State of Nature 2016: Government commits to helping UK’s wildlife

Environment minister Andrea Leadsom offers hope to conservationists as State of Nature 2016 report reveals “a severe loss of nature” in the UK since 1970

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Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Andrea Leadsom used her speech at the launch of the State of Nature 2016 in London today to commit the Government to improving natural habitats and reversing species declines with a long-term plan for the environment.

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The State of Nature 2016 is a wide-ranging report into the health of the UK’s wildlife and reveals serious declines across at least 56% per cent of species since 1970. Responding to the findings Andrea Leadsom talked of her “very big ambition to lead the first generation [of politicians] to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

Addressing the concerns of conservationists present about the recent Brexit vote and uncertainties over key EU conservation directives, Leadsom spoke of publishing “a new framework for nature” in the near future,  to replace that currently enshrined in EU law.

She also committed the Government to a 25-year plan for the environment while also defending the recent record of farmers in protecting wildlife, particularly through agri-environmental schemes. One of the reports key findings was that “policy-driven agricultural changes was by far the most significant driver of wildlife declines”.

Leadsom accepted the invitation from fellow speaker Trevor Dines (Plantlife) to work in partnership with the conservation NGOs “reverse the quiet catastrophe in our countryside”. Dines dismissed the idea of Britain being a green and pleasant land, quoting the loss of 97% of wildflower meadows to create improved pasture: “where once there were wildflowers there is now a factory floor“.

Broadcaster and writer Iolo Williams was not convinced and questioned the Secretary of State’s commitment to and knowledge of the environment in a panel session later in the morning. He called for ministers for the environment to “demonstrate expertise” and have a “proper understanding of the environment” and “not simply see the job as a step on the career ladder”.

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The State of Nature 2016 report was complied by thousands of scientists and wildlife recorders across the country and is a collaboration between dozens of leading wildlife and environmental NGOs. It follows on the work of the first such report in 2013 in documenting the UK’s severe loss of nature since the 1960s. Key findings include:

– between 1970 and 2013, 56% of all species declined.

– of nearly 8,000 species assessed using the modern Red List criteria, 15% are extinct or threatened with extinction in Great Britain

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– A new measure that assesses how intact a country’s biodiversity is, suggests that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. The index suggests the UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.