‘Wake-up call’ over vanishing wildlife

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A groundbreaking study backed by Sir David Attenborough has revealed a shocking decline of native species in the countryside.

The results of the first major collaborative research project of its kind reveal that 60 per cent of species tracked by scientists have seen their numbers fall in the UK’s countryside over the last 50 years.

A coalition of 25 wildlife organisations backed by an army of volunteers recorded the data and their State of Nature report found that more than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from the UK.

Dr Mark Eaton, one of the report’s lead authors, added: “Overall, we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.

“These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.

“Reliable data on these species goes back just 50 years, at most, but we know that there has been a historical pattern of loss in the UK going back even further. Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.”

When the research report was launched at the National History Museum in London this week, Sir David Attenborough said there were signs of hope.

He said: “This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife.”

Reacting to the findings, Teresa Dent, chief executive of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “Bringing back our wildlife from decline demands a relentlessly positive sense of purpose from everyone involved. The State of Nature report is a serious wake-up call. We must seize the moment and recruit as many people as possible to play their part in turning ‘feel-bad’ decline into ‘feel-good’ recovery.

“We simply have to harness the huge potential of farmers, game managers and foresters, along with the concerned public.”

A conservation grazing programme being carried out by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and volunteers at the once derelict Stirley Community Farm, near Huddersfield, is evidence of work taking place to create a sustainable, low- input, low-output farm that works in harmony with nature.

Cows from the farm are grazing at Stocksmoor Common Nature Reserve, near Wakefield, to reduce coarse vegetation and invading scrub habitat. This enables less competitive species to establish and, in turn, encourages a greater diversity of insects, birds and small mammals.

Rob Stoneman, the trust’s chief executive, said: “The publication of the State of Nature report made for sober reading. It is statistics like this that spur us on.”