RSPB England Director Emma Marsh describes today's State of Nature Report and what it means for England ...

England contains a range of internationally important habitats, such as its lowland heathland, ancient woodland and chalk grasslands in the south, the blanket bogs along the Pennines, the coastal estuaries and saltmarshes that provide vital foraging habitat for wintering waterbirds, and the sea cliffs and offshore islands that support internationally important numbers of breeding seabirds.

Leading professionals from 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our how our species are faring across land and sea.

The new State of Nature report 2019 contains some alarming figures for biodiversity in England and across the UK. The UK government must act now if we hope to reverse these declines.

  • Public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09, despite the current ecological and climate emergency.
  • Most of the UK’s Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 Aichi targets will not be met.
  • Over one in eight species is now threatened with extinction in England*

What is our government doing for nature?

Although the UK’s expenditure on international biodiversity has grown, we need to ensure that our government is committed to improving UK biodiversity too. The State of Nature report 2019 shows that 330 plants (15%), 154 fungi and lichens (12%), 105 vertebrates (40%) and 382 invertebrates (11%) found in England are currently threatened with extinction from Great Britain.**

Once common species like the corncrake, curlew, turtle dove and nightingale have faced staggering declines across England. Since 1996, the number of birds on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List has increased from 36 to 67 species.

Across the UK, an estimated 40 million birds have disappeared from our skies in the last 50 years.

Butterflies and mammals are also being particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 23% and greater than 27% of England’s mammal species are at risk of disappearing altogether.

Defra launched their 25-year Environment Plan in 2018. This sets out the government’s ambitions to help the natural world regain and retain good health in England, including the creation or restoration of 500,000ha of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network.

We need our government to make the current laws protecting UK nature even stronger and to invest in saving our vulnerable species before they are lost forever.

What can I do to help? Campaign with us for stronger laws to protect nature

What’s being done by conservation organisations?

Reflecting growing concern about the environmental and climate emergencies, public support for conservation also continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 24% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 46% since 2000.

The report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results for some of the UK’s nature.

There are many landscape-scale initiatives active in England, funded by NGOs, government agencies or through other sources, like the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Examples include the Great Fen, a 50-year vision to link two fenland reserves in Cambridgeshire; Moors for the Future, which aims to restore and conserve upland habitats in the Peak District and South Pennines; regional forest projects; and the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, the UK's largest-ever coastal wetland restoration project. An ambitious collaborative project Back from the Brink was launched in 2017 and aims to save 20 of England’s most threatened species from extinction and help a further 200.

Yet ultimately, our ability to act to conserve the UK’s nature is constrained by resources.

What can I do to help? Many conservation projects rely heavily on volunteer action, get involved and help us achieve even more for nature!

Connecting the public to nature

Disconnection from nature is considered one of the major problems facing nature conservation. The term ‘connection to nature’ is frequently used to describe our attitude towards nature, our emotional relationship along with our knowledge and behaviour.

Research suggests that people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats. Developing an emotional relationship between people and nature, connecting people, may be critical for future nature conservation.

Since the last State of Nature report, young people have risen to the forefront of the conversation around climate change. The 2019 report has a foreword by a collective of young conservationists who are passionate about conservation and the future of our wildlife and nature to preserve it for future generations.

Sophie Pavelle, a young conservationist said “What a huge wake-up call 2019 has been! I have felt the loss of nature more acutely this year than any other. A dawn chorus less deafening, hedgerows less frantic, bizarre, worrying weather…it seems that in a more complex world nature is tired, muted and confused. People protect what they love, and if we can find quirky, empowering ways to encourage young people to connect with nature emotionally and see it as something they can truly champion - only then can we dig deep to find real hope for a brighter, sustained future for our natural world.”

On Friday 20th September, the RSPB stood in solidarity with young people across the world in the UK’s largest ever climate protest at the Global Youth Climate Strikes. Together, with almost 4 million others worldwide, people stood together to demand urgent action on the climate and ecological crisis.

We are so proud of the young climate strikers from all over the world that have brought all these different people together, at an unprecedented scale, to fight for our planet. Our message to you is don't give up - you are doing brilliantly - and we are always here to support you. 

What can I do to help? Collectively, we need to do more to even more to educate people about the current ecological and climate crisis. On Thursday 17 October, we aim to play birdsong to five million people across the UK, to highlight exactly what we stand to lose if these declines continue. We need your help to reach as many people as possible.

Take part in our Birdsong Takeover on 17 October


*Of 7,615 species in England that have been assessed using IUCN Regional Red List criteria, 13% have been classified as threatened with extinction from Great Britain. (Pg 64)

**Of the extant terrestrial and freshwater species found in England, assessed using IUCN Regional Red List criteria, 330 plants (15%), 154 fungi and lichens (12%), 105 vertebrates (40%) and 382 invertebrates (11%) are classified as being at risk of extinction from Great Britain. (pg 66)