It turns out that the UK is one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to biodiversity. The heavily farmed nation has seen the decline of 56 percent of its species between the years 1970 and 2013, with one in 10 species now considered in danger of going extinct, according to the major State of Nature 2016 report.
The latest report has found that more than half of all UK species assessed have declined since 1970, and that while invertebrates make up 97 percent of all UK species, they are also the ones being hardest hit, as they have declined by a whopping 59 percent over this period of time. That is of major concern, as while we don’t often see the plethora of insects with which we share the world, they provide essential services without which we could not exist.
Of equal concern is that of the 7,964 terrestrial and freshwater species to be assessed using the modern IUCN Red List criteria, considered the benchmark for how threatened organisms are, it was found that 1,057 of these – or 13 percent – are thought to be either already extinct or at risk of being so within the near future. These include charismatic creatures such as the Scottish wildcat, of which as few as 300 are thought to survive in the highlands, and skylarks that have seen their numbers crash by as much as 75 percent between 1972 and 1996.
This sorry state of affairs means that when compared with the rest of the world using the "biodiversity intactness index", which as the name suggests looks at how complete a nation’s biodiversity has been over a period of centuries, the UK does shockingly bad. Out of 218 countries assessed, the UK comes in 29th from the bottom, due mainly to the heavily industrialized agriculture that dominates most of its countryside. Even compared to other western European nations, such as France and Germany, the UK is really at the bottom of the pack.
Roughly 75 percent of the landscape is thought to be classed as agricultural, with many practices employed depriving birds and insects of the forage needed to sustain them throughout the year. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the wildlife is also having to deal with climate change, which is the other main driver of the decline observed.
While some species are benefiting from a warming climate, such as the Dartford warbler that has expanded its range north, many others are suffering, like the humble dormouse. Yet the report also highlights that while the current state of nature may be quite poor, there are things that can be done to improve the situation.
The report showcases the practices of Hope Farm in Cambridge, which has seen an increase of 224 percent in what is known as the butterfly index, compared with a national 2 percent decline of the same index. But this is only a small-scale example, and the report stresses that if nature is to survive in any meaningful way, more of these should be expanded.