THE BLOG

Declining Wildlife Populations Are A Wake Up Call For Us All

27/10/2016 14:11

Wildlife vertebrate populations have declined by an average of 58 per cent since 1970 - and are projected to reach 67 per cent by the end of the decade. For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife.

That is the alarming message of WWF's Living Planet Report 2016, launched today in partnership with the Zoological Society London.

The globe has already seen a worrying decline of some of the world's most iconic and important species, from river dolphins to leatherback turtles. Africa's elephant population has crashed by an estimated 111,000 in the past decade primarily due to poaching. Current estimates suggest there are now only 415,000 elephants across the 37 range states in Africa. There are only around 880 of the critically endangered mountain gorilla remaining in the wild -and they face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation and human wildlife conflict. Closer to my home I am frequently struck by how rarely I now see much-loved species like the hedgehog in the UK. The RSPB's recent State of Nature report shows that over the last 50 years, 56 per cent of UK native species have declined.

This is our fault. Human activities including deforestation, pollution, overfishing and the illegal wildlife trade, coupled with climate change, are pushing species populations to the edge as people overpower the planet for the first time in Earth's history. We lose an area of forest equivalent to a football pitch every two seconds, we have overfished our oceans, and thanks to over abstraction and dam building some rivers no longer reach the sea.

This year, an international group ofscientists recommended that humanity's impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene - needs to be declared.

I am regularly asked what this means for our own species. The answer is that this affects us all. We ignore the decline of other species at our peril as they best show our impact on our planet and our impact is great. Across land, freshwater and the oceans, human activities are pushing the natural systems that we rely on for food, shelter and climate stability to the edge. Climate change, floods, the loss of green spaces and health costs from pollution threaten our economic prosperity and physical and mental wellbeing.

This is the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced. However, we know how to stop this. And there are grounds for hope that the world is waking up to the challenge. Widespread international ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change, new restrictions on the international trade in threatened species including pangolins and African grey parrots, and conservation measures that are leading to increases in global tiger and panda populations show us that solutions are possible.

A lot can change in just one generation. I know the world I want to leave my children is one in which wildlife is restored, where our seas will be full of life, flooding is reduced and where my children, and my children's children, get to appreciate the splendour of nature that has inspired me and so many others.

Governments, businesses and citizens need to rethink how we produce, consume, measure economic success and value the natural environment.

As the UK government prepares us for an exit from the EU, it must not allow standards of environmental protection to weaken. It should publish a serious plan to strengthen protection for habitats and species and introduce powerful new measures to fast track low-carbon growth. Britain, like all developed nations, must take increasing responsibility for its global footprint. December's conference on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity would be a good place for the UK government to signal that it's still serious about helping tackle the global loss of species.

We need to take action #forourplanet today. Visit www.wwf.org.uk/lpr to take action for our planet.

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