It’s not too late to save UK nature but we must act now to put nature back where it belongs - that is the conclusion from a coalition of more than 50 leading wildlife and research organisations behind the State of Nature 2016 report , including the Wildlife trusts, which is being launched by Sir David Attenborough at the Royal Society in London today.
Following on from the ground breaking State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 53 wildlife organisations have pooled expertise and knowledge to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our native species across land and sea. The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
Simon Nash, CEO of Somerset Wildlife Trust, comments, “The results of the report are of great concern. In Somerset, we have achieved some amazing results for wildlife – the Large Blue and Bittern programmes being shining examples of what collaborative working can achieve. But we cannot stop here. The priority message for our county is an important one - we have to work even harder to maintain these successes in the face of a changing economic climate, and in the shadow of the EU Referendum result, to secure long-term investment for the health and protection for our species and restoration of Somerset’s natural capital for future generations.
“There are vulnerable species in Somerset that are struggling to overcome the impacts of climate change and fragile habitats that desperately need dedicated year-round support, so we look to the people of Somerset to put nature back in their lives, rediscover its value within our communities and do what they can to help us reverse the decline of Somerset’s wildlife for the benefit of our next generations.”
Sir David Attenborough says: “The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before. The rallying call issued after the State of Nature report in 2013 has promoted exciting and innovative conservation projects. Landscapes are being restored, special places defended, struggling species being saved and brought back. But we need to build significantly on this progress if we are to provide a bright future for nature and for people.
“The future of nature is under threat and we must work together; Governments, conservationists, businesses and individuals, to help it. Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.
“In order to reduce the impact we are having on our wildlife, and to help struggling species, we needed to understand what’s causing these declines. Using evidence from the last 50 years, experts have identified that significant and ongoing changes in agricultural practices are having the single biggest impact on nature.”
Somerset’s Inspiring Case Studies:
Thanks to over 20 years of hard work to create huge reed beds on old peat workings to provide ideal nesting and feeding habitat for Bittern, Somerset is now Britain’s stronghold for this mysterious and elusive wetland bird, identified by their distinctive and mournful boom-like call . From only eleven males in in the UK in 1997, mostly in East Anglia and Lancashire, forty-seven male Bittern were recorded in 2016 in Somerset, a proportion of which were found on Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Westhay and Catcott Nature Reserves. The Bittern’s renaissance is one of the UK’s great conservation successes of recent years and Somerset Wildlife Trust continues to deliver land and water management programmes on its wetland reserves to ensure that this success continues.
Despite over 50 years of effort to halt its decline, the Large Blue Butterfly was pronounced extinct in Britain in 1979, predominantly as a result of changes in countryside management practices which impacted on the populations of one particular red ant species upon which the Large Blue’s lifecycle depends. Since its reintroduction in 1992, and some incredible landscape-scale conservation work to create optimum habitat on many of the former Large Blue sites - the stronghold being on Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Green Down Nature Reserve - the species has made an incredible recovery- large blue egg numbers doubled between 2014 and 2015 and 2016 looks to be a bumper year. This is thanks to targeted scrub clearance programmes and careful grazing of wildflower-rich grasslands – which also helps a huge diversity of wild plants and other insects to thrive.
Since the 1930’s we have lost 97% (nearly 7.5 million acres) of meadows and grasslands and the wildflowers and wildlife associated with them. Every year more and more meadows are lost through neglect, change of land use or development, and with them our native wildflowers such as Oxeye Daisies, Devil’s Bit Scabious and Bee Orchids, to name but a few. Through our partnership project, Save Our Magnificent Meadows, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, our meadows teams have managed to not only restore neglected meadows across the county, but, with the help of local people, create new wildlife meadows by transforming community spaces to provide havens for butterflies, bees and other species that we take for granted.
Somerset’s species that urgently need our continued support:
Snipe & Redshank
Between 1982 and 2002, there was a 61% decline in Snipe and 29% for Redshank on lowland wet grasslands across England and Wales, attributed to changes in land use and drainage practices which severely inhibited the feeding and nesting opportunities for these two most distinctive wading birds. In Somerset their diminishing populations are currently restricted to just eight sites within the whole of the Somerset Levels and Moors (that covers an area of 600 square kilometres). If we don’t maintain water levels within our wetland habitats and reserves and continue to create ‘muddy edge’ features to support feeding chicks, these very special Somerset residents could disappear completely - or be restricted just to one or two nature reserves, making them incredibly vulnerable to climate change.
Once a familiar sight throughout much of England and Wales, Britain’s native population of Hazel Dormice has fallen by a third since 2000, and have entirely disappeared from seventeen English counties. The loss and fragmentation of our woodland and hedgerow habitats, and changes to farming and woodland management practices, alongside the Dormouse’s intense vulnerability to climate change – particularly warmer Winters, - mean that this shy and wonderfully endearing little mammal , is now increasingly vulnerable to local extinctions in the UK. Our work across the Mendip Living Landscape and our reserves to monitor and record Dormice populations and restore and enrich woodland and hedgerow habitats to enable successful foraging and hibernation is critical.
Lesser Horseshoe Bats
Modern intensive agriculture and farming practices have led to a loss of habitat and in addition the increased use of pesticides has resulted in a reduction in the abundance of insects which the LHB’s rely on as their only food source. Alongside a continuing lack of public awareness when it comes to food provenance means that this trend looks set to continue. Historic trends for hedgerow removal on farms in the last century has no doubt negatively affected , a number of bat species who rely on them, including one species in particular. Lesser Horseshoe Bats use rich, healthy hedgerows as superhighways to move across the landscape, also relying heavily on the wealth of invertebrates found in these hedges. Recent conservation efforts to work with landowners to replant many of these hedgerows is likely to be tied to a change in the fortunes of the Lesser Horseshoe, though they aren’t out of the woods yet. It is important that we can continue to provide support to farmers to help replant and manage hedgerows, introducing cutting programmes and land management techniques that support species such as Lesser Horseshoe Bats.