More than one in ten UK species threatened with extinction, new study finds

Wednesday 14th September 2016

Heath fritillary butterfly (c) Jim HighamHeath fritillary butterfly (c) Jim Higham

It’s not too late to save UK nature but we must act now - that is the conclusion from a coalition of more than 50 leading wildlife and research organisations behind the State of Nature 2016 report.

Following on from the groundbreaking State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 53 wildlife organisations have pooled expertise and knowledge to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our native species across land and sea. The report reveals that over half (56 per cent) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while 15 per cent (1,199 of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK) are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

Ian Barrett, chief executive of the Avon Wildlife Trust, said: “The State of Nature report has brought to the public’s attention the dramatic decline of British wildlife, though I am heartened by the many success stories both nationally and locally, including our own My Wild City project in Bristol. I hope this State of Nature report will further galvanise people to help halt the decline of our wildlife.”

There are many inspiring examples of conservation action that is helping to turn the tide. From pioneering science that has revealed for the first time the reasons why nature is changing in the UK, to conservation work – such as the reintroduction of the large blue butterfly in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the re-introduction of the crane after a 400-year absence, and creation of wildlife-rich wetlands on former peat workings in the Somerset Levels, where bitterns are once again thriving – and the restoration of areas of our uplands, meadows and coastal habitats. But more is needed to put nature back where it belongs.

Nick Bruce-White, regional director of the RSPB in the South West, said: “Whilst the State of Nature report clearly shows the challenges we face in terms of winning the war on biodiversity loss, where we are working together to exert sustained effort we are winning battles.

“The recovery of the bittern, a spectacular wetland bird, which suffered catastrophic decline in the latter part of the Twentieth Century because of loss of wetlands, is a great example of this, an example of ‘total conservation’: a problem was identified; solutions trialled and developed using sound science; an urgency to address the problem was established; and commitment was shown – from government agencies, farmers, conservationists, businesses and communities – to take action. We need to use this State of Nature report as a warning siren and take action now, before we lose all hope of passing on a healthier natural environment to the next generation.”

Andrew Whitehouse, South West manager at Buglife, said: “Our wildlife is in trouble and invertebrates are doing particularly badly. Our South West Bees Project has shown that many of our bee species are struggling to survive in an increasingly degraded countryside. But by working together to undertake effective conservation work we can give some species a brighter future. The South West Crayfish Partnership has been doing just that for Avon and Somerset’s endangered white-clawed crayfish populations by moving them to save-haven sites.”

Liam Creedon, of Butterfly Conservation, said: “The South West is home to some of the UK’s most charismatic butterfly and moth species, from the Duke of Burgundy fritillary patrolling the Dorset Downs to the critically endangered high brown fritillary, which can still be found in its strongholds up on Exmoor and Dartmoor. Butterflies and moths in the region face increasing pressures from habitat loss and climate change but through targeted conservation work there is hope that declines can be reversed.”

Dr Trevor Dines, of Plantlife, said: “An ancient wildflower meadow can be destroyed within a single morning and this quiet catastrophe has befallen more than 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows and grasslands since the Second World War. Where there were once flowers at our feet there is now a factory floor, little more than green concrete. Ask any member of the public and I bet they’d want more of a balance, wildlife and production, not one instead of the other. For all the doom and gloom of these shocking statistics, our wildlife is resilient. If we provide plants and animals with the right conditions they will come back from the brink, we just have to give them a chance.”

Alex Raeder, of the National Trust in the South West, said: “This report is wake up call to everybody who loves nature and values the natural environment. We cannot sit on our hands and let our natural heritage slip away. Whilst some of our most important sites remain in reasonable condition it is clear that in the wider countryside, where most of us live, wildlife that was once common is being lost. We must create opportunities to bring the South West’s birds, bees, butterflies and flowers back to our countryside, by working in partnership to create landscapes rich in nature.”

As the UK Government and devolved administrations move forward in the light of the EU Referendum result, there is an opportunity to secure world leading protection for our species and restoration of our nature. Now is the time to make ambitious decisions and significant investment in nature to ensure year-on-year improvement to the health and protection of the UK’s nature and environment for future generations.

The State of Nature 2016 UK report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation and research organisations at the Royal Society in London this morning [Wednesday, September 14], while separate events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast over the next week.

Sir David Attenborough said: “The future of nature is under threat and we must work together; Governments, conservationists, businesses and individuals, to help it. Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”

In order to reduce the impact we are having on our wildlife, and to help struggling species, we needed to understand what’s causing these declines. Using evidence from the last 50 years, experts have identified that significant and ongoing changes in agricultural practices are having the single biggest impact on nature.

The widespread decline of nature in the UK remains a serious problem to this day. For the first time scientists have uncovered how wildlife has fared in recent years. The report reveals that since 2002 more than half (53 per cent) of UK species studied have declined and there is little evidence to suggest that the rate of loss is slowing down.

For a full copy of the State of Nature 2016 report and to find out how you can do your bit to save UK wildlife –



Case Studies: Bristol, Somerset & Gloucestershire 

Over the last 50 years 56 per cent of species have declined and 15 per cent are at risk of disappearing. The State of Nature report highlights several categories of conservation effort being used at a local, regional and national scale; here are some of the ways State of Nature partners are helping wildlife in the South West:

Protecting the best places:

The UK has a proud heritage of protecting the best sites for wildlife; protected sites cover about ten per cent of the UK but the figure is well short of the global target of at least 17 per cent of land area and ten per cent of marine area under protection.

The RSPB’s West Sedgemoor reserve is part of England’s largest remaining wet meadow system. In the heart of the Somerset Levels, it is a site of special scientific interest, and has the largest population of breeding wading birds in southern England, which are struggling in the intensively farmed countryside. To keep conditions ideal for wildlife the fields are grazed, water levels controlled and hedges managed using traditional methods.

Browne’s Folly nature reserve, near Bath, is designated a site of special scientific interest as the ancient woodland and remains of Bath stone quarries are home to 13 of the UK’s 17 species of bat. The old quarry spoil heaps are perfect for orchids, where nine different species have been recorded, including the rare fly orchid. Avon Wildlife Trust manages the ancient woodland and wildflower-rich grassland for bats, and Geoffroy’s bat has been discovered there, the second record of the species in Britain. 

Improving habitats: 

Accumulated knowledge from decades of conservation experience, backed by detailed scientific research, means we now know more about managing habitats than ever before.

Avon Wildlife Trust’s Walton Common reserve, in north Somerset, is using ‘invisible’ electric fencing in order to re-introduce grazing cattle after a 50-year absence, as part of a project to restore rare calcareous grassland. The lack of grazing has meant volunteers have had to commit thousands of hours helping to protect this site of special scientific interest.

Grazing on Stroud Common, in Gloucestershire, by the National Trust, has reversed the decline of the pasque flower. Grazing has also been introduced to help manage Leigh Woods national nature reserve, Bristol, while National Trust staff and volunteers have been coppicing parts of the woodland.

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust is among groups working to restore ponds on the Mendips, a traditional feature of the limestone hills, to create homes for amphibian species, including the great crested newt.

Creating new wildlife sites: 

Conservationists have begun to master the art of recreating habitat and restoring degraded areas, such as wetland, heathland, semi-natural grassland and woodland.

The RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust are among the partners that have turned former peat workings near Glastonbury into the Avalon Marshes, now a huge wetland of international importance and a magnet for birds, among them the elusive bittern. Forty-five males were recorded on the marshes this year, and another two at the RSPB’s nearby Greylake reserve; only 11 males were recorded in the whole of the UK in 1997.

Avon Wildlife Trust has created a new 12-acre nature reserve on a brownfield site alongside the Avon Gorge, in Bristol, called Bennett’s Patch and White Paddock. The Avon Gorge is a valuable wildlife corridor for foraging species, including many bats, and is home to badgers, hedgehogs and some unique plant species. With the help of hundreds of volunteers the neglected former sports facility has been transformed into a wildlife haven, with wildflower meadows, ponds and more than 4,000 native trees.

Working beyond boundaries:

In his 2010 review Making Space for Nature Professor John Lawton identified the need for more, bigger, better and more joined up wildlife sites, which function as a network allowing wildlife to move through the landscape. Conservationists are increasingly collaborating on large scale projects to achieve this.

Avon Wildlife Trust’s ‘My Wild City’ initiative attempts to rethink Bristol as a vast nature reserve, linking the city’s gardens and green spaces to create wildlife corridors. Among the initiatives was a community project to bring wildlife to a typical urban street, an urban pollinator corridor along the Gloucester Road, and a roof garden for staff and patients at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Buglife and the Avon Wildlife Trust are working together to create B-Lines across the West of England, working with farmers and landowners to create and restore wildflower-rich habitats, linking up our wildlife hotspots, and making wildflower-rich routes for pollinating insects, linking the Cotswolds with the Mendips.

Taking action for species:

Through recovery projects we have been able to identify the exact requirements of a species, an approach that is increasingly resulting in real conservation success.

The recovery of numbers of breeding snipe in the Somerset Levels is being driven by work on RSPB reserves. More than 130 displaying male snipe were recorded at the RSPB’s West Sedgemoor reserve this summer, in contrast to only 18 in the whole of the Somerset Levels in 2001.

Coppicing and re-wetting at the RSPB’s Highnam Woods reserve, near Gloucester, has proved highly attractive to nightingales, with nine of the rapidly declining birds being recorded there this year.

2015 saw the first fledged crane chicks taking to the skies of the Westcountry in 400 years, after cranes were re-introduced to the Somerset Levels as part of the Great Crane Project, whose partners include the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

The South West Crayfish Partnership is working on Avon and Somerset’s rivers to protect the native white-clawed crayfish population by moving them to safe-haven sites. Native crayfish are threatened by the introduction of invasive signal crayfish, from North America.

The West of England now supports what is thought to be the largest population of the large blue butterfly in the world, less than 40 years after it became extinct in Britain. Among sites where this butterfly is thriving is the National Trust’s Collard Hill, near Glastonbury. Organisations involved in this large reintroduction project include the National Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

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