Blog by Dr Andrew Brown, Principal Specialist - Species, at Natural England 

Our State of Nature Report makes much use of the results of recent GB Red-listing exercises. These are assessments of the current risk of individual species becoming extinct in GB and they provide an explicit & objective categorisation of all species using internationally agreed and universally applied criteria.

Specialist groups usually conduct the assessments, making use of all available information on the status of individual species – not least those held in the relevant national recording schemes – to assign species to one of several categories summarising the degree of threat they each face. 

The assessments provide a ‘snapshot’ of threat facing our wildlife which is unambiguous, quantitative, robust, temporally sensitive, easily understood and potentially at least, all-embracing - so can be highly representative.

So far, we have published assessments for just over 9500 species, with those for a further 1000 or so in review, including the macro-moths and terrestrial mammals.

Across the groups assessed to date, 155 species have been lost from Great Britain and a further 15% are Threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable) with extinction here. Threat evidently varies across taxonomic groups, with birds, butterflies and earthstars the more threatened groups.

The more significant gaps in our coverage concern assessments for micro-moths, the larger staphylinid beetles, ladybirds, groundbugs, plantbugs and leafhoppers, the aculeates (ants, bees and wasps) and many marine groups including fish, sea-mammals, the larger crustacea, marine molluscs and algae. When these are complete, our coverage will be extremely wide ranging, from tiny lichens to the largest whales.

In providing a common, objective assessment of the status of species, they provide a basis for agreeing priorities across species and across the conservation community. Whilst they are clearly of immense value in informing decisions about our conservation priorities, they are not priority-setting exercises themselves: those involved in identifying priorities may wish to consider legal obligations, the scale and pattern of historical loss, the international significance of our populations and the extent to which species threatened here are also threatened at European and Global scales.

Importantly, our GB IUCN assessments provide a means of monitoring, reporting and celebrating the effectiveness of our conservation interventions. By periodically repeating our assessments we can track change in extinction risk. Recognising this, Government has recently announced that change in a GB Red List Index is to be a ‘Headline Indicator’ of progress in implementing its 25 Year Plan for the Environment and we can expect to see its introduction in succeeding State of the Environment reports.

If you would like to help us better monitor change in the status of species, please contribute your sightings using iRecord or send them direct to your local or national scheme recorder. If you are a national scheme organiser and would like to engage in a status review for your group, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.