Andy Lester, A Rocha UK’s Head of Conservation comments on latest research into the health of the UK’s wildlife.
In October, a new State of Nature report was published. A Rocha UK was one of 70 conservation and environmental organisations to contribute to the report. At a time when plastics, climate, species and habitat loss are very much in the news, this “stocktake” of the state of wildlife in the UK has come at a good time to persuade the government and councils to act faster and harder for the planet.
If you are an avid follower of the conditions of the UK environment, many of the facts and figures will fail to amaze you. Land surface temperatures continue to rise, more homes are being developed on previously farmed land, a wide range of species continue to decline – some very rapidly indeed – and the abundance of mammals, moths and birds are declining every year.
And yet behind the obvious headlines are some other underlying trends which are equally concerning. Firstly, despite the increase in area being taken out of production for re-wilding projects and the establishment of a growing network of environmentally concerned farmers and estates, the use of pesticides continues to increase. For the first time ever over 50% of farmed land in the UK is being sprayed with pesticides. This is terrible news for our insect populations which in many cases are threatened with annihilation over the coming two decades.
Secondly, butterfly populations are still facing record-breaking losses. In spite of recent successful reintroduction programmes of species like large blue and fantastic displays of painted lady, butterfly populations are down 68% on 1976 levels. Some species have vanished altogether, but it is the decline in overall abundance that is worrying the ecologists.
Thirdly, amongst the bird populations, species listed as “red” (of greatest conservation concern) have risen since 1990 from 36 to 67 species. More and more familiar birds are threatened with local or national extinction in our lifetimes.
And fourthly, every year for the past decade an average of 11 new invasive species have established themselves, with over 10% going on to become major threats to biodiversity and the economy. In 2018 the cost to the UK government for controlling invasives stood at £1.7 billion a year.
But State of Nature is not all about doom and gloom. There are signs of real hope that actions we can take can make a lasting difference. Otters are now re-established as a breeding species in every county of England and Wales. Bittern numbers are at near record levels. Corncrake have returned to Ireland for the first time in many years as a breeding species.
The challenges detailed in the report though, are numerous and pressing, and the State of Nature report is an alarm bell for us all – individuals and organisations.
Every environmental charity has an obligation to try to increase it’s direct impact and influence for nature, urgently.
And that includes making it much easier for good people to do the right thing. A Rocha cannot expect to change the direction of UK nature working alone. But we believe profoundly in what we can achieve working with and supporting others. That’s why A Rocha UK is investing in a growing network of conservation Partners in Action, scaling up our impact by supporting other Christian organisations act for nature on their land, and increasing the UK land area managed for wildlife. A Rocha UK’s fast-growing Eco Church scheme is also supporting churches to engage in conservation in their churchyards and nearby community spaces. And we’ve just upgraded our Wild Christian scheme to help individuals and families enjoy and act for nature.
If you are not yet part of any of these, please join us scaling up action, urgently. The time for bold and concerted action is upon us.