27 September 2023 saw the release of a major new report on the condition of nature in the UK.Andy Atkins, CEO of A Rocha UK, comments.
The latest State of Nature Report is a collaboration by over 60 nature conservation organisations including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, British Trust for Ornithology and A Rocha UK. It draws on huge expertise and the latest scientific research data from the UK’s conservation sector, including from some of the government’s own agencies. Sadly, it paints a grim picture, although there is hope too if known solutions are adopted rapidly and at scale.
Several findings stand out. Approaching one in six UK wildlife species are now at risk of extinction, compared with one in ten at the time of the last report in 2019. 43% of UK birds are in decline, red squirrel numbers have plummeted by 37% in the last 20 years and only a fifth of farmland is farmed in a nature-friendly way. Only 7% of woodlands in the UK are considered to be in an ecologically good state. Climate change is now a major driver of damage to nature, alongside farming practices such as overuse of pesticides, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and pollution of our rivers and seas.
There is some good news. Certain species are bucking the downward trends as a result of concerted efforts to protect them and bring about their recovery. The large blue butterfly, Camberwell beauty, red kite, peregrine and European bittern are just a few of the species enjoying an ongoing recovery. Also, we now have more forested land in the UK than at any other time in the last 1,000 years, although not all of it is the right forest for nature.
The report lays bare the contradictions in the UK’s relationship with nature. The UK has a long tradition of nature conservation. The RSPB for example, was founded in the late 19th century; our first National Park, the Peak District, over 70 years ago. Yet we are one of the most nature-poor countries in Europe. The UK government recently signed up to an international goal to halt and begin to reverse nature loss by 2030, but its current policies will not achieve this and in some cases, are making things worse.
Importantly, the State of Nature Report sets out the actions necessary to meet biodiversity and climate targets including implementing nature-friendly farming at a much wider scale, expanding protected areas for nature, and restoring and creating carbon-rich habitats to unlock co-benefits for nature and climate. Many are methods that A Rocha UK and partners already practice. But the government, with its control over the national budget, legislation, regulation, subsidies, government agencies etc., has the most powerful levers to roll these solutions out at scale. And we need them to do so, fast. Nature can’t wait.
A Rocha UK is encouraging supporters to respond by emailing your MP asking them to back policies to restore nature in the UK. You can add your voice here.
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