Around one in six species are at risk of becoming extinct in the UK, according to the most comprehensive study of our national wildlife.
The latest State of Nature report, which assessed the long-term populations of plants, animals, fungi and lichens, has been produced by more than 50 conservation and research organisations including the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). The study using the latest data from monitoring schemes, follows similar reports in 2013, 2016 and 2019.
There have been declines in the distribution of more than half (54%) of our flowering plant species, including heather and harebell, and 59% of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) since 1970, while much-loved animals such as turtle dove, water vole and European eel also face an uncertain future.
However, the latest data also show that, overall, freshwater invertebrates have been recovering, with species including dragonflies, mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies showing an average increase in distribution of 64% since 1978.
UKCEH scientists provided distribution trends for all species, except mammals and marine life, based on the analysis of millions of records. These data were provided by national recording schemes and societies through the Biological Records Centre, which is based at UKCEH.
The evidence from the last 50 years shows that climate change and the intensive way in which we manage our land for farming or seas for fishing are the biggest drivers of nature loss.
We know that before this period, the UK's biodiversity had already been highly depleted by centuries of habitat loss, unsustainable farming practices, development, hunting and persecution. Scientists estimate that due to human activity, the UK has lost around half of its biodiversity, based on abundance and species richness, since the Industrial Revolution.
Highlights from the State of Nature report study include:
- 16% (or one in six) of 10,000 species assessed are at risk of being lost from the UK.
- This figure is much higher for some groups such as birds (43%), amphibians and reptiles (31%), fungi and lichen (28%) and terrestrial mammals (26%).
- The distribution of pollinators, including bees, hoverflies and moths, has decreased by 18% on average, while species providing pest control, such as the 2-spot ladybird, have declined by 34%.
- The abundance of all UK species studied has declined on average by 19% since 1970.
- Overall abundance of Scotland’s globally important seabirds declined by nearly half between 1986 and 2019, before the recent impacts of bird flu.
- Out of the habitats that are important for wildlife, only 14% were found to be in a good ecological state, including just 7% of woodlands and 25% of peatlands.
Ecological modeller Dr Francesca Mancini of UKCEH, one of the report co-authors, says: “The State of Nature report is the most comprehensive assessment of UK species and habitats, and provides a benchmark for the status of our wildlife. We have a wealth of data on plants, animals, fungi and other organisms from the past 50 years thanks to the work of thousands of skilled volunteers recording their observations.
“While the report shows there are declines in many wildlife populations, it is possible to reverse biodiversity losses through habitat restoration, sustainable agricultural practices and mitigating climate change, for example. Our findings will inform future conservation action to support species.
“Meanwhile, we are seeing some success stories. For example, freshwater invertebrates that help keep a healthy balance of nutrients in our rivers and ponds are doing better than they were 30 years ago.”
UKCEH is collaborating with governments, businesses and communities on solutions to biodiversity loss. For example, through the AgZero+ programme we are leading, we are informing the design of more sustainable farming systems. We are also helping to mobilise investment into nature projects, through the creation of models such as the development of a Saltmarsh Carbon Code. And through the citizen science activities we coordinate, individuals around the world are making significant contributions to environmental monitoring and action.
Dr Mancini has produced an interactive dashboard on the State of Nature website which will display the trends and allow people to download the data. She was also one of four experts who gave a briefing to journalists about the report, organised by the Science Media Centre.
She was one of three UKCEH ecologists who contributed to the report, produced distribution trends, based on records, for all invertebrates, pollinators, pest controllers and freshwater nutrient cycling taxonomic groups. Dr Oli Pescott produced the distribution trends for vascular plants, lichens and bryophytes, while Dr Rob Boyd produced risk of bias assessments on datasets used in the report.
The report is available on the State of Nature website.