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Sixty per cent of UK species in decline, groundbreaking study finds

Last modified: 22 May 2013

Hedgehog foraging in leaves

Once common species like the hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.

Image: Ben Hall

UK nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published today by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.

Scientists working side-by-side from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK. The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

In Cumbria, experts are particularly concerned about the state of nature in the uplands. According to the report, out of the 886 upland species for which there is information, 65% of them have declined.

David Morris, the RSPB’s Conservation Manager for North West England, said: “Many of the species that are in trouble live in the extensive upland areas of the county. These range from bilberry bumblebees and mountain ringlets to lapwings and curlews. More species have become extinct in the uplands than any other area so we have to act now to protect this precious and fragile habitat.” 

Conservation experts in Cumbria are also concerned about the decline of butterflies and moths.

Martin Wain, Project Officer for Butterfly Conservation and the Morecambe Bay Nature Improvement Area, said: “We have some of the UK’s most threatened butterflies and moths in Cumbria, and as indicators of the health of the environment, we must be concerned both about the overall decline in numbers and their distribution.

“Specialist butterflies like the marsh fritillary, high brown fritillary and large heath have been lost from many sites. The Duke of Burgundy has lost much of its distribution in the county, restricted now to a few core sites. Our volunteers are collecting really good data on butterfly numbers, and it shows that even general butterflies and moths are struggling, species like small copper, garden tiger moth and small tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly scarce in the wider countryside.”

The State of Nature report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening (May 22), while simultaneous events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Sir David Attenborough said: “This groundbreaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.

“For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife.

“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.

“This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble - overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.

“These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, garden tiger moth and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.

“Reliable data on these species goes back just fifty years, at most, but we know that there has been a historical pattern of loss in the UK going back even further. Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.

“None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes, and that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”

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