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State of Nature report 2023: UK wildlife continues to decline

Water vole by a river bank
Water vole by a river bank | © National Trust Images / Richard Bradshaw

The 2023 State of Nature report shows that the abundance of species studied in the UK has declined by 19 per cent on average since records began in 1970. But while the most important natural habitats are in poor condition, work to protect landscapes has clear benefits for nature, people and climate.

The State of Nature report is the most comprehensive survey covering the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. It's compiled by a number of conservation organisations, including the National Trust. The latest report has found that nearly one in six of the 10,000-plus species surveyed risk being lost from Great Britain.

Top groups in decline

43 per cent

of birds

31 per cent

of amphibians and reptiles

28 per cent

of fungi and lichen

The most at-risk groups included birds, amphibians and reptiles, fungi and lichen and land mammals. Turtle doves, water voles, lady's slipper orchids and European eels are among the species affected. More than half of plant species have also declined, as have 59 per cent of mosses and liverworts (bryophytes). Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are among the worst-hit groups, falling by 18 per cent on average.

Habitats for wildlife were also found to be faring badly, with only one in seven of those assessed for the report in a good condition. This included only a quarter of peatlands and seven per cent of woodlands found to be in a good condition. None of the sea floor around the UK was in a good state because of damage caused by discarded fishing gear.

Hilary McGrady, Director-General for the National Trust, said: 'Today’s [27 September] report is yet another urgent warning that we need to accelerate efforts to tackle the nature and climate crisis.

'Nature needs us, and we need nature. We’ve all seen how important access to nature is for our health and quality of life, which makes stopping its decline even more important.

'With report after report documenting the critical state of UK nature we can no longer fiddle around the edges in the hope that will be enough to make everything ok.

'It’s not too late to act. But we need to do it now.'

Why is nature in decline?

Since 1970, and when monitoring began, the abundance of species studied declined on average by 19 per cent. However, we also know that the UK’s biodiversity suffered huge losses before then due, in part, to habitat loss, development and persecution.

The UK now has less than half of its biodiversity remaining because of human activity. The evidence from the last 50 years, presented in the State of Nature report, shows that intensive farming and the continuing effects of climate change are the two biggest drivers of nature loss. At sea, unsustainable fishing and climate change are the major contributing factors.

The UK is currently classified as one of the world's most nature-depleted countries.

Conservation grazing on the Lizard, Cornwall
Conservation grazing on the Lizard, Cornwall | © National Trust Images/Seth Jackson

What are we doing to save nature?

Projects to reverse nature's decline such as restoring peatland and seagrass beds are supporting its recovery and helping people and wildlife adapt to the effects of climate change.

More farmers are using nature-friendly farming methods but only a fifth of farmland is in agri-environment schemes, which incentivise farms that manage land in ways that support biodiversity. Less than half (44 per cent) of woodland is certified as sustainably managed and only half of fish stocks are sustainably harvested.

While all three measures have improved over the past 20 years, there's still a long way to go. Nature-friendly farming needs to be done on a much wider scale to halt the decline in farmland wildlife. It must be considered alongside the climate and nature crises while still meeting people’s needs for food, energy, and fuel.

Supporting nature at the places in our care

Tree planting

Creating a coastal woodland at Ballykeel

Only eight per cent of Northern Ireland’s land mass is woodland, which is below the UK average of 13 per cent. Because of this, we’re planting 6,500 trees at Ballykeel to create native woodland with funding from the Woodland Trust and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Ballykeel is an ideal spot to create a coastal woodland. It’s sheltered and doesn’t have a large variety of wildflowers, so planting trees will enhance the land and create homes for wildlife. We’ve planted a variety of native tree species including oak, hazel, birch and common alder. The new woodland will provide habitats for local wildlife such as badgers, butterflies, wren and finch. It will also store carbon to help tackle climate change.  

Puffins on the Farne Islands, Northumberland

State of Nature report

Read the full report to find out more about the state of UK nature.

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