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41% of UK Species Have Declined Since 1970, Major Report Finds

Animals
The most threatened mammals are the Scottish wildcat (pictured above) and the black rat. Andy Catlin / 500px / Getty Images

Brexit may have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but another crisis is underway in the UK: One in seven of its wildlife species face extinction, and 41 percent have declined since 1970.


Those figures are from the most recent State of Nature report, released Friday. It is the "most detailed report ever" on the state of the UK's wildlife, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). It looked at nearly 7,000 species and drew on the expertise of more than 70 organizations, BBC News reported.

"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," lead report author and RSPB scientist Daniel Hayhow said, as BBC News reported.

Here are some of the report's key messages, according to BBC News, The Guardian and The Natural History Museum:

  • More than one quarter of UK mammals face extinction.
  • Almost one half of its bird species are at risk.
  • Nearly one-fifth of plant species, 15 percent of fungi and lichens, 40 percent of vertebrates and 12 percent of invertebrates also face extinction.
  • One quarter of moths and almost one fifth of butterflies have already gone extinct.
  • In total, 133 of the species assessed have gone extinct since the 1500s.
  • Sixty percent of so-called "priority species" have declined since 1970.
  • The most threatened mammals are the Scottish wildcat and the black rat.
  • Since the 1950s, hedgehogs have declined by 95 percent, turtle doves by 98 percent and common toads by 68 percent.
  • Ninety-three percent of beached northern fulmar seabirds had eaten plastic.
  • In three Crown Dependencies and 14 Overseas Territories, which include important ocean ecosystems, 40 percent of sharks and rays, 36 percent of reptiles and amphibians, 11 percent of mammals and eight percent of birds are threatened.
  • In positive news, one quarter of species have increased, including the bittern and the large blue butterfly.

The report builds on other alarming findings. A 2018 study found that a fifth of UK mammals could be extinct within 10 years. The last State of Nature report, in 2016, found that the UK was "among the most nature depleted countries in the world," according to The Guardian.

"We are in the midst of a nature and climate emergency right here at home," Mark Wright of WWF told The Guardian. "The new [post-Brexit] environment bill must be world-leading with bold legal targets and a strong watchdog that holds the government accountable for halting the losses."

The major drivers of biodiversity loss are agriculture, the climate crisis, urbanization, pollution, hydrological change, invasive species and woodland management, the report said.

Pesticide use on crops increased 53 percent between 1990 and 2010, and many species are shifting their ranges 20 kilometers (approximately 12 miles) north per decade as temperatures warm, BBC News reported.

"I have felt the loss of nature more acutely this year than any other," 24-year-old Sophie Pavelle, a conservationist quoted in the report's foreword, told The Guardian. "A dawn chorus less deafening; hedgerows less frantic; bizarre, worrying weather. It seems that in a more complex world, nature is tired, muted and confused."

But the increasing ecological crisis corresponds with an increase in public interest in and concern for the environment, and the report itself is proof. It relied on observations from volunteers and citizen scientists around the country, Head of Science Policy and Communication at the Natural History Museum John Jackson said.

"The fact that this report exists reflects a mass of individual interest in the natural world," Jackson said. "It reflects that cultural value that is attached in the UK to understanding and interacting with nature."

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