One in six species in the UK are at risk of extinction

Iconic species at risk of disappearing including turtle dove and hazel dormouse

Stuti Mishra
Thursday 28 September 2023 15:50 BST
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One in six species in the UK is at risk of extinction, according to a sweeping assessment led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and backed by over 60 research and conservation organisations.

The latest State Of Nature report found that 16 per cent of species were at risk of disappearing including iconic creatures like the turtle dove and hazel dormouse. More than half of flowering plants no longer grow where they used to.

Nearly half of UK bird species are threatened and almost a third of amphibians, reptiles, fungi and lichen. A quarter of land-living mammals could vanish, found the report, released on Wednesday.

Professor Rick Stafford, chair of the British Ecological Society’s Policy Committee, called the findings the result of “a decade of missed opportunities to halt the spiralling decline of UK wildlife”.

More than 10,000 species and habitats were assessed in the report which found the climate crisis and intensive farming were at the heart of the decline.

To date, more than half of British animal, plant and fungal life has been killed off.

Only one in seven habitats important for wildlife were in a good ecological condition, and just 7 per cent of woodlands.

The fishing industry has caused such damage to the UK’s seafloor, that none of it was found to be in a good condition.

“Continuous trawling of a seabed has parallels to the effect of an earthquake on a city – habitats are destroyed and species are displaced,” Prof. Stafford said.

Only 25 per cent of peatland, a critical sink of carbon emissions, is in good conditions, along with 50 per cent of salt marshes.

The State of Nature report is a stark reminder that politicians must not let nature drop down the agenda – there is far too much at stake.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts

Small mammals such as harvest mice and field voles are “disappearing before our eyes” because their critical habitat is being destroyed with knock-on effects for owls and other predators.

Lichens – a mix of fungi and algae which thrive in clean, wet, undisturbed forests – have recovered somewhat since the 1970s thanks to reductions in industrial sulphur dioxide emissions.

Nearly half of lichen species are, however, still declining because of ammonia, which mostly comes from muck-spreading, slurry and fertilisers on farms.

Insects that pollinate and prey on pests, like ladybirds, ground beetles and wasps, are also disappearing in certain areas.

“The sobering message is that the state of UK nature and the wider environment, based upon the indices that we’ve got, continues to decline and degrade,” said Professor Richard Gregory, the RSPB’s head of monitoring conservation science.

“At the same time, we’ve never actually had such a good understanding of the state of nature in the United Kingdom and we’ve never had such a good understanding of how we might fix it.”

We know that creating bigger, better, more joined-up spaces for wildlife can bring practical results, including more ponds, wetlands and shrubby wild habitats

Tony Juniper, Natural England chairperson

Dr Francesca Mancini, of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, warned that loss of pest control species could damage farmers financially, and lead to greater reliance on chemical pesticides, which then in turn is going to have more consequences for biodiversity.

Some species, such as dragonflies, have improved thanks to rivers being cleaner than they were in the 1970s.

Conservation projects from the Cairngorms in Scotland to Cambridgeshire and Lyme Bay, showed restoration can and does help plants and animals to return.

The authors of the report called on the UK government to deliver on its promise to protect at least 30 per cent of land and sea for nature, cemented by a landmark treaty in 2022.

“The State of Nature report is a stark reminder that politicians must not let nature drop down the agenda – there is far too much at stake,” said Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts.

“This next parliament will be the most important in my lifetime for nature and climate action. The clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline by which point the UK Government has committed to protect at least 30 per cent of land and sea for nature and to halve the risks posed by pesticides.”

Additional reporting by PA

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