Guest blog by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and co-author of the State of Nature 2016 report. 

The State of Nature 2016 report brings together data and expertise from over 50 organisations, providing us with the clearest picture yet of how wildlife is faring across the UK, and its seas, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Here are a few of the key findings of the report.

56% of UK species have declined over recent decades

The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species assessed have declined since 1970. Of the three taxonomic groups assessed - vertebrates, invertebrates and plants – a higher proportion of invertebrates are declining than other taxonomic groups, with 59% having declined since 1970.

Average species abundance or occupancy (a measure similar to abundance for species too tricky to count) has fallen by 16% since 1970

So not only are the majority of species declining, overall numbers are falling, and have continued to do so in the last few years. As above, the decline in invertebrates – down by 29% on average – is greater than for other taxonomic groups.

15% of species in Great Britain are thought to be extinct or threatened with extinction

More than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether, including species such as the high brown fritillary butterfly, rigid apple moss and bog hoverfly. 2% of species have already gone extinct from Britain.

Photo of High brown fritillary butterfly - under threat of disappearing from UK

Of the taxonomic groups that have been assessed it is plants that face the highest level of threat with 19% of plant species threatened with extinction, including small fleabane and corn buttercup.

Photo of small fleabane - a plant under threat of disappearing from UK

New biodiversity intactness index shows UK is one of most nature-depleted countries in world

New research published in the journal Science and included in the State of Nature report reveals that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. Of the 218 countries assessed for ‘biodiversity intactness’, the UK is ranked 189, a consequence of centuries of industrialisation, urbanisation and overexploitation of our natural resources.

Drivers of change in the UK’s wildlife

New research, published in the journal PLOS ONE earlier this year, and included in the State of Nature report for the first time, quantifies what has caused the changes in our wildlife – the ‘drivers of change’. The science reveals that agricultural management and climate change have been the two major drivers of wildlife change in the UK in recent decades. Modern farming approaches, including increased use of pesticides, loss of hedgerows and other non-cropped habitats, the loss of mixed farming and a change in sowing seasons, have been the key drivers of wildlife decline affecting farmland birds such as the turtle dove and yellowhammer.

Photo of dormouse - climate change could be driving declines in dormice

Climate change has both positive and negative implications on UK wildlife including some expansion of range for some species like Dartford warbler and conversely loss of range for others such as the mountain ringlet butterfly and dormouse.

Photo of Dartford warbler which could be benefiting from climate warming in UK, although losing out across Europe as a whole

Examples of conservation action

There are many inspiring examples of how conservation action can turn around the fortunes of wildlife. Throughout the report there are case studies that demonstrate how conservation organisations, governments, businesses, landowners, communities and individuals have worked together to help the UK’s nature.

  • Habitat restoration – we highlight the restoration of heathlands for silver-studded blue butterflies, the recovery of upland bogs that benefits both wildlife and their capacity to contribute to flood control, and the creation of new intertidal habitats through managed realignment of coastlines.
  • Species recovery – the report give numerous examples of how species have been brought back, such as the reintroduction of pine martens, red kites and large blue butterflies following local or even national extinctions.
  • Working with land owners and managers – truly landscape-scale conservation recovery can only achieved working with farmers and other land managers. We discuss how agri-environment schemes support farmers to undertake wildlife-friendly farming action, and how a raft of projects providing advice are aiding the recovery of species including marsh fritillary butterflies and great yellow bumblebees.
  • At a local level – individuals and local communities can make a real difference, and we showcase the UK’s first Hedgehog Improvement Area, efforts to re-think Bristol as a nature reserve, pond creation on a massive scale, and give numerous ways of how volunteers can contribute to the recording of wildlife and thus help future State of Nature reports.

Photo of large blue butterfly - which has been successfully reintroduced to the UK

Photo of Pine marten – recovering across Scotland, and now reintroduced into Wales

Actions you can take to help wildlife

The State of Nature partnership is reaching out, asking readers to get involved in helping wildlife by taking action: although the report paints a picture of decline, it also demonstrates how conservation action by individuals can make a difference.

You can get involved in wildlife monitoring, volunteering, creating homes for wildlife, campaigning, and living sustainably. To find out more take a look at the fantastic new State of Nature infographic and find out about exciting projects being run by a wide range of State of Nature partners.

Find out more

Read the State of Nature 2016 report

Follow #stateofnature on twitter

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