The State of Nature in Wales: our response

Mae fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

RSPB Cymru Director, Katie-jo Luxton, sets out why we should all be shouting about the crisis facing nature, but why she also has hope for the future.

I spent last weekend in north and mid Wales, showing RSPB trustees some of our work to restore wetlands on Anglesey, peatbogs at Lake Vyrnwy and, with colleagues from Snowdonia National Park, the amazing lichen-rich oak woodlands of Meirionnydd: our Celtic Rainforests. It was an uplifting few days, the undimmed passion for nature from our volunteers and staff providing sunshine and hope in a weekend of autumnal weather.

We all need such hope, especially when you hear first-hand from people who are witnessing and recording the depletion of nature in Wales. That wealth of data, counting and identification by thousands of people – many of them expert volunteers – has been used to compile State of Nature 2019, published today. I’d urge you to read the whole report if you can, but at least to look at the summary for Wales.

Red squirrelSo, what does it tell us?

The main message is that there is, sadly, no let-up in the declines in nature nor the pressures it faces. Wales is no different to any other country: we are experiencing an ecological emergency. This matters. We depend on nature, for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the places we enjoy. And because nature has an intrinsic value, and we have a responsibility to maintain the amazing and wonderful diversity of species and habitats.

Caption: Red squirrel (above) and hawfinches (below), two species under risk of extinction in Wales

Is the Welsh Government listening?

Earlier this year, First Minister Mark Drakeford declared a climate emergency. Just two weeks ago, thousands of young people (and quite a few older ones) took to the streets of Wales to shout for action to address the twin crises facing climate and nature. The support for our Let Nature Sing campaign shows there is strong public support to address the ecological emergency in tandem with the climate emergency.

State of Nature 2019 is backed by several government bodies, including Natural Resources Wales. The validity of the science is not in doubt.  Just last week, Welsh Government published Wellbeing 2018-19, its annual report on how Wales is progressing on its seven well-being goals. Hats off to the Government for collecting this data and producing such a report; it’s one of the few countries in the world to do this. It stems from the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, which RSPB members strongly supported during its passage through the Senedd.

Is the Welsh Government acting?

We’ve heard the fine words, and we don’t doubt the commitment, but this requires action without delay. Here’s five things highlighted by State of Nature 2019 where nature needs speedy action:

  1. The report highlights that public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 39% since 2008/09. We all know that public finances have been tight in the last decade, but the axe seems to have fallen heavily on nature. In July, the First Minister said that restoring biodiversity would be a strategic priority for Welsh Government in the next budget. So, let’s see the good words backed up by some real money directed to the most important priorities.
  2. Government departments and public bodies need to work together to reverse nature’s decline; all sectors need to contribute since we know nature contributes to so many aspects of our well-being. We are looking for biodiversity recovery to be part of every part of the Welsh Government’s next budget.
  3. We need NRW to have the resources to step up its game on the designation, monitoring and management of our protected sites on land and at sea. These are Welsh nature’s Crown Jewels but many are not in good condition: the last review - in 2013 - found that 55% of species on Natura 2000 sites (Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation) are not achieving their target status. And a lack of resources to do the assessments means that no-one knows if this situation is getting better or worse (though I’d take a bet on the latter).
  4. These special sites need to be better protected and managed, expanded and connected. That will make them better for nature and more resilient to future changes, including from climate chaos. Improving the condition of habitats on land and at sea is a critical step in reversing nature’s decline, but also in addressing the climate emergency – healthy habitats store more carbon. By 2025 we want at least 20% of land in Wales to be well-managed for nature. That requires more ambitious thinking and action.
  5. State of Nature 2019 is clear that agriculture has been a key driver of nature’s decline. Wildlife on farmland is among Wales’ must vulnerable; Turtle doves and corn buntings are already extinct as breeding birds in Wales, and it’s going to take a huge effort to stop curlew and black grouse following them into history. Welsh Government’s current work to design a new system of farm support presents a unique opportunity to reverse these declines.

And that’s where you, our supporters, can help today and provide even more hope. We believe that using taxpayers’ money to pay farmers and land managers for delivering public goods such as clean water, clean air, carbon storage and wildlife, while supporting sustainable food production, is critical to turning around nature’s decline. We can all help this by calling for a better future for nature, for farming and for the people of Wales.

State of Nature 2019 does provide hope; there are some fantastic conservation projects in Wales, and I’m immensely proud of the leading role that RSPB Cymru plays in some of those. But these projects need to become mainstream, we need Welsh Government leadership to ensure that Brexit doesn’t leave the environment poorer: that environmental protections are enhanced, there is a strong watchdog to champion and enforce conservation, and binding nature recovery targets to ensure that future Welsh Governments take transformative action to drive nature’s recovery.

Next time State of Nature is published, my hope is that I won’t need to write this again.

Images in the order they appear: Louise Greenhorn, Ben Andrew, Eleanor Bentall (all