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Summary of the state of nature 2019

Image courtesy of Kate Jewel CC BY -SA 2.0 license

State of nature report 2019. Introduction.

The State of Nature 2019 report presents an overview of how the nation’s wildlife is faring, looking back over 50 years of monitoring to see how nature has changed in the UK. As well as this long-term view, the report focuses on what has happened in the past decade, and whether things are getting better or worse for nature. In addition, we have assessed the pressures that are acting upon nature, and the responses being made, collectively, to counter these pressures. The State of Nature partnership consists of over 70 partners drawn from conservation NGOs, research institutes, and the UK and national governments. We have worked together to assess the state of the UK’s wildlife, and to understand this in the light of the pressures on nature and the responses being made to recover our natural heritage. The State of Nature 2019 report uses data collected by tens of thousands of expert volunteers, analysed using rigorous statistical methods to report on the state of nature across the UK and in the UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories and at the scale of the UK’s constituent nations. Here, we summarise the report’s findings for the UK. Further information on the state of nature in the UK, including details of the data and analyses underpinning our findings, can be found in the UK State of Nature 2019 report: www.nbn.org.uk/ stateofnature2019

Text Courtesy of the BTO

The indicator for 696 terrestrial and freshwater species shows a significant decline of 13% in average abundance since 1970, and has fallen by 6% over the past 10 years. Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 41% of species have decreased and 26% have increased in abundance, with the remaining 33% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 44% of species have decreased and 36% have increased in abundance, with 20% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in abundance; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in abundance – either increases or decreases – rose from 33% over the long term to 53% over the past 10 years. Long-term decreases in average abundance in butterflies since 1976 (16%) and moths since 1970 (25%) have not slowed. The mammal indicator shows little change since 1994; while an increase of 43% in the bird indicator has been driven by recovery of some species from very low numbers, conservation successes and colonising species, as well as increasing numbers of wintering waterbirds. These increases mask abundance declines in common and widespread breeding species; the total number of breeding birds in the UK fell by 44 million between 1967 and 2009. Our indicator of average species’ distribution, covering 6,654 terrestrial and freshwater species over a broad range of taxonomic groups, has fallen by 5% since 1970. Because species tend to decline in abundance before they disappear from a site, this change could reflect more severe underlying abundance declines that we are currently unable to quantify. Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 27% of species have decreased and 21% have increased in distribution, with 52% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 37% of species have decreased and 30% have increased in distribution, with 33% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in distribution; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in distribution – either increases or decreases – rose from 17% over the long term to 39% over the past 10 years. Of the 8,431 species that have been assessed using the IUCN Regional Red List criteria, and for which sufficient data were available, 1,188 (15%) are currently threatened with extinction from Great Britain and 2% are already extinct.

 It is widely accepted that the UK’s biodiversity had been massively depleted by centuries of habitat loss, management changes, development and persecution before State of Nature’s 1970 baseline. Our statistics demonstrate that the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970. Many measures suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade. There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature in the UK. The UK Government’s own assessment indicates that, although progress has been made, the UK will not meet most of the global 2020 targets it committed to through the Convention on Biological Diversity. The pressures that have caused the loss of biodiversity over recent decades continue to have a negative effect. The State of Nature 2019 report highlights agricultural management, climate change, hydrological change, urbanisation, pollution, woodland management and invasive non-native species as among the most significant of pressures acting upon terrestrial and freshwater wildlife. At sea, climate change and fishing are having the most significant impact upon marine biodiversity. The State of Nature 2019 report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results to secure a brighter future for the UK’s nature. Public support for conservation continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 26% since 2010/11 and a 40% increase in time donated by volunteers since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09, although the UK’s expenditure on international biodiversity has grown.

The Curlew is one of the UK's priority species.

Image in the public domain.

Status of the UK,s Priority Species.

It is widely accepted that the UK’s biodiversity had been massively depleted by centuries of habitat loss, management changes, development and persecution before State of Nature’s 1970 baseline. Our statistics demonstrate that the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970. Many measures suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade. There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature in the UK. The UK Government’s own assessment indicates that, although progress has been made, the UK will not meet most of the global 2020 targets it committed to through the Convention on Biological Diversity. The pressures that have caused the loss of biodiversity over recent decades continue to have a negative effect. The State of Nature 2019 report highlights agricultural management, climate change, hydrological change, urbanisation, pollution, woodland management and invasive non-native species as among the most significant of pressures acting upon terrestrial and freshwater wildlife. At sea, climate change and fishing are having the most significant impact upon marine biodiversity. The State of Nature 2019 report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results to secure a brighter future for the UK’s nature. Public support for conservation continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 26% since 2010/11 and a 40% increase in time donated by volunteers since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09, although the UK’s expenditure on international biodiversity has grown.

 • Since 1970, the indicator of abundance for 214 priority species has declined by a statistically significant 60%, and between 2011 and 2016 by 22%. • Over the long term, 63% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 22% showed strong or moderate increases; 16% showed little change. • Over the short term, between 2011 and 2016, 46% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 35% showed strong or moderate increases; 18% showed little change.

 Between 1970 and 2016, the index of distribution of priority species in the UK declined by 27%. The index was 3% lower in 2016 than in 2011. • Over the long term, 37% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 16% showed strong or moderate increases; 46% showed little change. • Over the short term, between 2011 and 2016, 50% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 33% showed strong or moderate increases; 17% showed little change. UK Biodiversity Indicator: Change in the relative abundance of UK priority species, 1970 to 2016 UK Biodiversity Indicator: Change in the distribution of UK priority species, 1970 to 2016 -1.5 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 1884 2017 Difference (°C) from 1961–1990 Annual value 10-year running mean 1910 1950 1990 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 0.00 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 £ million (2016/17 prices) Percentage of GDP United Kingdom 0.038 0.036 0.022 0.018 2000/01 2005/06 2010/01 2017/18 Public sector NGOs Public sector as % of GDP Source: jncc.gov.uk/ukbi-E2 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Index (1970 = 100) Indicator 90% credible intervals Long term 1970–2016 (395) Short term 2011–2016 (395) 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2016 Percentage of species Strong increase Moderate increase Little change Moderate decrease Strong decrease Occupancy indicator (395 species) 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Source: jncc.gov.uk/ukbi-C4b 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Index (1970 = 100) Indicator 95% confidence intervals 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2016 Percentage of species Source: jncc.gov.uk/ukbi-C4a Abundance indicator (214 species) Strong increase Moderate increase Little change Moderate decrease Strong decrease Long term 1970–2016 (214) Short term 2011–2016 (207) 0% 20% 40% 

Agriculture 

Agriculture has been the dominant use of land in the UK for centuries, driven by the need to produce food for subsistence or profit since humans moved from hunter gatherer societies to begin cultivating crops and raising animals. These practices have profoundly shaped historical and cultural perspectives on our landscapes and nature, and continue to do so today. Agricultural change has been identified as the most important driver of biodiversity change over the past 45 years, with most effects being negative. There are, however, also a range of species and habitats that largely depend on agricultural management.

 Currently, 72% of the UK’s land area is managed for agriculture, about one third arable and two-thirds pastoral (grassland, moor and heath). Half of the arable land is used for cereal crops, while pastoral land is predominantly used to raise sheep (over 30 million) and cattle (over 10 million)2. Although historical changes have had massive impacts, it is only since the systematic recording of a suite of wildlife taxa began in the 1970s that we have been able to clearly link specific changes in management to changes in biodiversity. The changes in farmland management over the past 50 years that have had the greatest impact on the UK’s nature include the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers; increased stocking rates, changes in crops and cropping patterns (e.g. grasslands managed for silage rather than hay production, with reseeding and drainage, crops sown in the autumn rather than the spring); farm specialisation (e.g. in either arable or livestock enterprises); greater mechanisation and increase in farm size; and loss of nature-friendly features such as field margins, hedgerows, wooded areas

 An increasing awareness of the impact of modern farming methods on nature has led to changes in how public funds are used to support the agricultural sector. Since the 1990s a move away from direct production subsidies to area payments, coupled with requirements to meet basic environmental standards (cross compliance) and the introduction of agri-environment schemes (AES), has aimed to mitigate some of the impacts of farming and help wildlife recover. Although agricultural productivity continues to increase, the use of fertilisers, particularly nitrogen and phosphates, has decreased since peaking in the 1980s. Numbers of sheep and cattle peaked in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of market trends and Common Agricultural Policy

 Reported trends for pesticide use in the UK demonstrate some of the complexities involved in monitoring. Although the total weight of the active ingredient in pesticides has fallen markedly over the past 25 years, the number of hectares treated with pesticides, along with the frequency of treatments, have increased. In addition, there have been increases in the toxicity of pesticides and the variety of pesticides used on a single crop.

Arable land.

Image courtesy of Philip Halling { geograph.org.uk} CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Agriculture continued

Trends do vary across the UK countries and generally farmland birds are faring better in Scotland, where on average they have increased since the 1990s, than elsewhere. Upland farming has arguably seen less dramatic changes than the lowlands, with some formerly widespread species now restricted to an upland range. However, the recent trends in upland birds show multispecies declines are occurring in these habitats as well. The impacts of management changes are not limited to those on birds. A similar pattern of declines is evident for butterflies in the wider countryside (figure below), though for other insect and invertebrate groups the available data are insufficient to derive broad trends. There is growing concern about pollinators, largely related to use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids (which have seen recent restrictions in permissible use) but also the decrease in plant diversity and flower‑rich habitats. Arable plants such as Shepherd’s‑ needle, Corn Buttercup and Pheasant’s eye have shown significant declines attributed to the use of fertilisers and herbicides and a range of management practices that reduce the seed bank or survival through increased crop density and decreased crop diversity. Fertiliser use and conversion to arable have contributed to the loss of 97% of wildflower meadows and other species-rich grasslands in the past century. Farming has shaped the countryside for centuries and recent research shows that some current occupants including widespread bumblebees, brambles, Cow Parsley and Spear Thistle have adapted well to this landscape. Along with other adaptable generalists such as Wood pigeons and Jackdaws, some species appear resilient to agricultural intensification and have prospered in recent decades, while specialist species have seen widespread and often continuing decline.

 One of the mechanisms for mitigating the negative impacts of agriculture is through environmentally sustainable farming practices. Although many farmers engage in nature-friendly farming voluntarily due to their own interests or as part of voluntary networks (for example, the Nature Friendly Farming Network and The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group), government sponsored AES have provided the main impetus. Although there are challenges to implementing particular actions at a sufficient scale to reverse declines in widespread species, AES provide a mechanism to target the most appropriate conservation actions in the relevant areas.

 There has been widespread uptake by the farming community, but the effectiveness of AES has been hard to demonstrate. Despite the proven value of many AES options in field trials, a number of broader studies have failed to establish clear cause and effect for population recovery at larger geographical scales, largely as a result of the complex interactions of different factors. Where broad scale successes have been identified for birds, these have been mainly related to the provision of winter food through stubble management and wild bird seed mix. Some moth and

 bat species have been shown to benefit, at a local scale, from the presence of field margins and boundary features that include mature trees,. There has, however, been little evidence of benefits to species occupying in-field cropped habitats. Although agricultural intensification may have slowed since its late 20th century peak, and there have been notable successes in recovering some threatened species such as Cirl Bunting and Stone Curlew, aggregate farmland biodiversity indicators continue to decline despite government commitments to reversing the downward trend and a huge effort from farmers and the conservation sector. This may in part reflect a lag in the response of wild populations to habitat change, meaning that declines can continue even after habitat change has halted or been partly reversed22. Research has identified many of the issues contributing to continuing population declines, but a key factor for some species is the lack of implementation of remedial action at a coordinated landscape scale sufficient to make a real difference

Corncrake 

Image courtesy of Rachel Davies CC BY-SA  2.0 license. Originally posted to Flickr

Corncrake recovery

Corncrake recovery Successes for individual species have been achieved where research has led to the identification of a particular problem and resources deployed at a sufficient scale to tackle it – typically for very rare species with a restricted range, such as the Corncrake in the Scottish islands. Here, farmers and crofters receive targeted advice regarding habitat management and mowing regimes, and receive payments to delay grass cutting. Male Corncrake numbers have risen from a low of under 500 in the early 1990s to 1,289 in 2014. Although this is a success, the population is still tiny with a highly restricted range and is no longer a breeding species on the Isle of Man. Setting this in context, the species was once found in all counties of the UK and in every meadow and cornfield in the north of Ireland, where one late 19th century author reported that “its incessant cry is monotonous if not wearisome”. Since 2014, numbers in the core area fell for three consecutive years, with the 2017 count the lowest

 since 2003. Alongside unusual spring weather, a reduction in payments to delay mowing and a reduction targeted advice may have contributed to this downturn, highlighting the vulnerability of rare species to changes in policy.

 

Land management for butterflies

The Marsh Fritillary is one of the fastest declining butterflies in the UK, having lost two-thirds of its colonies between 1990 and 2000. The main cause is the loss of damp tussock-forming grassland, heath and mire that contains Devil’s-bit Scabious, the plant that the caterpillars require for food. By working with landowners, Butterfly Conservation and Natural England helped secure Higher Level Stewardship for landholdings on Dartmoor where they were able to introduce butterfly-friendly measures such as controlled grazing, scrub removal, increased connectivity between patches and reintroduction of the larval food plant. By 2010, the area of occupied habitat had almost tripled, and in occupied areas, the counts of larval webs had risen tenfold. Facilitated by AES funding, the project has been a great success, due to strong partnership working between the project officer, Natural England advisors, Dartmoor National Park ecologists and the farmers and volunteers delivering the management. Ongoing management advice is crucial if benefits are to continue, and the follow-on project, All the Moor Butterflies, is producing similar positive results.

 

Male Marsh Fritillary

Image courtesy of Charles J Sharpe  {Sharpe photography{ CC BY-SA 4.0 license.File:Marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) male.jpg

Full report PDF.

To view the full report with information on climate change affects, river management and much more visit 

 https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf

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