Natural England has launched the most complete audit of hundreds of years of England’s wildlife winners and losers to an audience of leading conservationists at the Zoological Society of London, H&C has learnt.
England’s Lost and Threatened Species identifies nearly 500 animals and plants that have become extinct in England – practically all within the last two centuries. On top of this, nearly 1,000 native species have been given conservation priority status because of the severity of the threats facing them.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “Coinciding with the International Year of Biodiversity, this report is a powerful reminder that we cannot take our wildlife for granted and that we all lose when biodiversity declines. Every species has a role and, like rivets in an aeroplane, the overall structure of our environment is weakened each time a single species is lost. Biodiversity matters and with more and more of our species and habitats confined to isolated, protected sites we need to think on a much broader geographical scale about how we can reverse the losses of the recent past and secure a more solid future for our wildlife.”
The Lost Life report highlights how habitat loss, inappropriate management, environmental pollution and pressure from non-native species have all played a part in the erosion of England’s biodiversity. All of the major groups of flora and fauna have experienced losses, with butterflies, amphibians, and many plant and other insect species being particularly hard hit – in some groups up to a quarter of species have been become extinct since 1800.
Despite these pressures, conservation efforts have achieved many notable successes in protecting priority species and habitats – including the return of the red kite and the large blue butterfly. Nevertheless, losses continue and 943 native species are now classed as a conservation priority, while the numbers of several hundred more are in significant decline. Some of England’s most familiar species – including the red squirrel, common toad, and European eel – face an uncertain future.
To provide long-term support for our wildlife, Natural England is working with a range of partners in the England Biodiversity Group to adopt a “landscape-scale” approach to conservation which goes beyond the conservation of small protected sites and individual species and embraces the management of entire landscape areas and the ecosystems that operate within them. Wide-scale restoration of habitats and ecosystems and linking of habitat areas are seen as key to taking the pressure off the biodiversity hotspots of individual sites and reserves and giving broader support to wildlife in the wider countryside.
Dr Helen Phillips continued: “Current conservation programmes have been central to supporting England’s biodiversity and they show that we can reverse some of the losses of the past. But firefighting to rescue species in severe decline can never be a long-term solution. We need a step-change in conservation that goes beyond the targeted work that has gone on to protect individual sites and species, and which focuses on restoring the health of ecosystems across entire landscapes. We have to give wildlife and habitats more room to thrive and only by tackling the problems of environmental decline in this co-ordinated way, and at this sort of scale, can we succeed in halting and ultimately reversing many of the recent declines in biodiversity.”