Alarming new State of Nature report: The Wildlife Trusts give politicians
5 priorities for nature recovery.
Leading nature organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, will publish a landmark State of Nature 2023 report. It will show that nature is continuing to decline at an alarming rate across the UK – already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – and that one in six species is now at risk of being lost from Great Britain
People’s concern about nature loss, climate change, polluted rivers and degraded wild places is a significant voting issue. The Wildlife Trusts are calling on politicians of all parties to commit to ambitious policies to support nature’s recovery. The five priorities are to:
- Bring back the UK’s lost wildlife
The next UK Government must work across departments to put nature into recovery by protecting and restoring at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. Beavers must be allowed back to all major rivers, a nature recovery network should join up wild places, and damaging fishing practices – such as bottom trawling – must be banned.
- End river pollution and water scarcity
With the UK among the worst countries in Europe for water quality, the next UK Government must sufficiently fund enforcement agencies to do their job. By 2030, nutrient pollution from farming, sewage and development must be halved, there must be stronger protections for chalk streams, and more wetlands should be created to tackle flood and drought.
- Fund wildlife-friendly farming
Nature loss and climate change are the biggest threats to food security in the UK. Farmers must be supported and incentivised to help wildlife recover by creating more space for nature, significantly reducing pollution, and halving harm from pesticides by 2030. The budget for nature-friendly farming should increase to at least £4.4 billion a year.
- Enable healthy communities
More than a third of the population – nearly 9.5 million households in England – are unable to access green places near their home. The next UK Government must support the creation of more greenspace in neighbourhoods, fund and integrate green prescribing into community-based health services, and enable all children to have outdoor learning opportunities.
- Tackle the climate emergency by protecting and restoring natural habitats
Nature can make a huge contribution to achieving net-zero targets if habitats are restored –because peatlands, woodlands, and other wild places store carbon. Additionally, the next UK Government must integrate climate adaptation strategies across all departments, create a nature recovery network to help wildlife adapt to change, protect blue carbon stores from damage, and invest in energy efficiency.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“The State of Nature report is a stark reminder that politicians must not let nature drop down the agenda – there is far too much at stake. We desperately need better policies that fund nature-friendly farming properly, end the poisoning of lakes and rivers, and create larger wild and more natural areas – including in towns and cities”.
“This next parliament will be the most important in my lifetime for nature and climate action. The clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline by which point the UK Government has committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature and to halve the risks posed by pesticides. Nature recovery is fundamental to tackling climate change and improving people’s lives – history will not be kind to politicians who ignore this truth.”
Butterfly numbers INCREASED this summer
Results of this year’s Big Butterfly Count revealed
Wetter summer was good for butterflies, with average number of butterflies spotted highest for four years
However, new 13-year trend figures show a worrying long-term decline
Habitat loss biggest driver of decline; people urged to take action by creating a Wild Space
Results of Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count 2023 have been released today, revealing a better picture for butterflies than had been feared.
Overall, participants of the Big Butterfly Count enjoyed seeing more butterflies this year than in the previous four summers. In total, over 1.5 million butterflies and day-flying moths were recorded from 14 July – 6 August. After an all-time low in 2022 of just nine individual butterflies spotted per Count, this year saw an increase to 12 butterflies recorded on average per Count.
However, this good news is in contrast with what the long-term trends are revealing. Released for the first time this year, these show that since the Big Butterfly Count started 13 years ago, many species have significantly decreased.
It is a further warning sign that nature everywhere is in crisis – butterflies, as well as forming a vital part of the food chain, are considered significant indicators of the health of the environment.
Following last summer’s heatwave and drought, scientists at Butterfly Conservation called on the public to help them understand the effect the extreme weather had on the UK’s butterflies. People responded in their thousands, with almost 95,000 citizen scientists taking part in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, conducting 136,719 15-minute Counts in gardens, parks, school grounds and the countryside.
Dr Zoe Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation, said: “It’s wonderful that so many people have been out enjoying spotting butterflies. We had huge support for the Big Butterfly Count this year, and thanks to the many people who went out during those sunny intervals, we now know that the effects of last year’s drought were not as bad for butterflies as we had feared.
“The mixed weather this year has helped as there has been an abundance of green food plants available for caterpillars, and plenty of nectar-rich flowers for adult butterflies. However, while the number of butterflies recorded this summer has been the highest since 2019, the longer-term trends show worrying declines for some of the UK’s most common butterfly species.”
The most-seen species this year was the Red Admiral, with 248,077 recorded – an increase of 338% on last year’s Count and the first time the species, which is increasing in the UK as a result of climate change, has taken the top-spot.
Gatekeeper was next, with 222,896 sightings. This represents a 12% increase on last year and is a small, but welcome, boost for a species that has decreased by 28% since the Count began.
The Whites took the third and fourth spot, with 216,666 sightings of Large Whites and 190,506 of Small Whites, an 11% and 15% increase on 2022 respectively. Holly Blue had another good summer, with numbers up 66% on 2022, in keeping with its longer-term Big Butterfly Count trend of a 41% increase.
Species that saw a decline from last year include Ringlet, Common Blue and Speckled Wood, all of which also show long-term declines.
Although its numbers hardly changed compared to summer 2022, Green-veined White has the most severe Big Butterfly Count trend in the longer term, a decrease of 61%.
Dr Richard Fox, Head of Science at Butterfly Conservation, explained: “One of the biggest threats butterflies in the UK face is habitat loss. While the weather certainly has an impact on numbers from year to year, butterflies, moths and many other species can generally cope with variable weather. What they can’t cope with is habitat destruction.
“Butterflies need a place to live. If they can feed, breed and shelter, they can thrive. By creating a Wild Space in your outdoor area you can help to reverse the massive losses of wildlife-friendly habitat and start to turn around the fortunes of our declining butterflies.”
Anyone, anywhere, can create a Wild Space. Whether it’s leaving a patch of long grass in your garden or planting a small selection of nectar rich plants on a balcony, the opportunities are vast and everyone can make a difference.
Dr Richard Fox concluded: “Nearly 137,000 Big Butterfly Counts were recorded this summer and if every single person who helped with the Count creates a Wild Space, we can build a UK-wide network of spaces for butterflies to feed, breed and shelter. By creating a Wild Space everyone can make a difference and help butterflies and moths thrive.”
Butterfly Conservation has free resources and guidance on creating a Wild Space available, including accessible, tailored, simple advice for anyone to have a go.
To find out more about Wild Spaces visit: https://wild-spaces.co.uk/
To find out more about Butterfly Conservation visit: https://butterfly-conservation.org/
Full UK and Country-specific results from the Big Butterfly Count can be accessed HERE
Click here>>Summer-Autumn-2023 to read the latest newsletter from the Seahorse Trust
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Avian Flu Finding
Gannet with black iris photo: Maggie Sheddon
Studies of healthy-looking Gannets on the Bass Rock, Lothian, found some birds had H5N1 antibodies in their blood showing they can recover from this virus. Interestingly, there also seems to be a link between this virus and the change in iris colour, with many birds showing a black or mottled iris rather than their normal pale blue. This intriguing finding presents many possibilities for research into avian flu and could also provide a non-invasive means of surveying for infection and immunity in the Gannet populations.
Climate change blamed for declines in mountain plants
Climate change has likely led to the decline of some of Scotland’s mountain plants, according to new research.
The research by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) has taken 20 years to complete and has been published in the new Plant Atlas.
Data used to produce the report included more than three million plant records of 2,555 species collected by hundreds of botanists across Scotland. Climate change, habitat loss and the spread of non-native species were found to key threats to the health of British and Irish native plants. BSBI said devastating losses of species in Scotland were among the findings.
Almost the entire British population of snow pearlwort is found on Ben Lawers, but half of the Perthshire mountain’s known colonies have disappeared over the last 40 years.
The research also suggested there had been a loss of meadow plants since the 1950s due to the use of nitrogen fertilisers and damp fields being drained. Peatbog and moorland were other habitats deemed to be at threat – particularly from the spread of Sitka spruce, a non-native tree.
Matt Harding, BSBI’s Scotland officer, said: “Sitka spruce had the greatest increase in range of any species covered by Plant Atlas 2020. “Its ability to regenerate successfully on peaty soils that are vital for native biodiversity and carbon sequestration means that future planting will need to be carefully managed to ensure that these important peatland habitats are protected.”
BSBI chief executive Julia Hanmer said: “Plant Atlas 2020 presents a powerful and concerning insight into the changing distributions of our wild plants.”
Last summer, University of Stirling researchers said climate change had pushed Scotland’s rare arctic-alpine plants to the brink of extinction.
Snow pearlwort, drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort – which thrive in cool, high-altitude conditions – were found to be retreating higher up slopes. The researchers said the species were at risk of eventually running out of anywhere to grow and would disappear.
Higher temperatures, reduced snow cover and lowland plants were identified as threats.
Image credits: Sarah Watts.
Bid to save Cairngorms plant life from extinction
Conservationists are to try to save wildflower meadows, rare pinewood plants and arctic alpine flora from dying out in the Cairngorms.
Species such as twinflower, which has tiny, pink, bell-shaped flowers, are on the verge of extinction in the area.
One-flowered wintergreen – one of Scotland’s rarest pinewood flowers – is also at risk.
Plantlife Scotland is leading a four-year project to boost meadows and establish new twinflower populations.
It also hopes to introduce wintergreen to two new sites and work with landowners to protect grasslands containing rare waxcap fungi.
Another project objective is to develop technology to monitor and understand the impact of climate change on fragile mountain-top habitats.
Top image: The Cairngorms are home to rare mountain plants.
Bottom Image: Twinflower is on the verge of extinction in the area.
Image Credits – PlantLife/PA Wire
The Cairngorms are home to rare mountain plantlife
Scottish Natural Heritage and the Cairngorms National Park Authority are supporting the initiative and funding has been provided from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Plantlife’s Gwenda Diack said it was hoped the wider public would take an interest in the conservation effort.
She said: “We want people to re-connect with the rich wild plant heritage of this truly special part of Scotland, whether through the rekindling of wild plant folklore, celebrating current uses or taking action to help save rare plants.
“The Rare Plants and Wild Connections project will harness the power of citizen science and our love for the Cairngorms to restore and protect some of the rare plants and fungi of our pinewoods, meadows and mountains.”