Released today, the State of Nature 2016 report, which assessed 8,000 species, shows that 56% of Britain’s wildlife species have declined since 1970, with 165 species now considered critically endangered, including hedgehogs, turtle doves, starlings, wildcats and red squirrels.
Compiled using data from 53 conservation organisations, and following on from a major 2013 study, the report highlights the impact agriculture, climate change and urbanisation has had on the state of Britain’s nature.
A new “biodiversity intactness index” was used by researchers, with the findings suggesting that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average.
In the foreword to the report, 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.”
Policy-driven agricultural change and intensive farming methods were found to have the largest negative impact on wildlife, with 20% of farmland species declining in the long term.
Increased use of fertilisers and pesticides, grazing pressures and the loss of wildlife habitats, such as hedgerows and heaths were all found to significantly contribute to the overall loss of wildlife.
More than half of farmland birds (54%) have declined since 1970, with the turtle dove and corn bunting now in danger of extinction. Butterflies were found to have declined by 41% since 1976.
Mark Eaton, lead author on the report, said: “Never before have we known this much about the state of UK nature and the threats it is facing. Since the 2013, the partnership and many landowners have used this knowledge to underpin some amazing scientific and conservation work. But more is needed to put nature back where it belongs – we must continue to work to help restore our land and sea for wildlife.”
In response to the report, NFU Vice President Guy Smith, said: “As the report acknowledges, agricultural policies of the past did focus on maximising food production resulting in the intensification of farming in the years after World War II. However, since the early 1990s, in terms of inputs and in terms of numbers of livestock and area of crops grown British agriculture has not intensified – in fact it’s the reverse.
“Therefore it makes little sense to attribute cause and effect to ‘the intensification of agriculture’ in the UK in the last quarter of a century when there hasn’t been any.”
The NFU added that two thirds of farmers have signed up to take part in agri-environment schemes, however since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the future of these schemes could be uncertain, since they are jointly funded by the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the UK Government.
However Eaton said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU could also pose an opportunity to make a positive change to protect Britain’s nature.
He said: “There is a real opportunity for the UK Government and devolved administrations to build on these efforts and deliver the significant investment and ambitious action needed to bring nature back from the brink.”
The research also highlighted the impact of climate change, but said that while it has had a significant impact on the UK’s nature, to date there has been a more even balance between positive and negative effects.