Mistle thrush populations have declined significantly since the 1970s, especially on farmland. Image Sam Hobson/WWF.

Wildlife populations fall by 70 per cent

A stark report from WWF charts global nature losses and calls on world leaders to agree urgent action at 'last chance' biodiversity COP15 summit in December.

Global wildlife populations have fallen by an average of 70 per cent in just under 50 years, according to a new report.

The flagship Living Planet report from the WWF, published today (13 October), has warned there is a “last chance” to agree transformative changes that will restore the drastic losses in nature at the upcoming COP15 biodiversity summit, to be held in Montreal this December.

Latin America and the Caribbean region, including the Amazon, an area critical in controlling global temperatures, have seen wildlife populations shrinking on average by 94 per cent within a lifetime, the report found.

Species populations that are in decline include monitored populations of oceanic sharks and rays that have decreased by 71 per cent in the last 50 years and a two thirds reduction in Australian sea lion pups between 1977 and 2019 due to hunting, waste fishing gear or disease.

The Amazon pink river dolphin saw its population in the Brazilian state of Amazonas plummet by 65 per cent between 1994 and 2016, while according to the Biodiversity Intactness Index, the UK has only 50 per cent of its biodiversity richness compared to historic levels, placing it as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Conservation efforts to protect mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been successful. Image Eric Baccega/WWF.

Written by 90 authors from 20 countries, the report uses data from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s Living Planet Index, analysing almost 5,230 species, and with more than 838 new species added since the previous report came out in 2020.

It emphasises that without halting and then reversing catastrophic loss of the natural world, our climate fight will be lost, pointing to the consumption habits of wealthy countries and reliance on fossil fuels as disproportionally driving nature loss.

Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “The climate and nature crises, their fates entwined, are not some faraway threat our grandchildren will solve with still-to-be-discovered technology.

“Across the world, and in the UK, nature is on its knees and our leaders are risking catastrophic consequences for people, planet and our economy by failing to act. We are hurtling towards a hotter planet where nature – and with it, our food, our homes and livelihoods – will be unable to survive without urgent action now to save our climate.

“The world doesn’t have time to wait – and doing so would be the biggest possible betrayal of future generations.”  

The climate and nature crises, their fates entwined, are not some faraway threat our grandchildren will solve with still-to-be-discovered technology. Tanya Steele, chief executive, WWF

Despite harrowing statistics, WWF said “there are huge gaps in the delivery of climate and nature promises from world leaders”, warning that the UK government, elected on their greenest ever manifesto, must honour their climate and nature commitments.

“Our Living Planet Index continues to show sustained declines in wildlife populations,” said Dr Robin Freeman, head of indicators and assessments unit at ZSL. “We now have more data than ever about trends in biodiversity and – across a variety of indicators – it’s clear we are being sent a serious message: we are eroding the very foundations of life and urgent action is needed. 

“Governments meeting this December in Montreal have the opportunity to secure the health of species and restore ecosystems, to ensure a future for nature across the globe.”

Nature is having to live alongside ever growing human populations. Image Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF.

Auricélia Arapiun, leader of CITA, the Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council in the Para state of the Brazilian Amazon, said: “The decline in animals across our land is stark – we used to see armadillos every day, now we see none. Jaguars used to be hard to spot, but because their hunting grounds and the trees that were their habitats have been destroyed, they come to our villages and kill our dogs. We have to keep a very careful eye on our children. This never used to happen, they would hunt and roam in the forest.”

Governments meeting this December in Montreal have the opportunity to secure the health of species and restore ecosystems. Robin Freeman, head of indicators and assessments unit, Zoological Society of London

A chance for nature

The report also recorded examples of where conservation efforts have restored wildlife, such as the number of loggerhead turtle nests increasing by 500 per cent in Cyprus, due to efforts including using cages to protect turtle nests and relocating nests from areas under heavy tourist pressure or too close to the sea.

In the UK, the common crane became extinct around 1600 but a small breeding population was re-established in Norfolk in 1979 and in Somerset in 2010. 2021 was the most successful year for cranes since the 17th century and the total population is now thought to stand at more than 200.

A young European hedgehog. Image Ola Jennersten.

Despite years of civil unrest in the region where mountain gorillas live, conservation efforts have found success. Along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, populations of mountain gorillas have grown to 604 individuals, up from 480 individuals in 2010.

Wildlife conservationists say these efforts can be replicated and the crisis in nature halted if transformative change is agreed by world leaders at COP15.

The summit is the culmination of a multi-year process to negotiate the Global Biodiversity Framework and is seen as the last opportunity to forge a landmark agreement to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

Steele added: “This December, our leaders have a ‘now or never’ opportunity to demonstrate real leadership on the global stage by accelerating action and keeping their promises to restore nature and safeguard our net zero goals. But right now, they’re not on track to deliver.

“We need our new Prime Minister to show the UK is serious about helping people, nature and the economy to thrive, by ensuring every promise for our world is kept. Falling short will be neither forgotten nor forgiven.”

What can you do?

Tell your MP you care about wildlife and ask them to speak up ahead of the COP15 Biodiversity Summit in Montreal this December.

Add your voice to global citizens who are supporting action to protect wildlife. Find out more here.

Tell your friends and family of the importance of nature restoration – share this article, or any other information, to help spread the word.

How does nature restoration link to climate action and food?

Land and marine ecosystems play an important role in regulating climate. They currently absorb roughly half of manmade carbon emissions.

At the same time, climate change affects natural ecosystems. The continuing loss of biodiversity and ecosystems weakens their ability to provide services, like clean water and carbon storage, to the extent that we risk reaching irreversible ‘tipping points’. By conserving nature and restoring ecosystems we reduce vulnerability and increase resilience to climate change.

Nature is also vital to how successfully we can produce food, not least through the help of pollinators, healthy soils and wider ecosystem health. Nature-friendly farming systems, like organic, are known to support more abundant wildlife and healthier soils, while also producing nutritious food, and is why there is huge support for new farming subsidies in the UK that would support farmers to farm like this.


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