Over 40 per cent of the UK’s wildlife species have declined since 1970 driven primarily by changes in agriculture and the ongoing effects of climate change, the largest study of its kind has found.
The State of Nature report for 2019, published this week, was compiled with help from more than 70 wildlife organisations and government agencies. It found the biggest losses have been in butterflies and moths, down by 17 and 25 per cent respectively.
Among the UK’s mammals, it found 26 per cent of species are at risk of disappearing altogether, including the wild cat and greater mouse-eared bat. In addition to declines in the numbers of species, the average abundance of wildlife has fallen – down by 13 per cent across all species studied.
Lead author Daniel Hayhow said: “We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations.
“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.”
Hope for the future
The State of Nature report also showcases a range of conservation initiatives, where species such as Bitterns and Large Blue Butterfly have been saved through the efforts of organisations and individuals.
Organic farming is known to be up to 50 per cent higher in biodiversity as farmers don’t use artificial chemicals, which are toxic to insects, and typically have more weeds and diversity in plant-life, which provide abundant wildlife habitats.
Organic growers Ian and Alison Samuel, members of the South Devon Organic Producer Co-operative and suppliers to Riverford, conducted a biodiversity study on their farm in south Devon and recorded 12 out of the 18 species of British bats.
John Richards, manager of organic veg box company Riverford’s farm in south west Devon, said: “As an organic farm, we naturally have higher levels of biodiversity – we cut the weeds back enough so they don’t affect crop yields but after that we leave them. The rows between the blocks of salad we leave to weeds and they are full of insects.
“We have two reservoirs on the farm here in Devon, which naturally provide an amazing habitat. You just have to see the exodus of frogs and toads every year. And the different grass leys we use for soil fertility, such as red clover, when they flower in July, they create a tremendous habitat for insect life.”
Richards said Riverford’s Sacrewell Farm, in Cambridgeshire, is home to a huge array of bird and wildlife, in an area characterised by industrial arable farming.
Around 70 acres, out of 500, is set aside for conservation at Sacrewell, where wildlife is encouraged through things like a wild bird seed mixture and native grasslands.
A new species of butterfly, the Brown Argus, was found on the farm recently, while a bird survey by the RSPB found species often uncommon near arable land, such as lapwings, yellow wagtails, red kites and linnets.
“Sacrewell Farm is now quite a significant habitat that’s been created to support those birds,” said Richards, adding that it’s also about a mindset change among individuals and how people can encourage wildlife to their gardens.