For decades we’ve been warned about the effects of climate change, pollution and the destruction of natural habitats on our planet.
But a new report compiled by over 60 conservation organisations, academics and wildlife experts has made these alarming impacts feel even more real – it warns that 16% of the UK’s plants, birds, amphibians and mammals are not just severely endangered, but they’re facing extinction.
The bleak findings of the 2023 State Of Nature report highlight that since records began in 1970, 43% of the UK’s bird population has declined, 31% of amphibians and reptiles have disappeared, and more than half of our plant species have all but disappeared.
Concerns about the population of pollinators like bees – which are vital to the planet’s food chains – are also amplified, with the report showing that the numbers of bees and butterflies in the UK has fallen by 18% on average.
“We need to move far faster as a society towards nature-friendly land and sea use,” Beccy Speight, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told BBC News. “Otherwise, the UK’s nature and wider environment will continue to decline and degrade, with huge implications for our own way of life.”
Just weeks after PM Rishi Sunak was criticised for delaying an upcoming green policy that would ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, the government has responded to the report by saying it will invest in a “30-by-30” pledge to protect 30% of the UK’s land for nature by 2030.
What do the experts think?
Professor Rick Stafford is the Chair of the British Ecological Society’s Policy Committee. He believes that while as a society we might have become accustomed to hearing about environmental decline, this report should be taken seriously. “The latest report marks a decade of missed opportunities to halt the spiralling decline of UK wildlife,” he says.
Stafford points to “shocking” statistics highlighted in the report that show that currently, none of the seabeds around the UK can be classified as being in good condition. “Habitats are being destroyed and species displaced. The good news is that, unlike terrestrial habits, it is easy to fix; just leave it alone and it will recover. The bad news is that, on paper, the UK is already hitting its 30-by-30 targets for marine protection. Clearly, this is not working.”
“We have the knowledge and the means to reverse the declines highlighted in this report, delivering wins for nature, the climate and people. We can only ask – what’s stopping us?”
How can you and I help?
It might feel like a silly question to ask, especially considering how conversations around sustainable living methods have exploded over the years. We know that reducing our plastic use, taking up a plant-based diet and reusing and recycling can lessen the harm we’re doing to the planet – but can we be doing more?
“There are a number of things we can do to help nature in the UK,” Stafford says, listing initiatives like planting patches of native wildflowers and building bee hotels in our gardens.
“Joining a wildlife charity that actively manages nature reserves is a great way to help contribute to a wider effort to protect nature,” he continues. And if you must eat meat, Stafford recommends buying locally-bred meat to reduce air miles and locally caught fish, as small-scale fishers “generally use more environmentally friendly fishing methods.”
We all have a responsibility to look after the planet we live on and to ensure the other species we share it with can thrive. While buying locally sourced products and making our gardens more welcoming might work for some, it might not work for others. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, many of us can’t afford to spend more on food, and some of us aren’t afforded our own outside space. Ultimately, Stafford says that the responsibility doesn’t just sit on our shoulders.
“While we can all do things to help, we do need strong leadership and good environmental policies to drive large-scale conservation efforts at a national level.”