Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The State of Nature

 For the first time ever, the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The report looks at some of the wider issues involved in our changing countryside, the historical declines of habitats and species and asses the status of wildlife in eight different habitat types.   This is a national report but the trends shown nationally are probably reflected in Sussex.  Here are some of the headlines:
  • Quantitative assessments of the population or distribution trends were done for 3,148 species. Of these, 60% of species have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly.
  •  Half of the species assessed have shown strong changes in abundance, indicating that recent environmental changes are having a dramatic impact on the nature of the UK’s land and seas. There is also evidence to suggest that species with specific habitat requirements are faring worse than generalist species that are better able to adapt to a changing environment.
  •  A new Watchlist indicator has been developed to measure how conservation priority species are faring, based on 155 species for which we have data. This group contains many of our most threatened and vulnerable species, and the indicator shows that their overall numbers have declined by 77% in the last 40 years.

  • Of 1,064 farmland species for which we have trends, 60% have decreased and 34% have decreased strongly.
  • 14% of all farmland flowering plants are on the national Red List: 62 species in all.
  • Some species groups, such as birds and bats, have benefited from conservation action, particularly through agri-environment schemes. Despite this, many widespread farmland species have failed to recover from the declines of recent decades.

Lowland semi-natural grassland and Heathland
  • Overall, 65% of the 923 species for which we have sufficient data have declined, and 35% have declined strongly. A warming climate may be helping some species.
  • One in four species of flowering plants is threatened in this habitat. Nitrogen deposition, disturbance, inadequate or inappropriate land management, and habitat loss and fragmentation all pose barriers to recovery.

  • Of 886 upland species for which we have information, 65% have declined and 34% have declined strongly.
  • More species have become extinct in the uplands (15) than in any other habitat: 137 upland species, including 131 plants, are on recent national Red Lists.

  • The area of UK woodland has increased, mainly due to conifer planting, but woodland birds have been declining since the 1970s and butterflies since the 1990s. 94 species of woodland moths have halved in number.
  • Of the 1,256 woodland species studied, 60% have decreased and 34% have decreased strongly.
  • 11% of woodland vascular plants are on the national Red List: 30 species in all.

  • Of the 682 coastal species for which we have trends, 60% have declined and 29% have declined strongly.
  • 13% of coastal plant species are regarded as threatened with extinction in the UK.
  • Habitats such as saltmarsh support internationally important bird and invertebrate populations. Huge areas of coastal habitat have been lost or damaged in recent history, as a result of coastal development, cliff stabilisation and changes to agricultural practices.

Freshwater and wetlands
  • 57% of freshwater and wetland species for which we have sufficient data have declined, and 28% have declined strongly.
  • Many characteristic freshwater species have declined significantly over the last 50 years, including the Atlantic salmon, water vole and the aquatic plant frogbit.
  • One in ten species of freshwater and wetland plants assessed are on recent national Red Lists. Some, such as the freshwater pearl mussel, are threatened with global extinction.

  • Of the 550 urban species for which we have data, 59% have declined and 37% have declined strongly. Invertebrates are doing particularly poorly in urban environments and 42% of species (183) are showing strong declines.
  • Despite the fact that brownfield sites provide important refuges for a diverse range of wildlife, including many rare and threatened invertebrates, they are often viewed as ripe for development and receive little protection.

  • UK seabirds have had mixed fortunes since 2000, with some species showing sharp declines. Harbour seals have also declined significantly, especially in Scotland.
  • The state of UK fish stocks has improved recently, but overall, 75% of EU fish stocks continue to be overfished. Skates and rays are no longer viable commercial species in many areas.
  • There is increasing evidence that climate change is affecting the breeding success of UK seabirds, particularly in Scotland.

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