Nature in Britain and the county is in a bad way – that’s the conclusion of a ground-breaking report launched by Sir David Attenborough on Wednesday 22 May by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.
Scientists working side-by-side from wildlife organisations across the UK, including Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation, have compiled a stock-take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK.
The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing. Pictured: Lapwing by Darin Smith.
Dr Gary Mantle, Director of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust said: "The State of Nature report is a wakeup call for all of us – conservationists, the public and governments. While there have been some notable conservation successes in recent years, the overall picture is clear – the decline in wildlife continues unabated.
"Targets agreed by government to halt these declines continue to be missed. The state of nature is in decline, the pressures it faces are growing, and our responses are not ambitious enough.
This matters because our current and future health and happiness is dependent on nature through the many free services it provides. And it matters because we have a moral responsibility to live in harmony with the species with which we share this planet.
“We cannot save wildlife in Wiltshire with nature reserves alone; there must be a step change in the way we tackle this problem. We all have a role to play, not just farmers and conservationists, but politicians and business leaders too.
"We are challenging all decision-makers to think differently about nature so that short term actions taken to address socio-economic problems today do not sacrifice the long term future of wildlife and our children’s future."
Dr Mantle believes Wiltshire’s unique diversity of wildlife means that the county possibly greater than most others across Britain. "We may have the lowest extinction rate for wild flowers, the most biodiverse rivers, the finest hay meadows and the greatest expanse of chalk downland anywhere in Europe. But we are still losing species. What was once common is becoming rare and what was rare is becoming endangered or extinct.
"We cannot continue on the same path. Wiltshire is a stronghold for many rare or endangered species, such as the snakes-head fritillary, the green winged and burnt orchids and marsh fritillary butterflies. The once common water vole has become extinct elsewhere in the South West. Wiltshire has a vital role to play in securing nature’s recovery.”
This report serves as a reminder to us all that nature needs our help and we can all do our bit to save it. Its authors are calling on people to support conservation charities and take action for wildlife.
Sir David Attenborough, right, who wrote the foreword to the publication, said: “This ground-breaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope. For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife.
“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.
“This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”
Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report and a Senior Conservation Scientist for RSPB, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.
“Reliable data on these species goes back just 50 years, at most, but we know that there has been a historical pattern of loss in the UK going back even further. Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away."
Dr Mantle commented: “None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes, and that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.
"It is time for us to take action to save nature and we are calling on people to give their support. We can all do something for nature, whether it is volunteering on a nature reserve, surveying species, making wildlife-friendly gardens, supporting campaigns or by becoming a member of a conservation charity. Please go to www.wiltshirewildlife.org for details on how to support Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. “
State of Nature nationally:
· The total number of larger moths had fallen by 28% since the late 1960s and two-thirds of the 337 species monitored had declined, and 37% by more than half;
· 72% of butterfly species had decreased over the previous 10 years, including common garden butterflies that had declined by 24%;
· The UK has lost 44 million breeding birds since the late 1960s;
· In 16 counties, one plant species went extinct every other year;
· Britain’s mammals have seen losses and gains, with decline of hedgehogs, the on-going loss of red squirrels, and the recovery of otters;
· In 2010, Norman Maclean’s book Silent Summer summarised dramatic declines in the UK’s insect populations, and concluded that ‘our wildlife is clearly in for a bumpy ride’.
· Grey partridge have declined by 69% since 1995.
· Curlew have declined by 41% since 1995.
· Our iconic Lapwing are in decline on Wiltshire’s farmland
· Sites where the nationally scarce snakes head fritillary, right, is found has declined from eleven to just six, with the Trust’s Clattinger Farm being one of the most important.
· The beautiful green-winged orchid which has declined dramatically at a national level can also be found in their thousands at Clattinger Farm.
· Both pearl-bordered and small pearl-bordered fritillary have declined seriously across Wiltshire’s woodland. They are now confined to a few woodland in the south of the county.
· The willow tit is declining seriously in our wet woodland.
· In our rivers, the white clawed crayfish are not coping well, being outcompeted by the invasive signal crayfish from the United States.
Dr Mantle concluded “We are at a critical turning point in the future of Wiltshire’s wildlife. Decisions we make now will impact on the wildlife and health of the countryside we leave for future generations. Wiltshire is a remarkably beautiful county and we want it to remain so in the future. We must all work together to ensure that we balance the demands of food production, development and wildlife so that we can enjoy the benefits that each brings. We need a new vision for our communities, where people live alongside and are able to engage directly with the natural world. This is essential for our future health and well-being.”
“There are steps that each of us can take:
Build a garden pond
Plant bee-friendly wildflowers
Grow your own food
Join a local conservation group
Join Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, and help us to record species by reporting sightings to the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre.”
The State of Nature coalition includes the following partners:
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation; Association of British Fungus Groups; Bat Conservation Trust; Biological Records Centre; Botanical Society of the British Isles; British Bryological Society; British Lichen Society; British Mycological Society; British Trust for Ornithology; Buglife; Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Butterfly Conservation; Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland; The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Mammal Society; Marine Biological Association; Marine Conservation Society; NBN Gateway; People’s Trust for Endangered Species; Plantlife; Pond Conservation; Rothamsted Research; RSPB; Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust; and The Wildlife Trusts.
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s vision is to create a sustainable future for wildlife and people. We are unique in the county in combining the management of 37 nature reserves and working with local communities to promote sustainable living.
The Trust is supported by 18,000 members and over 1,000 volunteers. For more information about the Trust please visit www.wiltshirewildlife.org