extinction, while 53% are in decline. With intensive farming the main cause of the damage, and climate change a serious long term problem, turning the tide of wildlife attrition will be a long and challenging task.
Escalating pressures, such as modern land management, mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to our health and wellbeing. Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and needs our help as never before.

The new State of Nature report pools data and expertise from more than 50 nature conservation and other research organisations to give a cutting edge overview of the state of nature in the UK and in its seas, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.

It shows the UK's wildlife to be under considerable pressure with the negative pressures - primarily agriculture, climate change and a 32% reduction in funding for conservation - significantly outweighing the positive resulting in a net loss of nature.

This is a trend identified three years ago (2013) when the first State of Nature report was published (and reported on by the Ecologist at that time) with this new report concluding that current conservation efforts to reverse the decline are insufficient to put nature 'back where it belongs.'

And writing in his foreword to the new report, Sir David Attenborough agrees:

"The news is mixed. Escalating pressures, such as climate change and modern land management, mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and wellbeing of those who live in the UK, and also in its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before."

UK 'leading ther world' in destruction of nature

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species declined, with 40% showing strong or moderate declines. 44% of species increased, with 29% showing strong or moderate increases. Between 2002 and 2013, 53% of species declined and 47% increased. These measures were based on quantitative trends for almost 4,000 terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK.
  • Of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern Red List criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction from Great Britain.
  • An index of species' status, based on abundance and occupancy data, has fallen by 16% since 1970. Between 2002 and 2013, the index fell by 3%. This is based on data for 2,501 terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK.
  • An index describing the population trends of species of special conservation concern in the UK has fallen by 67% since 1970, and by 12% over the last decade. This is based on trend information for 213 priority species.
  • A new measure that assesses how intact a country's biodiversity is, suggests that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. The index suggests that we are amongst the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
  • The loss of nature in the UK continues. Although many short-term trends suggest improvement, there was no statistical difference between our long and short-term measures of species' change, and no change in the proportion of species threatened with extinction.
  • Many factors have resulted in changes to the UK's wildlife over recent decades, but policy-driven agricultural change was by far the most significant driver of declines. Climate change has had a significant impact too, although its impact has been mixed, with both beneficial and detrimental effects on species. Nevertheless, we know that climate change is one of the greatest long-term threats to nature globally.
  • Well-planned conservation projects can turn around the fortunes of wildlife. This report gives examples of how governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses, communities and individuals have worked together to bring nature back.
  • We have a moral obligation to save nature and this is a view shared by the millions of supporters of conservation organisations across the UK. Not only that, we must save nature for our own sake, as it provides us with essential and irreplaceable benefits that support our welfare and livelihoods.
  • We are fortunate that the UK has thousands of dedicated and expert volunteers recording wildlife. It is largely thanks to their efforts, and the role of the organisations supporting them, that we are able to chart how our nature is faring.
  • The UK's Overseas Territories (OTs) are of great importance for wildlife globally; 32,000 native species have been recorded in the OTs, of which 1,500 occur nowhere else in the world. An estimated 70,000 species may remain undiscovered in the OTs.

A myriad of exciting and innovative conservation projects - but we need more!

The UK has commitments to meet international environmental goals, such as those in the Convention on Biological Diversity's Aichi Targets and the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.

However, the findings of this report suggest that we are not on course to meet the Aichi 2020 targets, and that much more action needs to be taken towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goal.

Sir David Attenborough is, of course, not the nation's favourite conservationist for no reason - he had dedicated his career to inspiring the rest of us to care about what happens to wildlife and the world's natural resources for decades.

And so in his conclusion he raises the spectre of a more hopeful future stating: "The 'State of Nature' 2016 report gives us cause for hope too. The rallying call issued in 2013 has been met with a myriad of exciting and innovative conservation projects.

"Landscapes are being restored, special places defended, and struggling species are being saved and brought back. Such successes demonstrate that if conservationists, governments, businesses and individuals all pull together, we can provide a brighter future for nature and for people." 


Susan Clark edits The Ecologist.

Read the full State of Nature report.

Also on The Ecologist: 'State of Nature': a labour of love by Britain's conservation heroes' by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation scientist with the RSPB and State of Nature co-author.


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