Why is British wildlife in decline?

New study warns that populations have plummeted by average of 60% since 1970

(Image credit: WOLFGANG KUMM/AFP/GettyImages)

More than a quarter of UK mammals are facing extinction, according to a new report authored by 70 British wildlife charities and government agencies.

Populations of the UK’s native species have fallen by an average of 60% in less than 50 years, warns the National Biodiversity Network’s State of Nature report.

Researchers examined data from 1970 to the present day relating to almost 7,000 species, to produce the clearest picture yet of how Britain’s wildlife landscape has changed in recent decades, says The Guardian.

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“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,” said lead study author Daniel Hayhow, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “We need to respond more urgently across the board.”

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The analysis found that 26% of mammal species are at risk of disappearing altogether, while 41% of species have decreased in number, the BBC reports.

And “the losses to all animals, plants and marine life show no sign of letting up”, adds The Guardian.

The species most under threat include hedgehogs, hares, bats, birds such as the willow tit and the turtle dove, and insects such as the high brown fritillary butterfly.

The report cites the intensification of agriculture as the main reason for species loss, with the total area of crops treated with pesticides increasing by 53% between 1990 and 2010. This has had a “dramatic impact on farmland biodiversity”, the authors say.

Wildlife-friendly farming backed by government-funded agri-environment schemes “may have helped slow the decline in nature but has been insufficient to halt and reverse this trend”, they add.

The study also points to climate change, which is “driving widespread changes in the abundance, distribution and ecology of the UK’s wildlife, and will continue to do so for decades or even centuries to come”.

In addition, protected area officially designated for “priority species” inhabitation has shrunk by 27% since 1970, the research shows.

Responding to the findings, Rosie Hails of the National Trust said: “The UK’s wildlife is in serious trouble... we are now at a crossroads when we need to pull together with actions rather than words.

“We need a strong new set of environmental laws to hold our governments and others to account and to set long-term and ambitious targets.”

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