The State Of Nature Is A Wake-Up Call For Us All

26/09/2016 11:52

I have spent a lifetime working in environment and development, forest and wildlife conservation, and developing biodiversity policy. I do it because of my love for nature, and I want to do everything I can to protect the earth and all that is on it for future generations.

According to the latest State of Nature Report, released earlier this month by a number of charities including RSPB, 56% of UK species studied have declined over the last 50 years. You might have thought that I would have been shocked by this fact.

In fact I was not surprised - although I was of course saddened by this devastating decline. Those of us who work in the conservation field know that the UK's wildlife and wild places are under unprecedented pressure from human activity and need our help now.

The pattern of decline is sadly evident across many countries, habitats and species. I've seen this with my own eyes. More than one in ten of a total of 7,964 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

At WWF, we work to protect rivers, streams and other freshwater habitats and we witness first the threat to species in these important environments. Our rivers help make the British landscape so lovely, and vibrant with wildlife. And of course they supply fresh water for drinking, agriculture and business. The State of Nature report shows an alarming decline in half of all freshwater species in the UK - including the kingfisher, the salmon, and the water vole. These are some of our most incredible native creatures and they are under pressure from high levels of water abstraction and pollution.

Less than a quarter of our rivers, lakes and beaches are deemed to be in "good" ecological status. WWF's report 'The State of England's Chalk Streams' showed that some of our rivers are particularly affected, with over half of our unique chalk streams at risk from excessive extraction of water.

The problem is global. In 2014, WWF's Living Planet Report found that populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish had declined by 52% since 1970, with the worst declines being observed in the tropics. WWF will publish an updated report in October 2016 - and I am not optimistic about what it will reveal.

This should matter to everyone. We ignore the decline of species at our peril because they are a barometer that reveals the overall impact we are having on the planet that also sustains people. Given the pace and scale of the changes that are taking place, we can no longer exclude the possibility of reaching critical tipping points that could abruptly and irreversibly change living conditions on Earth.

But there is hope. Nature can recover if we provide people with the right incentives to restore species numbers, reduce habitat loss, prevent pollution and encourage the development of green energy and infrastructure.

I have seen this for myself. At the beginning of my career I lived and worked in Malaysia when a palm-oil and timber boom was under way, and when knowledge of the mammal wildlife was still rudimentary. By helping drive through major changes in forestry practices to stop over-logging and prevent the conversion of forest to plantations, we were able to put in place long-term protections for iconic forest species including the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean elephant and the Bornean orang-utan.

Businesses, governments and individuals all around the world need to make similar changes now. We need the political leadership to create a world where people and nature thrive. In particular we need action to ensure that global temperature rises caused by human activity is limited to well below 2°C, that our natural habitats are protected and that we consume only as many resources as the Earth can replenish.

These are pressing global issues but as the State of Nature report reminds us, they affect the UK and its wildlife directly. That's why WWF is calling on the government to enact its promised 25-year plan for nature, and to make this plan strong enough to put the health of our rivers, seas, forests and farmland at the heart of policymaking across Whitehall.