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Nature at risk in UK, environmental report from Christian charity warns

06 October 2023


A view of St Margaret’s, Hawes, beyond wildflower meadows in the Yorkshire Dales

A view of St Margaret’s, Hawes, beyond wildflower meadows in the Yorkshire Dales

THE UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth, with about one in six of its wildlife species at risk of extinction, a new report says.

The Chris­­tian environment char­ity A Rocha UK, and more than 60 wildlife and woodland organisations, joined to present the report State of Nature. The 213 pages bring to­­­gether scien­­­­tific data and analysis concerning how wildlife is faring in the UK. It focuses on recent changes in biodiversity, but emphasises: “We have been shaping our landscapes and wildlife for millennia.

Forty-three per cent of UK birds are found to be under threat, and red-squirrel numbers have declined by 37 per cent in the past 20 years. Only one fifth of farmland is farmed in a nature-friendly way. Eleven per cent of UK land is protected, and only seven per cent of woodlands in the UK are considered to be in an ecologically good state.

The steepest decline has been in flowering plants. Since 1970, the distribution of 54 per cent of flowering plant species and 59 per cent of mosses and liverworts has decreased in Great Britain. The abundance of 13 species of sea birds has fallen by an average of 24 per cent since 1986.

The report is presented as an objective assessment of the state of nature in the UK. The metrics show how species status has changed over time, and the variation in trends among species. It focuses on measuring change over two periods: the medium term, up to 50 years; and short-term trends, over the past ten years.

Action to restore nature is best co-ordinated with action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, the report says. It provides “the clearest evidence yet” of climate change’s becoming a significant driver of damage, alongside farming practices such as overuse of pesticides. At sea, and around the coasts, the main pressures on nature are regarded as unsustainable fishing, climate change, and marine development.

The UK is signed up to the Global Biodiversity Framework, and is committed to developing and implementing national biodiversity strategies. The report sets out the actions that will be necessary to meet biodiversity and climate targets, including implementing nature-friendly farming on a much wider scale; expanding and managing protected areas for nature; and restoring and creating carbon-rich habitats to benefit both nature and climate.

“We have never had a better understanding of the state of nature and what is needed to fix it,” the report says. It suggests that government policies will not achieve this and are, in some regards, making things worse. The CEO of A Rocha UK, Andy Atkins, said: “The public cares deeply about nature and the Government has signed up to this international goal to end nature loss and begin to reverse it by 2030.

“But this report reveals that so many of its policies, such as allowing sewage-dumping in our rivers and seas, are taking us in reverse. Increasingly, churches and Christians are acting practically to protect nature where they are. But the Government has the most powerful levers of all to turn this tragedy around, and they must use them urgently.”

The report pays tribute to the enthusiasm and commitment of thousands of skilled volunteers, whose collective efforts, it says, have enabled an understanding of the pressures on nature and the conservation action needed to address them.


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