The State of Nature 2016 report has been published today and as previewed on Countryfile last weekend (see here at 7.08 and 21.36) it catalogues the dramatic declines in British wildlife since 1970 and largely blames Government agriculture policy as the major cause. It follows on the heels of the State of Nature Report 2013 (download here) – the new report can be downloaded here.
This graphic from the report shows (on the left) that the largest wildlife losses have occurred on farmland followed in second place by losses attributable to a changing climate.
These findings were published in a scientific paper by some of the same authors last year – see here. I suppose what I find depressing about this work is that it is being reported as ‘news’ but we have known about this for decades. I remember when I was doing my MSc at UCL in Conservation in the mid 1980s reading books like Marion Shoard’s Theft of the Countryside which highlighted exactly the same trends when it came to the intensification of agriculture.
Of course it is not all doom and gloom there have been some notable successes – climate change has given us some new species – little egrets, great white egrets, little bittern and cattle egret, all of which now breed or have bred at the wonderful Avalon Marshes suite of nature reserves in the Somerset Levels – perhaps the UK’s most successful nature good news story. Conservation organisations have successfully re-introduced the red kite and the large blue butterfly which are now thriving and systematic management improvements have seen the bittern come back from the brink of extinction in the East of England and the Somerset Levels.
However the State of Nature Report 2016 puts the UK’s performance into and international context – the Biodiversity Intactness Index – we are 189th out of 218 countries – not quite like the Olympic’s medal table …..
It is however good to see 50 partner organisations publishing this report and I for one am very pleased to see the National Trust logo. The 2013 report galvanised the National Trust into action over nature and I am sure we will see a step change in their efforts for wildlife over the coming decade. I know this to be true as I was privy to some of their plans in the south west when I attended their Cornwall Ranger Conference last week.
We do however need to remember that if we are to improve matters for nature it will probably be at the expense of something else – most likely intensive farming – organisations like the National Trust will need our support and encouragement if and when the waters get choppy (like it did here for example).
As the State of Nature Report makes clear it is not farmers who are responsible for the state of nature it is Government Agricultural Policy. In light of Brexit all of this is now up for discussion – I have written about this recently see here – whilst there are obvious threats there are some real opportunities – it is all there to fight for and that is now the task of the UK’s 50 environmental NGOs.
Not only will fighting be necessary though – it will be vital also to form coherent partnerships with the people who manage most of the UK – the farmers, something that doesn’t happen enough at the moment.