No let-up in loss of Wales’ nature
Wales’ wildlife continues to decline according to the State of Nature 2019 report, with the latest findings showing that one in six species in Wales are at risk of extinction. Since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s, there’s been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied across the UK.
Following the State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, leading professionals from over 70 wildlife organisations in the UK have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and seas.
The State of Nature 2019 report reveals that of the 3,902 species assessed in Wales, 73 have been lost from Wales already, with birds like turtle doves and corn buntings now gone from Wales’ skies. A further 666 species are threatened with extinction in Wales.
The number of monitored sites where species are present has fallen by 10% in Wales since 1970. This reduction in species distribution is twice the rate of the equivalent UK-wide indicator.
Because wildlife abundance tends to decline before disappearing completely from a site (i.e. before their distribution reduces), this fall in distribution could be a signal of more severe declines in species numbers than we are currently able to measure.
All Creatures Great and Small
Where we have been able to measure the abundance of species in Wales, it is also down, with butterflies and moths being particularly hard hit.
Numbers of butterflies have fallen by 52% since 1976 and the numbers of species that require more specialised habitats, such as the high brown fritillary and grayling, have declined by more than three quarters.
Wales’ terrestrial mammals also fare badly with greater than 30% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. Iconic species like red squirrels and water voles, which were once widespread in Wales, are now restricted to a few sites and under real threat of extinction.
To reduce the impact we are having on our wildlife, and to help struggling species, we need to understand what’s causing these declines.
The evidence from the last 50 years follows a similar pattern to the global picture presented in May this year and shows that changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture and the ongoing effects of climate change are having the biggest impacts on nature in Wales.
Pollution is also a major issue. Whilst emissions of many pollutants have been reduced dramatically in recent decades, pollution continues to have a severe impact on the UK’s sensitive habitats and freshwaters, and new pollutant threats are continuing to emerge.
Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said:
“We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs.”
“Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations”
“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.”
Whilst the report shows cause for alarm, there is also room for some cautious hope. The report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, like the Celtic Rainforests Wales EU LIFE project, launched last month, which aims to protect and enhance the ancient Western Atlantic Oakwoods of Wales. Species such as bitterns and large blue butterfly have also been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals.
Reflecting growing concern about the environmental and climate emergencies, public support for conservation also continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 24% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 46% since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 34% since a peak in 2008/09.
Dan Rouse, a young conservationist from Swansea said,
“Nature is something that shaped my childhood, that allowed me to be free to use my sense of wonder, and to gain an insight into the wonderful world of nature!
It’s young people that are now picking up the baton to save our nature – we’ve already lost Corn Buntings and Nightingales in Wales – how long until they’re gone from the rest of the UK? Along with the eerie calls of curlew and the gentle purr of the turtle doves.”