Birds, butterflies and rodents: UK wildlife is dying out, report finds

More than two-fifths of UK species including animals, birds and butterflies have experienced significant declines since the 1970s, a major report has found.

Data on nearly 700 species of land, freshwater and sea animals, as well as fish, birds and butterflies, reveals that 41% have seen populations decline, while 26% have increased and 33% have seen little change.

Among thousands of species, from mammals to plants, 15% are threatened with being lost from the UK.

The animals include wildcats and greater mouse-eared bats.

Image: A small tortoiseshell butterfly on a thistle

The State of Nature report has led to calls for the government to increase its funding towards biodiversity and the UK’s wildlife.

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Conservationists who helped compile the national report want to see the government funding, which has been cut by 42% over the last 10 years, rise to tackle the growing issue.

The funding from the government towards biodiversity in the UK was at £686m in the year 2008/2009, but it has since dropped by almost half to £456m.

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Specialists believe the lack of funding is one of the main causes for a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied for the report.

An adult Eurasian beaver is seen emerging from a marshland pond in Devon
Image: An adult Eurasian beaver is seen emerging from a marshland pond in Devon

The study also suggests that 41% of UK species studied have declined, with butterflies, moths and bats amongst the hardest hit.

Some are teetering on the edge of disappearing.

The study, which comes after similar analyses in 2013 and 2016, was carried out by 50 nature conservation organisations.

Nida Al-Fulaij, grants manager at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, told Sky News: “We want the government to sit up and take notice.

“This is the third State of Nature report published, it’s been 10 years since the first.

“We’ve been gathering robust data on our wildlife and different species for 50 years. And the time to act is now.”

An adult muntjac deer is seen drinking from a woodland pool in Worcestershite
Image: An adult muntjac deer is seen drinking from a woodland pool in Worcestershire

The State of Nature report suggests the causes of decline are down to ongoing changes in the way the country manages its land for agriculture, the ongoing effects of climate change and new pollutant threats which continue to emerge.

Daniel Hayhow, lead author of the study, said: “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.

“We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs.”

A young rabbit is seen in Conwy, Wales
Image: A young rabbit is seen in Conwy, Wales

Some 133 species have already vanished from Britain’s shores since 1500, the 2019 State of Nature report says.

This includes birds such as the wryneck and serin, which were lost as breeding birds in the 20th century.

The water vole is the fastest declining mammal in the UK: 94% of this species has disappeared from our shores.

There are now conscious conservation efforts to reintroduce the water vole to our ecosystem.

The animal completely disappeared from the Hogsmill River in southwest London after years of decline in 2014, but in just under 12 months there could be sight of them once again.

Volunteers lead by the organisation Citizen Zoo are tasked with bringing the water vole back into their community.

A common cuckoo sit on a lichen covered branch at Thursley National Nature Reserve in Surrey
Image: A common cuckoo at Thursley National Nature Reserve in Surrey

Elliot Newton, head of conservation for Citizen Zoo, told Sky News: “We’ve gone out and we’ve trained 60 volunteers and we’ve taught them to see the world through a water vole’s eyes.

“So they can walk up and down this river and they can look at the different types of habitat and they can work out if it’s a good habitat or bad habitat.”

In response to the report, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Nature matters, and I welcome today’s report.

“We value our species and ecosystems in their own right, but they also contribute to our wellbeing and economic prosperity.

“Our landmark 25 Year Environment Plan marked a step-change in ambition for wildlife and the natural environment both at land and at sea, and we have recently expanded our marine blue belt with an additional 41 Marine Conservation Zones, as well investing over £50m to help plant new woodlands for species to thrive.”

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