Wetland species face mixed fortunes among steep declines in the numbers of UK plants and animals in the UK, says a new report from over 50 conservation organisations, including WWT.
Overall, data on more than 200 of the UK’s priority species shows 60 per cent declines since 1970. This means the UK is unlikely to meet its international biodiversity targets under the international Convention on Biological Diversity.
The State of Nature 2019 report says major threats include agricultural management, climate change, urbanisation, pollution, invasive species and changes to water and woodland management.
The mixed results for wetland species reflect that most wetland loss in the UK pre-dates the report, with England having lost 90 per cent of its wetlands in preceding centuries. But in recent years ongoing losses have been countered by wetland creation – including more than 1,500 acres of new wetland created by WWT at Steart Marshes, London Wetland Centre and Lady Fen at Welney in Norfolk.
Thus breeding water and wetland birds declined by 6 per cent since 1975 overall, but that figure actually includes a 3 per cent rise during the 2010s as new habitat is colonised. This rise has mainly been among lowland wetland species – often ducks and geese – while upland river and wet grassland species like lapwing and snipe still face worrying declines due to habitat loss.
A similar pattern appears among freshwater invertebrates including dragonflies and molluscs, with steep declines in the 1970s and 1980s followed by strong increases in recent years – possibly through river restoration but the reasons aren’t fully clear.
WWT Director of Conservation Dr James Robinson said:
“Trying to reverse the declines in our much-loved UK animals and plants is like trying to turn a tanker. But in our wetlands – which are so vulnerable to pollution and degradation – we are creating hope that the direction can be changed.
“This report suggests the amount of time donated voluntarily by people to help the UK’s wildlife has increased by nearly 50 per cent during the 2010s: At WWT there are more volunteers than ever – over 1,000 – who are making a difference for wetland wildlife.
“Together with conservationists across the country we can and are slowing wildlife declines and sometimes making gains. Water voles are now back in every county in England. Otters are back in every county in the UK. In the last decade, booming bitterns in parts of England have increased tenfold. This report shows that, together, we can make a difference.”
Other headline figures from the State of Nature report include:
- Since 1970, the indicator of abundance for 214 priority species has declined by a statistically significant 60%, and between 2011 and 2016 by 22%.
- Over the long term, 63% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 22% showed strong or moderate increases; 16% showed little change. • Over the short term, between 2011 and 2016, 46% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 35% showed strong or moderate increases; 18% showed little change.
- Between 1970 and 2016, the index of distribution of priority species in the UK declined by 27%. The index was 3% lower in 2016 than in 2011.
- Over the long term, 37% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 16% showed strong or moderate increases; 46% showed little change.
- Over the short term, between 2011 and 2016, 50% of species showed strong or moderate decreases and 33% showed strong or moderate increases; 17% showed little change.