New report reveals UK's devastating wildlife declines


Nearly one in six species are at risk of extinction in Britain according to the State of Nature 2023 report.

The State of Nature is the most comprehensive report covering nature in the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. It used the latest data from monitoring schemes and recording centres, gathered largely by volunteer naturalists, to lay out the current status of wildlife. Over 60 research and conservation organisations are involved in the report.

The report published on 28 September states that 16% of the more than 10,000 species assessed are at risk of being lost from the UK, which is already recognised as being among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Wood Warbler is among many UK species under threat of extinction, having declined by 76% between 1995 and 2020 (Jeremy Mcclements).

Overall species abundance has declined by an average of 19% since 1970, but it is known that biodiversity in the UK had already crashed by the time monitoring schemes started, following centuries of habitat loss, agricultural changes and the impacts of industry and development.

Birds have suffered more than any other group, with abundance down by an average of 43%, while amphibians and reptiles have declined by 31%, fungi and lichen by 28% and land-based mammals by 26%. More than half of the UK's flowering plant species, including well--known species such as Harebell and Heather have seen a contraction in their range.

It is thought that the UK has less than half of its biodiversity remaining, and the State of Nature report presents evidence that our intensive land management, the effects of climate changes  and unsustainable fishing are the most significant factors driving the loss of nature.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: "The UK's wildlife is better studied than in any other country in the world and what the data tell us should make us sit up and listen. What is clear, is that progress to protect our species and habitats has not been sufficient and yet we know we urgently need to restore nature to tackle the climate crisis and build resilience.

"We know that conservation works and how to restore ecosystems and save species. We need to move far faster as a society towards nature-friendly land and sea use, otherwise the UK's nature and wider environment will continue to decline and degrade, with huge implications for our own way of life. It's only through working together that we can help nature recover."

Invertebrate distribution in the UK has shrunk by 13% since 1970 but hidden within that figure are worse range contractions in pollinators (18% on average) and species that control crop pests (34%).

Not only are many species at risk but so are the habitats they depend on. The report found that only one in seven habitats assessed are in good condition, with just one in seven woodlands and a quarter of peatlands in a good state for nature. None of the sea floor was found to be in good condition, due to heavy damage from commercial fishing equipment. Restoration projects are underway in habitats such as peatlands and seagrass beds to halt wildlife declines.

Only one fifth of farmland is currently part of an agri-environment scheme, with only some of that seeing reversals in wildlife declines. Meanwhile, only half of our fish stocks are taken in a sustainable way and just 44% of woodland is recognised as being sustainably managed.

The Wildlife Trusts responded to the report by calling for more funding for wildlife-friendly farming, an end to river pollution, better access to nature for communities and a ramped-up effort to tackle climate change by restoring natural habitats.

Craig Bennet, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The State of Nature report is a stark reminder that politicians must not let nature drop down the agenda – there is far too much at stake. We desperately need better policies that fund nature-friendly farming properly, end the poisoning of lakes and rivers, and create larger wild and more natural areas – including in towns and cities

"This next parliament will be the most important in my lifetime for nature and climate action. The clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline by which point the UK Government has committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature and to halve the risks posed by pesticides. Nature recovery is fundamental to tackling climate change and improving people's lives – history will not be kind to politicians who ignore this truth."

There is optimism in the report, which highlights the progress made by targeted wildlife conservation work in the UK. The number of species in the Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area has been boosted considerably since trawling was banned in 2008, while Cairngorms Connect benefits woodland species over an area of 60,000 hectares, and Hope Farm has proven that nature and farming can go hand-in-hand, producing food profitably while boosting farmland bird populations by 177% over 12 years.