Britain has suffered a sharp decline in biodiversity to become one of the most “nature depleted” countries in the world, a landmark report has revealed.
The country has suffered the 29th worst loss out of 218 countries, according to the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which measures the impact humans have on the abundance of different species of plants and animals.
It was revealed in a new report State Of Nature, published on Wednesday, which identified agricultural policy as the biggest factor driving the decline, followed by climate change.
The report, which used data spanning the last 50 years, said Britain was now “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, having “lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average”.
Naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who wrote the report’s foreword, said: “The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before.”
Britain’s BII was 81%, whereas the global average is 84%. Anything below 90% is deemed to go beyond the point at which “ecosystems may no longer reliably meet society’s needs”.
The State of Nature report, backed by more than 50 leading wildlife and research organisations, found that 56% of species measured had declined since 1970, with 40% showing “strong or moderate” declines.
Of nearly 8,000 species assessed, 15% were threatened with extinction from Great Britain.
“The loss of nature in the UK continues,” the report said. “Although many short-term trends suggest improvement, there was no statistical difference between our long and short-term measures of species’ change, and no change in the proportion of species threatened with extinction.”
Changes to the management of agricultural lands contributed to the decline.
Increased use of pesticides, destruction of ponds and hedgerows and farmers switching from spring to autumn sowing have also damaged biodiversity.
Climate change has caused the loss of coastal habitats and changes to weather patterns which also hurt biodiversity.
Seven species on the decline in Britain:
Sand lizardsPeter Byrne/PA Archive
Hen harriersOwen Humphreys/PA Archive
Mountain Ringlet Butterfliesgubernat via Getty Images
Barbastelle batsAttilaBarsan via Getty Images
Ringer ploversTim Graham via Getty Images
Natterjack toadsJim Foster/PA Archive
Water volesBarry Batchelor/PA Archive
The report cited conservation projects, such as the reintroduction of the pine marten and large blue butterfly and the restoration of areas of uplands, meadows and coastal habitats, as examples of the type of work that could arrest the decline.
The coalition of organisations behind the report said the upheaval of leaving the EU could be “an opportunity to secure world leading protection for our species and restoration of our nature”.
Attenborough, who is formally launching the report on Wednesday morning, said: “The future of nature is under threat and we must work together; Governments, conservationists, businesses and individuals, to help it.
“Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”
Mark Eaton, lead author on the report, said: “Never before have we known this much about the state of UK nature and the threats it is facing.
“More is needed to put nature back where it belongs – we must continue to work to help restore our land and sea for wildlife.”