Thursday, 24 October 2013
New Government figures chart decline of UK wildlife
Today (Thursday October, 24) the Government has unveiled a new indicator for priority species – described by conservationists as the FTSE Index for threatened wildlife. The official statistic uses records dating back 40 years for 210 native species, including birds, bats, moths, butterflies, hares and dormice, to build a picture of the health of our wildlife.
The figures show that priority species have declined on average by 58% since 1970. This echoes the findings of the State of Nature report, launched in May by Sir David Attenborough and 25 wildlife groups.
The list of species included features many of those deemed a priority because of the threats they face, and were chosen to represent wildlife in all four countries of the UK. Some have benefitted from conservation efforts in recent years, such as red kites and greater horseshoe bats, but others, including the high brown fritillary butterfly and the skylark have declined.
The Government has previously published indicators for individual wildlife groups including birds, bats and butterflies – but never before has there been a wider view of our most precious wildlife.
Several wildlife species groups have not been included in the current indicator, such as plants, molluscs and fungi due to the difficulties of recording long-term trends. However the story is the same for these groups – for example conservationists estimate 97% of the UK’s of wild flower meadows have been lost and 1-in-5 of all UK flowering plant species are threatened with extinction.
Richard Gregory, RSPB Head of Species Monitoring, said: “This new indicator is like the FTSE Index for threatened species – and it is showing a steady, and very worrying decline.
“What this new official biodiversity statistic does is act as an indicator of the health of our countryside. Every year the Government will be publishing these figures in the same way that they publish school league tables and crime statistics. We hope they will be a powerful new tool in the fight to halt the loss of our threatened native wildlife.
“These species were chosen mainly because they are under threat. Some of them are safer now than they were 40 years ago because of the hard work of conservationists, volunteers and government agencies – and we must celebrate some fantastic success stories - but the trend is downwards for 70% of the species on this list.
“There is a great deal of wildlife not included in this list including endangered species like the freshwater pearl mussel. We will be working with the Government to ensure data for these species are included in future to build a full picture of the state of our wildlife.”
Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said: “The State of Nature report earlier this year showed that 60 per cent of the UK species assessed were in decline, and over one in ten threatened with extinction. We hope that this official indicator for priority species takes that one step further and ensures that the problems facing our native species are factored into Government decision making.
“But we must remember the unsung heroes here – the legions of skilled amateur nature enthusiasts who have given up their spare time over many years to conduct surveys into everything from bees to basking sharks. Without them this would simply not be possible.”